I've spent the day at Microsoft's unveiling of Office 2013 at the Metreon in San Francisco. This product has been years in the making. It was conceived before the iPad hit the shelves, and its improvements are largely PC-focused--Excel, Word, and PowerPoint deliver richer and more fully-featured experiences on the PC than ever before. It's a product that has adapted to the multi-device lifestyle, with user-based subscription pricing (Office 365) and cloud-streamed Web apps (Office on Demand)--but the PC is still the star, and tablets are an afterthought. Office does have a mobile strategy, but that's explicitly not the focus of this event today. Even Microsoft's own Windows 8 platform won't get native Metro apps for all the Office programs at launch. (The version of Office that will be available for Windows 8 and Windows RT at launch is touch-optimized but won't use the Metro UI, except for Lync and OneNote, which will be native "Windows 8-style" apps.)
Office is a $20 billion business, and Office 2013 is the best version of Office yet. It will sell millions of licenses to consumers and enterprises (Office 2010 has sold more than 100 million copies, and that doesn't include the millions of users who use pirated versions of Office). But products at the peak of their success can still be vulnerable to disruption, and Office 2013 certainly is, especially to competitors who put mobile first, and who deliver less-good experiences for cheap or free.
The poorly kept secret that is the Google Nexus 7 tablet was just announced amid much developer applause and excitement. The device is everything it was rumored to be and the specs — something that only developers care about, of course — were impressive, including the 12 core GPU that will make the Nexus 7 a gaming haven. True, it's just another in a long line of tablets, albeit a $199 one that competes directly with Amazon's Kindle Fire and undercuts the secondary market for the iPad.
But as a competitor to the iPad, Nexus 7 isn't worth the digital ink I'm consuming right now.
But Google isn't just selling a device. Instead, the company wants to create a content platform strategy that ties together all of its ragtag content and app experiences into a single customer relationship. Because the power of the platform is the only power that will matter (see my recent post for more information on platform power). It's unfortunate that consumers barely know what Google Play is because it was originally called Android Market, but the shift to the Google Play name a few months back and the debut of a device that is, according to its designers, "made for Google Play," show that Google understands what will matter in the future. Not connections, not devices. But experiences. The newly announced Nexus 7, as a device, is from its inception subservient to the experiences — some of them truly awesome — that Google's Play platform can provide through it.
Plato used to define the human species as "featherless bipeds". This thought came to me this afternoon as I stood looking at the Venus de Milo in The Louvre (I'm in Paris for Forrester's I&O Forum) and pondered what Microsoft was about to unleash on all of us. Why, might you ask? Well, as the story goes, Diogenes (the guy who invented cynicism) plucked a chicken, brought it into Plato's Academy and declared: "Behold: I have brought you a man!" After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.
It struck me that that's pretty much what Microsoft and its OEM partners have been doing to us with tablets for a number of years now. "Behold! I have brought you a tablet!" But of course, now we know that a "tablet" is a device that we can use with nothing more than fingers with broad, flat nails.
But there's more. Microsoft's ability to respond in its modern day Peloponnesian War with Apple, has been hampered by three things:
The PC OEM vendors remain one (maybe two!) steps behind Apple in making well-differentiated hardware. To wit: Ultrabooks are just now beginning to match the MacBook Air, and no one else has a Retina Display in their lineups.
They haven't had an operating system for tablets without styli or mice, or that will run longer than a few hours away from a power outlet.
The upgrade process for Windows PCs is labor-intensive. IT organizations upgrade operating systems only when Microsoft forces them to, so end users are frustrated. Nearly half of organizations are still on Windows XP 11 years after its release.
Microsoft’s announcement that it is launching its own first-party hardware for a family of Windows tablets is welcome news: If you want a job done right, do it yourself. While Asus, Lenovo, Nokia, Samsung, and Toshiba are expected to launch their own Windows RT products this year, other major OEMs are notably absent from the list, either because they’re focused on x86 devices first or because they were locked out of the launch like HTC. Microsoft's Surface tablets will run on both chipsets.
Microsoft has so many assets to bring to its own hardware: Smartglass, a “Kinect camera,” Skype, Barnes & Noble Nook content, Microsoft Office (although that won’t be exclusive to Windows), just to name a few. While skeptics rightly criticize past Microsoft hardware failures like the Zune player, Xbox is a more recent example of resounding success. With the next generation of the Xbox “720” due out soon, Microsoft will have ample opportunity to bundle and promote the two products together and sell its tablets through the same consumer retail channels — although to start at least, the Surfaces will only be available at Microsoft Stores and online, which certainly limits adoption potential.
This product line marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft’s product strategy. It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically integrated Apple on more even ground.
In typical Microsoft fashion, they don't catch a new trend right with the first iteration but they keep at it and eventually strike the right tone and in more cases than not, get good enough. And often good enough wins. That seems the be the pattern playing out with Windows Azure, its cloud platform.
Google just bought QuickOffice. I think that means they now get the App Internet and are moving beyond pure Web.
The App Internet is the future of software architecture and the foundation of how people get stuff on their mobile devices (we call that mobile engagement). The App Internet means native (or hybrid HTML5) apps on mobile and desktop devices that use the Internet to get services. It's the native app that makes the user experience good. It's the Internet that makes the user experience relevant to life.
Google has been "pure Web," meaning that they don't want native apps on any device. Of course, they've been moving slowly away from that pure architecture for years now even as its marketing rhetoric has denied it. Remember that when iPhone shipped in 2007 it had a native Google app called Maps on it. And they have readers on their Android devices.
In the meantime, QuickOffice has been growing handily because it gets the App Internet -- any device, anywhere, anytime using a native app. If you want to read or edit Microsoft Office formats on your iPad or Android phone or whatever, you can do it with QuickOffice. That has led consumers and information workers and sometimes entire enterprises (in the case of one life sciences company with 15,000 iPads deployed, for example) to use QuickOffice to access and edit the critical documents they need on their tablets.
What does this mean?
For Google, it means they've woken up to embrace the App Internet as the way to deliver great user experiences on mobile devices.
For Microsoft, it means Google has done another "embrace and extend" play to take keystrokes away from Microsoft Office. And that ahead of Microsoft's purported but unannounced plans to port Office to iPad.
Last week, we released our newest report about the future of TV and argued in it and the accompanying blog post that the battle for the TV is not really about TV. It’s about the future of the platform giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft that want to add the TV to their platform ambitions. Surprising to some was our claim that Microsoft was in the lead in the US TV platform battle with its base of millions of Xbox 360 owners generating more online video views on the TV screen than viewers of any other device. Many have challenged this assertion, putting the data about current use aside and asking a good question:
Won’t Apple easily walk away with the TV business once it releases its next big thing, presumably a TV?
You’re in for a big surprise. Microsoft is winning one of the most important battles in the digital world: The battle for the TV. The TV battle is important for reasons you already know: TV consumes more time than anything else and it generates annual revenues from $140 to $160 billion each year in the US alone.
But the stakes of the battle have risen sharply. The fight over the TV is really a fight over the next massive consumer platform that is coming up for grabs. Of platforms there are few: Google owns search, Amazon owns digital retail, Facebook owns social, and Apple owns consumer devices. Microsoft owns, well, nothing at the moment, despite its handsome revenue stream from Windows and Office.
That could change soon. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is already the most-watched net-connected TV device in the US and soon, the world. With more than 70 million consoles in households worldwide – as many as half of them connected to the Internet, depending on the country – Microsoft can rapidly drive new video services into tens of millions of households.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
Wearable devices, or “wearables” for short, have enormous potential for uses in health and fitness, navigation, social networking, commerce, and media. Imagine video games that happen in real space. Or glasses that remind you of your colleague’s name that you really should know. Or paying for a coffee at Starbucks with your watch instead of your phone. Wearables will transform our lives in numerous ways, trivial and substantial, that we are just starting to imagine.
In a new Forrester report out today, we argue that wearables will move mainstream once they get serious investment from the “big five” platforms — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook — and their developer communities, and we give advice to product strategists who want to stay ahead of the wearables curve. Key takeaways: