When the vision is sinking, it's time for another reorganization. But it appears that Microsoft isn't ready to admit that Apple's success with the iPad has put the final torpedo into Redmond's expensive Surface collaboration technology.
First off, Microsoft appears to have had little clue that the iPad was something that real users wanted. In an interview with Brent Schlender at BNet.com a month before the release of the iPad, Bill Gates held to Microsoft's tablet and netbook strategies.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked Jobs’ longtime rival, Bill Gates, what he thought of the iPad. After all, Gates has been a proponent of tablet computers for years, and he was in awe of the iPhone when it first came out. But the iPad? Gates told me he isn’t sold.
“You know, I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading, but I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard - in other words a netbook - will be the mainstream on that,” he said. “So, it’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, ‘Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.’ It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.’”
Right, Microsoft could done so much better? Less than one month after the iPad introduction, Apple had sold 1 million units. According to reports, 200K units are being sold weekly. The iPad 3G is in short supply in the U.S. market. Microsoft certainly wouldn't want to have done that!
Okay, so we understand that the Redmond brain-trust couldn't say anything publicly and certainly nothing like "Apple looks like it has another hit on its hands while we're treading water." But with this week's reorganization, we can see how the past strategic vision is playing out.
As I've posted on before, Apple and its developers have targeted business collaboration as a strong user value of the iPad. Certainly, the device is fun, but it also can be used in a business context: by multiple persons seated around a table to brainstorm ideas, draw flowcharts and work up a project. And this can happen anywhere, without a whiteboard or even anyone to take minutes. It's already all on the iPad.
What is Microsoft's collaboration solution? Surface. Here's Bill Gates on the topic a short couple of years ago:
For those who listened closely to Gates’ Sunday night keynote, there was a hint that gaming and office-productivity applications are in the pipeline for a Surface “desk,” “meeting room table” or other kinds of future Surface systems, as well. From the transcript of Gates’ remarks:
“Your desk, we won’t just have the computer on the desk, but in the desk, so a meeting room table as you’re collaborating, and the living room if you want to briefing up and play games with something like a Surface, or organize your photos. It will just be there, and easy to manipulate, easy to change and have multiple people connect up.”
Sorry Charlie. The $499 iPad lets the business customers forget the desk, table and meeting room. And the iPad works just as Microsoft imagined for Surface technology but without the expensive and heavy hardware overhead:
For Users: Microsoft Surface represents a fundamental change in the way we interact with digital content. Leave the mouse and keyboard behind. Surface lets you grab digital content with your hands and move information with simple gestures and touches. Surface also sees and interacts with objects placed on the screen, allowing you to move information between devices like mobile phones or cameras. The result is a fun, social and exciting computing experience like you’ve never had before.
For Businesses: Microsoft Surface provides tremendous potential for businesses to improve communication, and be more efficient in how they deliver information and services to their customers. The intuitive and approachable interface is easy to learn and the familiar software platform makes it easy to manage, too. The multi-touch and multi-user capabilities create an incredibly collaborative experience, where sharing and exploring information is easier than ever.
Here's a guess: Based on the timelines needed for hardware development, tooling and production, Microsoft Surface and the iPad may have been conceived around the same time. Each took a different tack towards collaboration. Why Microsoft took the Pong model we won't know. With the release of the iPad, Apple's approach seems obvious. Of course, it ain't.
According to Mary-Jo Foley's reporting at All About Microsoft, Microsoft has moved its Macintosh Business Unit away from the Specialized Devices and Applications team. We can only hope that's good news. The further away from Surface the better.