Is Microsoft's post-PC story starting to look any better?

Now that we know more about what's coming in Windows 8.1, and companies like Acer are pitching new waves of products, are Windows-based post-PC products starting to look more likeable...?
Written by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Contributor

Here is a picture of the Acer Iconia W3. It's the first 8" Windows 8 tablet.

Acer Iconia W3

Join me in a brief thought experiment. Imagine that you are the individual tasked with the final decision as to whether this product makes it onto the market. The meeting where you see the final production prototype is about to begin. You're sitting in a quiet meeting room ready for the product team to come in and show you their new baby.

There is a hush. The door opens and in quietly files the leader of the development team and a small gaggle of his preferred lieutenants. He places the device in front of you with a flourish. Around you, the team's faces are each glazed with a childlike mix of pride and expectation. This is the work that will define their careers. This, for them, is their finest hour.

You look at the device. You're aware of all the eyes on you in the room. They wait your Cowell-esque decision hoping to go home to their wives and husbands able to share of their good news because you said "yes." You don't look up. You just focus on the thing sitting in front of you and think "what now?"

You could turn to them and say, "Ladies and gentlemen — the Era of Ive is dead. This is the finest computing product that has ever been created. The future of the computer industry is now yours. I am not worthy to witness a moment of such greatness."

Or you could fire the lot of them, put your head in your hands, and sob.

Because, honestly, look at it. What happened? Did someone feed the word "compromise" into a 3D printer and just decide to ship whatever came out the other end?

To me, that device is everything that is wrong with Microsoft's reinvention of itself into a "devices and services" company. There is no evidence anywhere in that product that anyone involved in it actually understands what a post-PC device is or, more importantly, why people love and enjoy their iPads, Android phones, and even their BlackBerry's and Kindles.


Ignoring for a moment whether Windows 8 is selling well compared to previous versions or not, it certainly can't be described as a "popular, must have product." There is no sense out there in the market of a clamour, no baseline need for people to go out and rip and replace what PCs they do have with shiny new ones running Windows 8.

But we do know that they are going out there and buying smartphones and tablets — i.e. post-PC devices — in astonishing quantities.

We can umm and ahh and cogitate as much as we like as to why this is, but regardless of the relative attributes or merits of each product, it all reduces down to this one, basic point: products that sell, regardless of the market, are likeable.

If PCs are not selling and Windows 8 is not forcefully injecting energy into a reversal of that trend, we can surely conclude that those products are not liked. This seems self-evident, but the point I'm trying to get to is not just saying "no one likes it — yah boo sucks," but rather that we need collectively as an industry to get to a point of understanding as to why they are not liked.

We know that post-PC devices in both tablet and smartphone variants are selling extremely well. Therefore we can assume that these products are likeable within the market in the way that the PC is not.

Post-PC devices are likeable because they address needs related to the fact that people within society generally are now starting to take computer-based devices and apply them as tools to varying aspects that exist across the entire spectrum of their lives. Post-PC devices are simple devices that appeal and are liked because they are available all of the time and allow people to connect into their network of people and things that are important to them. That's the value proposition.

If it's true to say that Windows 8 is not liked now, what we can see in Microsoft's promise for Windows 8.1 or the behaviour of the OEMs like Acer is evidence that over the next six months the "trajectory of likeableness" is going to stop trending towards "unlikeable" and trend towards "likeable."

What can we see in the products that are being discussed — in this case in particular by the ugly duckling that is the Acer Iconia W3 — that shows a change in that trend? Will we end up at the year's end with products that continue to be unliked and, by extension, won't sell?

In the case of the W3, I can't see anything. All I see is the output of a group of people working on pure guesswork without nuanced understanding. What about that product says to you that it is a device designed for social networking, for enjoying photos and movies together, for playing games with the kids, reading books, or any one of a million things that people like doing with their smartphones and tablets?

All that's happened is someone has gone "people seem to like smaller tablets," and they've taken the design specs for a 10" tablet — which was already not selling — and dragged the mouse across the screen and scaled it down. 

The way to fix this is obvious. Microsoft and their OEM partners actually need to understand why people like their smartphones and tablets before they start presenting products to the market.

That doesn't sound that difficult to me.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

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