Windows 8: Where’s the buzz?
It’s not that often we get the chance to watch a monumentally successful company in effect “reinvent itself” in real time right before our eyes. Yet that is what software giant Microsoft is poised to do.
The launch this past week of its newest operating system, Windows 8, along with its newly introduced Surface tablet, gives the company its first foothold in the mobile computing market. It is the key piece in CEO Steve Ballmer’s proclamation that Microsoft needs to evolve from being a software company to a “products and services” company.
Microsoft has a lot riding on Windows 8. With PC sales falling 8.3% worldwide (and 12.4% in the U.S., according to IDC), Microsoft can ill afford being forever tethered to the desktop. Yet it is years behind companies like Apple and Google (and even Amazon and Samsung) when it comes to mobile computing.
The product itself, relying on such accepted tablet features as touch screens with “live tiles” seems to be worthy of buzz: analysts proclaim Windows 8 represents the most radical redesign of the operating system since 1995. And according to Forbes, the budget Microsoft is putting behind the Windows 8/Surface launch could be as high as $1.8 billion. Here’s an example of one of the launch spots you may have seen.
Yet somehow, this buzz isn’t getting through to consumers.
A telephone survey by The Associated Press of nearly 1,200 adults in the U.S. found 52 percent hadn’t even heard of Windows 8 leading up to Friday’s release of the redesigned software. Among the people who knew something about the new operating system, 61 percent had little or no interest in buying a new laptop or desktop computer running on Windows 8, according to the poll. And only about a third of people who’ve heard about the new system believe it will be an improvement (35 percent).
More troubling for Microsoft is the fact that the company’s bread-and-butter, its business customers, are equally skeptical. One poll reported that while more than 50% of enterprise users upgraded to Windows 7 upon its release in 2009, only 33% are saying they intend to upgrade to Windows 8.
So let’s recap: Sexy new product. Loyal fan base. Tons of money behind it. Yet so-so consumer acceptance. So what’s the big disconnect here?
In looking at the launch, it seems to me there are a few missteps Microsoft made.
- Microsoft picked the wrong name. “Windows 8” sounds as if it’s an iteration of Windows 7–if anything an incremental improvement. With such a “company redefining” product, Microsoft owed it to itself to let the name reflect that. Perhaps “Windows 8″ is fine for the desktop and notebook upgrade. And the tablet platform should go by a more edgy name (and have its own separate launch).
- Microsoft so far has failed to make its case for the new software. The fact that more than ⅓ of Windows users believe upgrading wouldn’t be an improvement, and that 70% of enterprise users see no reason to upgrade, is a giant red flag. The software business is a crazy-making industry where you’re continually trying to make your existing products obsolete. To do that, you not only have to demonstrate the additional value a user will get from an upgrade, but you have to create some kind of “I gotta have it” moment. Which leads me to my next point.
- Product messaging has been about lifestyle, not functionality. If Apple proved anything in its simple product-as-hero demonstration ads, it’s that there’s a little geek in all of us. And that geek is swayed by features and functionality. The quick-cutting, rock soundtrack-backed commercials introducing Windows 8 (to the theme “Your life. Playing live.”) give us glimpses, not reasons. Compare that to the Apple iPhone spot where Apple demonstrated how Siri worked.
- Failing to make the sales proposition easy to understand. Windows 8 is a tablet/mobile platform. But what if you don’t want to buy a new tablet? Does that mean it doesn’t run on my notebook? Do I have to spend the $500 for a new Surface tablet to even use it? These questions are fundamental, yet somehow they aren’t answered in the launch campaign. Even upon visiting Microsoft’s web site, a Windows 7 user is greeted with statements like “Windows has been reimagined to focus on your life” and “Windows 7, only better…Windows 8 was designed with Windows 7 apps in mind, because you probably have older apps you need to use.” Such a sales pitch is hardly enough to make me line up outside the store the night before the launch.
- Microsoft hasn’t yet justified the Surface price. Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 is only $40, no huge expense. But if you want the mobile computing part of the equation–the new Surface tablet–be prepared to shell out $500. While Microsoft insists it would be a mistake to insist on calling it “only a tablet,” that’s how consumers are going to view it. And when they do, they’ll see iPads priced $100 less, Amazon’s Kindle Fire priced at $199 and Android tablets also under $200. Google even sells its Chromebook cloud computer for $249. So in 12 words or less, tell me why I should spend the extra $250?
- Failure to launch with a single focus. It seems like Microsoft is trying to catch up in the world of tablet computing with one gigantic gesture. But consider the “moving parts” to this launch: a new operating system for desktops and notebooks; a new tablet product that can serve as the hub of your online world; a new app store (and all the questions surrounding that); the promise of a free pony with every upgrade (okay, I’m kidding about that). In short, not one announcement, but at least three HUGE announcements. Saying it louder and with more bucks behind it doesn’t make it any clearer, either. If Microsoft had put all this emphasis behind the Surface (ignoring Windows 8), it would be more likely that people would buy in to Ballmer’s idea of Microsoft as a products and services company. No need to eat the whole apple in one bite.
I’m really pulling for Microsoft to succeed in this venture. It’s one of the biggest employers here in the state, and bring a lot of prestige to our area. It can’t afford to be left behind as the mobile/tablet market hits hyperdrive. The key is to not let these missteps become setbacks.
Posted by Mickey
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