Monday, July 04, 2011

Microsoft's Eastern Front: the iPad and mobility

For those who study European Wars the decision to invade Russia consistently stands as one of the dumbest that any individual can attempt. Not because Russia as an army was consistently brilliant or strong but because the Russian country is just too big and the winters too harsh to defeat via an invasion.

For years this has been the challenge of those taking on Microsoft, they've attacked the desktop market. Created products to compete with the profit factories that are Windows and Office, even giving them away in the case of Open Office, but the end result was the same... Microsoft remained the massively dominant player. Even when Linux looked like winning on Netbooks the shear size and power of the Microsoft marketplace ensured that there would be no desktop victories. Sure Apple has leveraged the iPod and iPhone to drive some more Mac sales but the dent has been minor.

From one perspective Microsoft has also been the biggest investor on another front, the front of mobile and mobility, billions upon billions have been poured into the various incarnations of Windows on Mobile devices, from Tablets and WindowsCE to the new Windows 7 Mobile it has consistently been a massive set of money for a very, very small slice of the pie. This disappointed people who invested in Microsoft but as long as the profit factories were safe then all was fine.

I think however that this failure is about to really hurt Microsoft. Today I'm sitting in a train carriage (treating myself by going First, on my own cost) and there are now 7 iPads open and 2 laptops (of which one is mine), I'm using my Laptop as I'm creating PPTs but if I wasn't I'd be on the iPad too.

The fact that I'm on a Mac is irrelevant, the key fact is that after Neil Ward-Dutton asked if the stats were good I took a walk down the carriages and found that a 3:1 iPad/slab to laptop continued through-out first class and dropped to 1:1 in standard class. So in the "best" case scenario you had 50% of people using and working on iPads (or equivalents) and in the management section is was at 75% iPad domination.

These people are emailing, browsing, creating documents and generally getting on with mobility working. That is a massive shift in 2 years. 2 years ago it would have been laptops out and people using 3G cards or working offline, now its all about mobility working. This represents a whole new attack on Microsoft's profit factories and one from a completely different direction than they are used to. With rumours saying that Windows 8 for slabs not being available until late 2012 or even early 2013 this means that a full desktop/laptop refresh cycle will have gone through before Microsoft can hope to start competing in this space.

I'm normally asked a couple of times on this 5 hour train journey about my ZAGGmate keyboard for iPad and where I got it from with people saying "that is really good, I could ditch my laptop with that". This concept of mobility extends to how you use things like email. Sure Outlook is a nice rich Email client, but the client on the iPad is pretty good and has the advantage that you don't have to VPN into a corporate environment but just use the mobile Exchange (an MS product) connection so mobile signal quality doesn't impact you as much. As an example, on this trip I've had to re-authenticate on VPN about 12 times, normally with the iPad I of course don't have to do it once.

Its hard to not feel that while MS has invested billions in eastern front of mobility that in reality its left with no actual defences, a Maginot Line if you will which has now been roundly avoided by a whole new set of technologies which are not competing with Microsoft in the way they expected.

How long can the profit factories be considered safe? With 1% of all browsing traffic already from the iPad and mobility being the new normal its a brave person who feels that another 12 or 18 months won't deliver long term damage to Microsoft's core profits.

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