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Microsoft’s struggle to make things simple

Nick Bilton (via AFR) | July 30, 2013
Microsoft's Surface tablets have failed to make a dent in the dominance of the iPad in the market, but is that because of Apple's superiority of Microsoft's confused messaging?

"The people in Redmond (Microsoft HQ) have a fundamental misunderstanding of what users are looking for, which is not speeds and feeds," said J.P. Gownder, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Speeds and feeds is an old trade magazine term for the technical specifications of a new PC. Fifteen years ago, that a computer was a little bit faster or had more memory than the last version was a very big deal. The string of numbers and jargon on the side of a computers box was a sort of runic code that made sense to IT managers or tech-savvy relatives coerced into helping the less sophisticated. It told them what to buy.

That is just not the case anymore. Consumers demand something that is easy to understand, and they got that in products like the iPad.

There is one flaw in the theory that Microsoft's tablet did not catch on because the iPad was already popular: Microsoft was late to the game, but it was hardly late to the idea. The company helped popularise the term tablet PC when Bill Gates introduced one in 2000 at the annual Comdex computer show in Las Vegas.

But it was Apple, a decade later, that figured out how to simplify the tablet and sell it to mainstream customers.

Microsoft says one of the reasons the company does offer all these features — and feels the need to explain its gigahertz and gigabytes — is that it has to market its products to small businesses and IT professionals, and they still obsess over bigger, better, faster.

That's where technology culture runs into consumer culture, and the two clash.

Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft's vice president for corporate communications, said the company had made great strides to instill a more balanced culture of design, marketing and engineering, and executives there said a reorganisation announced this month would inspire more consumer-friendly offerings.

Microsoft said it was dissolving its eight product divisions in favour of four new ones arranged around more specific themes. "To execute, we've got to move from multiple Microsofts to one Microsoft," said Steve Ballmer, the companys chief executive.

"Are we an engineering-focused culture? Yes, we are, and thats good. Most great technology companies, at their core, have a deep engineering bias," Shaw said. "One of the goals is to make sure we have a more singular vision for what were offering to people."

A few months after the satirical iPod video first drew attention online, Microsoft acknowledged that it had been responsible for the video. Turns out, it was meant to be circulated internally to show how the company needed to change its culture.


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