Certainly, with an installed base of 1.5 billion users, more than a few of us fall into this category. The decision to make you a Windows user can often be traced back to a corporate IT department a decade or more ago. Not when it comes to the more personal decision of which smartphone to carry in our pockets, we don’t.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella set what he called a “bold goal” at the Windows 10 launch event Wednesday: “We want to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows.”
What was especially odd was Nadella made this statement immediately after unveiling a product that quite simply blew Windows 10 out of the water: The HoloLens virtual reality glasses, which at a stroke appeared to vault Microsoft ahead of Google and Facebook in the race to dominate VR, widely recognized as the next frontier of tech beyond mobile and the cloud.
Microsoft has never been particularly beloved, nor has it seemed to care until now. Bill Gates gained his vice-like grip on the software market in the 1980s by being savvy about partnerships with IBM and other computer makers, rather than having the better product. The Redmond, Washington-based company had a brief moment as a media darling around the Windows 95 launch — but it also spent much of the 1990s as the schoolyard bully of tech companies, strong-arming competitors, repeatedly earning the ire of the Justice Department and painfully dragging its heels through the U.S. legal system until it was officially declared a monopoly.
Microsoft, it seemed, had become the perennial fast follower, stuck in a purgatory of safe, boring, me-too products that came out years after the original. With a customer base that large, the company would never die; it would also never dominate. When it tried to be cool — witness the tablet-style “live tiles” screen shoehorned into every edition of Windows 8 at the expense of the Start button — its reward was outrage from confused users.
As detailed in this Fast Company article, Bezos pushed his product team into creating Dynamic Perspective — the technology that made the Fire Phone screen look like it was glasses-free 3D. Dynamic Perspective required four cameras at the corners of the phone, driving its cost up massively. Even its engineers thought the feature had no value for users. Amazon’s recent $170 million write-down is largely attributed to unsold Fire Phones.
Whether the HoloLens becomes Microsoft’s Fire Phone or its iPhone comes down to the decisions Microsoft makes in the months leading up to its launch, which the company suggests could come around the same time as Windows 10. Will it be a flashy afterthought of a product to get users interested in the potential of Windows 10 more than anything else? That sounds like a botched conquest of virtual reality, and conquerers, as we know, are not cool.
Or will HoloLens be allowed to grow into its own thing, a nimble-footed explorer, a next-generation product not tied to Windows in much the same way the iPhone did not require you to own a Mac? Will it launch when it’s ready, rather than on the Window 10 timetable — and will Microsoft manage to bring developers along for the ride this time? Read more…