I’m sure you aren’t interested on my year in review and all the amazing things I’ve done…if you follow me on Twitter and Facebook you’d have seen all that What I think is more useful is what I think will happen next year in the World of Microsoft…
Simplified Device war
I’m finding more and more that one device to rule them all (Surface) is not good for me and won’t be for others too. The Netbooks seem to have come and gone, these new convertibles/all-in-ones are the next thing the retail stores and trying to push on consumers. The early part of next year I think will be consumers realizing that compromising for one device is not the way to go.
I personally think you still need a Desktop/Laptop machine, a tablet device and then a smart phone. Trying to merge them into one in my opinion is not going to work for various reasons: performance, price point, screen size, storage, battery, portability etc.
There seems to be a huge push on “phablets” rolling up to the end of 2013 (and yes I have been there with an Android note), I think they’ll fail too because people want the convenience 24hrs a day of something that is easy to carry around and not require a man bag or hand bag to carry it in.
One thing to bare in mind is that Apple seem to have always realized this with their range of devices: Desktop (Mac Pro, iMac), Laptop (MacBook Pro, MacBook Air), Tablet (iPad,iPad mini) and Smart Phone (iPhone). I always thought it was odd that their desktop and laptop range did not have touch and seem to have no intention too, but I think this is Apple’s design principals staying strong on the device mode in comparison to a tablet or smart phone.
I have recently purchased a MacBook Pro and one of my concerns was that I would miss a touch screen on my laptop device…I haven’t missed it once, I find I’m much faster with a keyboard, touchpad and occasional bluetooth mouse.
I’ve been in BestBuy a few times this year trying to hear a sales person explain the differences by the devices on display and confusing the customers…if you walk into an Apple store it’s pretty clear which table you are walking over to…admittedly there are less devices and less choice…but this is not a bad thing. By having so many vendors building the devices it has encouraged all this different terminology and form factors like the Lenovo Yoga and Fujitsu Convertible Tablets.
I think what we’ll see out of Microsoft in 2014 is a move into this direction to clear up the confusion they’ve caused by having: ‘hybrids’, ‘all-in-ones’, ‘tablets’, ‘slates’, ‘convertibles’ etc. I think that Microsoft will need more iPad/Kindle/Nexus like devices, much like the new Nokia 2520 tablet because of its screen size for reading. I’m guessing Microsoft themselves will introduce a Surface in that screen size.
I personally found the Surface 2 too large and awkward for reading over the iPad/Kindle/Nexus sizes and too small for any “real work”. The price point is certainly competitive with the iPad/Kindle/Nexus, but I think it’s trying to be something different and its not working for the market. It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft use the Surface 2 as an entry level Laptop replacing the netbook market …right now the marketing is still quite confused with their latest “honestly” campaign and definitely more confused by the dancing students in the first campaign.
The Surface 2 Pro, the name makes it obvious, is targeted as a pro laptop device. The reality is if I want a pro laptop, I’m looking at a large screen, with individual keys on my keyboard (the Type cover is still no where near as good), with more than one USB port and extensible storage. Their honestly campaign doesn’t even focus on this type of range laptop like the Lenovo W series, HP Elitebook series or MacBook Pro. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft adjust the messaging on this device, my gut feeling is that it’ll be marketed as the secondary device for those who have a desktop machine who are price conscious.
Windows Phone growth
For those of you that have followed my phone changes, this year I’ve been through 3 Windows Phones and Android device and now settled on an iPhone 5S. The last six months has seen Windows Phone really close the “app gap” with some large wins. I still think although there app may be available, right now it’s not being treated with the same amount of focus as Android and iOS. I don’t think 2014 will be the year where you’ll see the “Available on Windows Phone” logo on banking, gaming adverts…that’s at least another year away. I’m not sure developers will add more focus until they see the numbers which will take atleast 18 months of confidence growth.
My guess would be that 2014 will see consumers who just want a phone, and some social/gaming apps moving to the Windows Phone platform. I was on a ski slope yesterday, and asked a few people why they snow board over ski…over 75% of the people I asked responded with “i just got bored of skiing and wanted to try something different”. Of the non-tech people I ask who have Windows Phone this is typically what I hear too. This focus on the camera is a nice idea, but not everyone wants a giant brick of a phone in comparison too a smaller iPhone or Android. Microsoft should have a whole marketing campaign just showing the Windows Phone interface in use, how you can pin live tiles and jump between your apps with ease.
The introduction of Office 365, and prior to that BPOS, has made HUGE strides in 2013. The maturity of the products in the service is heads on against Google in their Mail and VOIP services, but now they seem to be have to fight off DropBox, Box, Huddle against their more complex SharePoint platform. There has been a large focus this year on stabilizing the service and scaling it as their customer base has grown with some definite success.
It certainly is a no brainer for small/medium businesses out there, I think 2014 will be Microsoft proving technically that the Enterprise can have a hybrid scenario between on-premises and online services. This is really only in the SharePoint space where there is the most doubt, especially in Hybrid Search, Metadata and User Profiles.
I was hoping that 2013 would have seen the clear vision on where Yammer would sit in the service, but it appears Microsoft still have some technology hurdles to overcome in 2014 before they can show integration truly between the other products in the service. Google+ seems to be ahead in stitching the social story across their service.
The SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro saga of 2012/3 definitely didn’t help SharePoint’s growth against simpler services like DropBox and Box. I think 2014 will see much more focus in this area to keep these companies at bay, they are so close to being there…I believe its a lot to do with messaging and product names (which their hand was forced with the legal issues).
The Office Store really didn’t make a dent in 2013, ISV’s like Nintex, MetaLogix, Adlib, RAMP, DELL and AvePoint (with my own managed product AvePoint Meetings) have committed to the Store. It certainly hasn’t had the traction that I personally would have hoped and so I hope with some focus in SharePoint product in the service in 2014 there will also be in the store promotion too.
Being in the SharePoint world for a long time, I find it very exciting to see Microsoft’s focus on SharePoint in 2014 to really make Office 365 an amazing service!
I think that Microsoft will be focusing more on the integration story between Windows 8, Windows Phone, Xbox (Music, Gaming, Video), Office 365, Outlook.com, SkyDrive etc. If the “One Microsoft” vision can take off, it will truly be a threat to Apple, Google and Amazon ecosystems. The key to the integration is that the apps have to work and sync across devices, I should be able to start the experience on one and pick it up on another. This is happening across a lot of the apps but fundamentally lacking in Music and Video in my opinion…a key for a lot of people on the go. One of my biggest gripes was not having offline tv shows/movies on Windows 8 tablets or Windows Phones like you can on Apple iTunes and Google Play. This isn’t just for frequent travelers, but also those on lower bandwidths who need download rather than stream. Even ‘liking’ a song on Xbox Music on different devices doesn’t seem to track globally. I’m hoping that 2014 will be the year of tying up these lose ends.
The Microsoft attitude is definitely changing on software on other operating systems. Seeing the XBox Smart Glass, SkyDrive, Xbox Music on both Android and iOS is very impressive. It appears they are sticking by their guns on the “best experience” being on Microsoft OS’s, which is fine as long as its not so far behind that there is something better from another vendor e.g. Xbox Music is not comparable to iTunes or Google Play…just doesn’t make sense to use it on these devices.
Azure heats up
This year has seen an amazing competitive land grab from Microsoft with Azure. It is already clear that the likes of Amazon are having to start to get price competitive with Azure now that it has caught up, and in some places overtaken them. Google are seeing they are lagging behind in this sense and pushing into this market late in 2013. 2014 will see more of this catch up, more price wars and forcing even more aggressive innovation in this space. Microsoft have a serious leg up in the Visual Studio tooling in my opinion that both Google and Amazon don’t have. The profitability of this area for Microsoft will drive this division. You can see huge ties across other divisions within Microsoft like Xbox and Office 365 which will help its growth in the market.
Xbox entertainment division
With the launch of Xbox One in 2013, it’s clear that there has been huge success here on launch. There launch titles were pretty strong from my perspective as a casual gamer. I’m really excited to see improvements in the Apps available for the core Xbox OS and new games titles in 2014. The competition against the Playstation 4 will definitely keep them pushing hard, its a shame to see Nintendo so far behind the eight ball in this console space.
I’m hooked completely on using it as a home entertainment system for watching cable TV…it would be great if I could plug directly into it and throw out the huge cable box and DVR directly to the Xbox on extended hardware…but i think that dream is a little further in the future…if cable companies last and on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu don’t take over. I’m personally not ready to cut the cord as I have no alternative to watching my NFL and NHL at a competitive rate.
There is a lot of talk about who will replace Steve Ballmer. Whoever comes in has big shoes to fill and a few brutal decisions to make early on. The rumored sell off of the Xbox would not be a good idea for the Microsoft ecosystem, I don’t think that’ll happen due to its success with the launch of Xbox One and keeping the Microsoft brand consumer-friendly. I think the “One Microsoft” vision that they’ll step into will just need to be enforced, some of the restructuring internally would have been in place long enough for the dust to have settled and for the new CEO to tweak it and add their personal touches to it. I think they need to get someone to really understand the Microsoft brand and its products and to focus on clearing up the messaging confusion and audiences they go after especially in the Surface and Windows Phone spaces.
Microsoft have a tough challenge having so many product lines across the technology sphere, which makes it hard to compare them to others like Apple (missing enterprise services and game console), Amazon (missing phones and game console) and Google (missing games console). I really look forward to seeing what Microsoft do in 2014 with the “One Microsoft” vision in true swing. I look forward to writing more about it as the year moves on…