Microsoft’s problem is other than the highly popular Xbox, the company hasn’t successfully entered a new market in over a decade. The Zune was a flop of embarrassing proportions, being mostly an iPod knockoff which arrived years late (in brown, no less) and didn’t offer anything which anyone cared about. MS had been expecting to be able to capitalize on Xbox success with the Zune, even designating songs in the Zune music store with the same faux-currency used by Xbox gamers. It didn’t work. Meanwhile Apple largely owns the tablet market, with the iPad 2 single handedly outselling all competing tablets combined. The multitude of Android tablets fight each other for the same minority marketshare. The HP TouchPad has been canceled. The BlackBerry PlayBook is about to be. Microsoft’s move, then, turns out to be an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Windows. It’s an odd gambit…
On the surface, it’s difficult to see where Windows 8 tablets will find their audience. Apple and its iPad 3 will continue to collect nearly all mainstream tablet purchases which haven’t been unduly influenced by geeks. Android will claim tablet sales to geeks along with those members of the mainstream whom the geeks can steer toward their own Android preference. The failures of the TouchPad and PlayBook seem to make clear that the tablet market is a two-horse race with little room for a third wheel. And yet Microsoft thinks it can carve out its own tablet space. Whom Microsoft thinks it’s going to take that marketshare away from is another story. Typically, Apple users tend to stick with Apple products for the long term amid overwhelmingly high user satisfaction marks. In other words, most of those using an iPad 2 now will end up on an iPad 3 later. And the geeks (along with those in the mainstream whose purchases they influence) long ago decided that they’d rather be in bed with Google than Microsoft given the choice, which for them means Android over Windows 8 Mobile. But with overall personal computer usage and sales giving way to tablet share, MS doesn’t have a choice but to try to leverage what Windows clout it has left into the tablet market. By next year, when Windows 8 tablets are up against the iPad 3, we’ll find out whether Microsoft has anything left in the tank or whether Windows 8 tablets are in fact the next lifeless Zune.
Another day, another round of bizarro-world headlines in which the HP TouchPad did something other than flop embarrassingly. After less than two months on the market, the iPad copycat running the leftover operating system from the failed Palm Pre was yanked by Hewlett Packard in one of the more humiliating mea culpas in recent consumer tech memory. But the tech headlines paint a different, largely imaginary picture. One publication claims that the $99 HP TouchPad firesale, designed to all but give away remaining inventory so that HP wouldn’t need to cover the cost of having retailers return to the units for landfill disposal, was a sign that the TouchPad was a popular product after all. It then goes on to claim that the iPad, which accounts for the vast majority of tablet marketshare, is vulnerable to competing tablets like the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Nevermind that at $99, the TouchPad was being handed out at significantly below cost, and that Android tablet makers could never sustainably deliver $99 or even $199 tablets to compete with the $499 iPad. But these are the tech headlines we’re stuck with, as long as geeks are the ones writing most of them. It’s one big ball of hype and fury signifying nothing that anyone outside the geekiest one percent of the population cares about. But it’s nothing new.
If more evidence is needed that the geekdom is growing more irrelevant by the day, one need look no further than the fact that the majority of the tech headlines right now are about the HP TouchPad despite the fact that almost no one in the mainstream has even heard of the product (or ever will). In fact the majority of those headlines are of the positive variety, an odd thing to find for a product which thoroughly flopped and was pulled from the market in record time. There’s talk of what great things will happen to the geek-worshipped webOS next (hint: it’s already dead), talk of how some company no one’s heard of is offering to port the Android OS to the TouchPad (which might be of some use if more than a small handful of TouchPads were manufactured before the plug was pulled), and talk about how Microsoft is courting webOS developers to make apps for Windows Phone 7 instead. All fifty of them. Contrast that with the tens of thousands of iPad app developers. It’s all mere geek self-delusion as they watch yet another of their cherished geek-leaning products go down in flames. So what does it mean for the ninety-nine percent of the population who aren’t geeks?…
For starters, it means ignore headlines written by geeks who aren’t aware that the rest of the population exists. But beyond that, the failure of the TouchPad despite HP’s visibility, retail presence, and resources is just another marker in the long line drawn in the sand over the past decade in which the public has gradually declared its independence from geek influence. Sure, the geeks are still needed in order to build and code the tech products which the rest of us use. But even as the geeks have spent the past decade championing products like the Archos MP3 Player over the iPod and the Touchpad over the iPad, the public has increasingly ignored that advice and instead bought what felt right to them or relied on non-geek peers for first hand advice. When it comes to Apple products specifically, the geeks have almost uniformly lined up in opposition to every Apple product in the past decade, except for two which they championed: the Mac Mini and the Apple TV. Not coincidentally, they’re the only two consumer hardware flops which Apple has had during that time. But this isn’t just about Apple products…
The geeks champion Android, the lone new geek-leaning tech product to succeed this past decade, because it’s hacker-friendly (which they use the propaganda words “open” and “customizable” to describe) in a wild west-inspired landscape in which geeks often prefer to write their own apps rather than buy them. If it sounds like a horrifyingly inappropriate product for the non-geek mainstream, that might explain why studies show that the majority of Android users plan to switch to another platform with their next purchase. That’s because most of them only bought an Android phone because their carrier didn’t have the iPhone or because a geek salesman convinced them that it would offer the same experience as the iPhone. But the geeks instead view the marketshare success of Android as a sign that their fortunes are turning, the age of the geek is on its way back, and that they’re once again winning. One little problem. Two, actually.
The first is that Android’s success isn’t for the reasons the geeks think it is. The second is that Android is the only geek-oriented product to have found major success in recent years. The HP TouchPad, as you’ve learned this week if you were wise enough to dodge the geek headlines claiming otherwise, was canceled in an embarrassing failure. MP3 players like the Zune and the Archos all failed. The Palm Pre smartphone was such a flop that it killed Palm, which how its webOS operating system ended up in the hands of Hewlett Packard in the first place. Even Microsoft, which dominated back in the day with the PC operating system Windows (a geek’s warped vision of what a consumer might want from a computer), can’t find any success these days with its Windows Phone 7 efforts…
Each time the geek headlines predict that a new tech product will succeed or lavish it with praise, it almost always fails (the geeks proclaimed the failed Mac Mini to have been the perfect Mac computer). Each time the geeks have a collective meltdown about how horrid a product is (the anti-iPad rants of 2010 might have been enough to get some tech writers Baker-acted), that product tends to take off and succeed. The flop of the geek-leaning HP TouchPad, then, after the geek headline writers had collectively positioned it as a superior and viable challenger to the iPad, is nothing to be surprised about. The only surprise this week would have been if the geek-written headlines regarding the quick demise of the TouchPad had been more accurate. You know, something along the lines of “$99 HP TouchPad still gets outsold by $499 iPad.” Here’s more on the end of the HP TouchPad.
by Johnny Major
It’s a case of good news – bad news for Windows Phone 7 this week, if “good news” is marketshare no longer being one percent and ‘bad news’ is something happening even more embarrassing than the next generation of the product being called Mango. And no, the name of the product wasn’t changed to Windows Phone Lemon. One of the key folks on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 team has left the building (if an ‘evangelist’ counts as being a key team member) ahead of the Mango release date, which can’t be good news unless it was that one guy on the team everyone was hoping would take a hint and quit anyway. But in better news, Windows Phone 7 marketshare in the United States has now reached the magical two percent number, which means that we can no longer poke fun at Microsoft for only having one percent of the smartphone market. But wait, there’s more good news.
As it turns out, Windows Phone 7 has something in common with David Hasselhoff’s singing career: it’s inexplicably popular in Germany. Actually, it has seven percent of the German market, which means that it’s merely getting its butt handed to it by iPhone and Android in a significantly less embarrassing fashion. But in one sense it’s a start. If this were some upstart company, we’d be patting it on the back for having carved out a niche within an over-crowded market in which iPhone dominates among those who actually care what they’re buying, Android sucks up most of the rest of folks thanks to carrier over-promotion, and BlackBerry still carries the day with sentimentalists. But this is Microsoft, formerly the largest tech company. If the only bragging point regarding Windows Phone 7 is that it has high single digit marketshare in one nation and it’s otherwise stuck at two percent overall, despite Microsoft’s limitless financial backing and marketing muscle, it’s very close to time to be writing off Windows Phone 7 as yet another Microsoft smartphone flop. Of course its small sliver of users feel differently, and will insist that we at least wait until the Windows Phone Mango release date to find out whether it’s truly a lemon.
Everyone wants the Verizon iPhone to happen. Verizon customers who’ve been waiting for the iPhone are the most obvious beneficiaries. Existing iPhone users in the U.S. want the Verizon iPhone to happen because it gives them a choice of carriers, might make for a less-burdened AT&T network, and could even (gasp) spark competition between Verizon and AT&T. App developers want the Verizon iPhone to happen because it’ll shift more of Verizon’s customer base from basic cellphones onto smartphones. Verizon and Apple both want the Verizon iPhone to happen for obvious reasons.
So who doesn’t want a Verizon iPhone to come to market? Here are three people, well actually two people and one specific type of person, who represent the only people on the planet rooting against the arrival of a Verizon iPhone:
Google CEO Eric Schmidt. It’s still not clear (perhaps not even to him) what exactly Google stands to gain from trying to get its free open-source Android operating system into as many smartphones as possible. Perhaps it’s merely an advertising real estate ploy, or perhaps there’s more to it. But the arrival of a Verizon iPhone is nothing short of terrible news for the continued growth prospects of the Android platform, as many buyers of Android phones are more than willing to admit that they only bought one because they wanted an iPhone but couldn’t get one from their carrier of choice.
Android fanatics. Tech geeks who’ve viewed the rise of products like the iPhone and iPod, based purely around mainstream ease of use instead of an obtuse list of vaguely usable features, tend to see Apple as a threat to their way of life. Even many tech geeks who use a Mac computer love to brag about how the iPhone is a toy and they prefer the geek-oriented Android platform. Or at the least, they’ve hacked their iPhone beyond the point of recognizability – anything to differentiate themselves from mainstream tech users, even if it means using an inferior product (Android, Zune, etc) or mutilating their iPhone into something less usable (they’ve even come up with propaganda terms like “jailbreaking” for it, in the name of belittling anyone who buys an iPhone and uses it as intended).
Watching mainstream Verizon customers being forced into buying a Droid phone has become a spectator sport for tech geeks who’ve viewed the rise of the Android platform as a validation of their way of life. And they know that the launch of the Verizon iPhone will now give those mainstream Verizon customers to option to go with the iPhone they wanted in the first place. As many public geek meltdowns as we witnessed in 2010 across the internet, expect even more in 2011 once the Verizon iPhone puts a stop to rising Android marketshare.
Steve Ballmer. With his Windows, Internet Explorer, and Office products all losing marketshare, his Zune a total flop, and his years of failing to get Windows-based smartphones off the ground, it’s a good thing the Microsoft CEO has his Xbox gaming division doing so well. But even as Microsoft gears up to launch its Windows Phone 7 products this month, the mere independent confirmation of an impending Verizon iPhone has completely overshadowed Microsoft’s official smartphone announcements. And on top of it all, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was just (fictionally) depicted in The Social Network, with the entire premise of his appearance in the movie being that a Harvard student didn’t recognize him.
Whatever the Microsoft Kin was, it didn’t last long. The new phone, which Microsoft sent to market seemingly just days ago, has already been end of life’d as a separate product and instead folded into Microsoft’s Windows 7 phone team, which has been a long-running failure itself. The bizarre part is that the end of the Kin has come even as its initial run of television advertisements introducing the product to the public is still airing. And that’s before one considers the name “Kin” itself which was a beyond bizarre choice when one considers the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle.
When the Kin was first introduced, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber prophetically wrote “Microsoft Announces Kin, Its Next Two Failed Phones” – yet one has to wonder if even he expected it to disappear this quickly.