Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Mr_Dupri

Microsoft at 40, the iPad at 5 and the always-changing nature of tech

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

bllgts0987-700x393.jpg

This weekend, tech history buffs are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Microsoft. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Microsoft is one of the most important players in tech and over the last forty years, has fundamentally changed the industry.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Microsoft, especially how the company rose to prominence in the 1980s, became an utter powerhouse in the 1990s and has had its share of challenges over the last decade.

In his letter to employees commemorating the 40th anniversary of the company he co-founded, Bill Gates wrote that “what matters most now is what we do next.”

At Microsoft, it’s certainly better for the company to focus on the future, rather than the past. That’s partially because the last decade has been difficult for the company. In fact, the last five years have been particularly challenging, with Microsoft being passed in market cap and mindshare by the likes of Apple and Google.

In fact, it was five years ago this May that Apple actually overtook Microsoft in market cap, becoming the world’s most valuable tech company in the process. Google also overtook Microsoft in 2012.

Millions of words have been written about Microsoft’s strategic missteps over the last decade and it’s not worth rehashing all of that here. Microsoft made some of its most noted errors when it came on betting on the future, primarily in the areas of mobile and tablet computing.

It wasn’t that Microsoft was blindsided by the mobile revolution, the way the company was blindsided by the web in the mid 1990s (in the case of the web, Microsoft was able to successfully use its market resources, team of developers and some hardball business tactics to win wars against AOL, Netscape and others), no. The problem was actually worse than that.

Microsoft was too early to both smartphones and tablets, and as a result never managed to get a modern product to consumers at the right time.

When being too early is worse than being too late

The idea of being too early costing a company a chance to succeed really comes into view in light of the other big tech anniversary this week: The fifth anniversary of the iPad.

Apple entered the tablet market in 2010 after a lot of established companies (including Microsoft on more than a few occasions) had tried and failed at that market. Coming at the market at a different price point and, more importantly, with very different use cases being sold to consumers, the iPad was a huge hit.

 

 

4487142542_24426191dc_o-700x393.jpg

Christina Warren waits for an iPad on April 3, 2010.

IMAGE: FLICKR, GRANT ROBERTSON

 

 

A few months ago, I wrote an analysis of the iPad at age five, so I won’t repeat that here, but that story is worth reading to get a sense of what all of us got right (and wrong) about the iPad five years ago.

On Friday, I discussed the the iPad’s anniversary with Mike Elgan on “Tech News Today.” Elgan made a point I thought was worth revisiting: Apple basically had a two-year lead on the competition.

Wait, what?

Putting aside the original Android tablet that pre-dated the iPad (and was neither optimized, nor particularly good), the first real iPad competitor didn’t get launched until the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 appeared (re-designed, post iPad 2, no less) in the summer of 2011.

Beyond that, it would take until 2012 for truly solid tablet competition to show up from the likes of Samsung, Amazon and LG. Microsoft’s first few stabs at actually competing with the iPad came in the form of the Microsoft Surface and the Surface 2 tablets. Neither was a success and it took until the Surface Pro 3 in 2014 for Microsoft to finally have a viable tablet on the market. And make no mistake: the Surface Pro 3 is a success because it doesn’t target the iPad, it targets the MacBook Air.

So what happened? Well, simply put, Microsoft was too early. Microsoft and Bill Gates had visions for tablet computing in the early 2000s, but the implementation and the hardware left much to be desired.

In fact, some of the early criticism around the iPad was that the device wasn’t the OS X equivalent of one of those terrible Windows XP Tablet Edition monstrosities.

Microsoft’s plans for tablets in 2010 — before the iPad was released — was to basically add a capacitive touch screen to Windows 7 in the form of a “slate PC.” The concepts were dropped almost as soon as the iPad was shown off and it would take until the launch of Windows 8 for Microsoft to meaningfully address tablet computing in any real sense.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Microsoft’s fortunes over the last five years have decreased while those of Apple and Google have ascended higher and higher.

Google, like Microsoft, was late to fully respond to the iPad. The first version of Android optimized for tablets wasn’t even released publicly, just on a handful of tablets in 2011. But because Google hadn’t wasted time with earlier tablet efforts, it was easier for the company to pivot its resources to address tablets.

It also didn’t hurt that Google, like Apple, had a modern mobile operating system ready to put on lower-powered devices. Microsoft, also too early to the smartphone game, was equally busy in 2010 trying to reboot its mobile efforts with Windows Phone 7. It won’t be until 2015 that Microsoft finally achieves its goal of having its mobile OS, desktop OS and tablet OS all on the same core platform, with Windows 10.

A lesson for what can happen in just five years

I think it’s worth looking at what has happened not just to Microsoft, but to the tech world in general over the last 40 years.

Forty years ago, when Microsoft was founded, computers were mainframes and the tools of big corporations and universities. Microsoft was smart enough to see the PC revolution coming and get in to help make it huge.

Within 20 years of its founding, Microsoft would be the biggest tech company on the planet.

But 20 years after conquering the world, technology has moved on several times over. First to the web and then to mobile. The next big shift may be based on virtual reality or augmented reality. It may be something we haven’t even thought of yet.

But even the last five years — since the launch of the iPad — has changed the tech world tremendously. Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Uber, Airbnb and Xiaomi were all non-existent or nascent just five years ago. All of those companies are now valued at (or in the case of Instagram, exited at) more than $1 billion each.

It’s worth looking at what Microsoft lost by being too early (and then too late) to the most recent tech revolution, when we think about what tech will look like in another five years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×