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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How Microsoft Could Win the Tablet War

How Microsoft Could Win the Tablet War

Apple defined the tablet market with its release of the iPad in 2010, only three years ago.  It continues to dominate with about 1/3 of the tablet sales, more than any other single manufacturer.  That is 1/3 of all tablets sold in the most recent quarter.  Since its market domination has been much higher until now.  It is fair to say that the vast majority of tablet users today are using iPads.

Its main competitor is Google which provides the free Android OS used on almost all competing tablets sold in a whole range of prices, sizes, and customizations.  If you add up all these manufacturers, it is clear that Android is the new tablet power to beat.

Smaller competitors such as Blackberry and HP using the old Palm technology have faded quickly without making much of any impression.  Only Microsoft's Surface remains a distant third place tablet OS.  Even this entry probably would have died if not backed by a company able to sustain billions of dollars in losses in an attempt to gain a foothold.  At this point analysts do not think Microsoft is even a serious contender in the market.
While the Surface OS has gotten relatively good reviews, its sales have been disappointing, despite spending a Billion dollars on advertising.  How can Microsoft find its place in this highly competitive market?

In the short term, Microsoft needs to slash the price of its devices.  How many consumers will pay $800 plus for a Surface if they can get an iPad for half that?  The Nexus 7 exploded in market share when it sold for $200.  If the Surface went on sale for that price, it's market share would also explode. You could even bundle tablets with free subscriptions to Office365 for several years, helping to build that market share as well.  Selling at a loss is a good idea.  Don't spend all that money on marketing.  Sell at a low price and build market share.

But longer term, Microsoft cannot satisfy shareholders by selling devices at a loss.  It has to find its place in the market.  For that, ask yourself where Microsoft is strongest.  Clearly the answer is the office enterprise environment.  While Apple and Android are popular among consumers, few enterprises have adopted their technologies.  Business still runs on Windows.  Some iPads have found there way into the office, but mostly because Microsoft offers no serious alternative.
To put its tablets into the enterprise environment, Microsoft needs to offer employers and employees something useful which is not available from Apple or Google.  Make a device that is much more user friendly for working with e-documents.

First, make a larger tablet.  When I hold a piece of paper in my hand it is 8.5" by 11" about size of a 15" computer screen.  Why then must I view this document on a 10" screen?  That is too small.
Don't try to build a whole PC into a tablet.  Make a smaller leaner faster OS that can boot up in less than 15 seconds.  The tablet can essentially be a "dummy terminal" that connects wirelessly to the Enterprise server.  Almost all apps can be run from the server, with the tablet simply containing some very basic code to view documents save for offline reading and basic editing.  This means a less powerful (cheaper) CPU and other hardware as well as longer battery life.

Tie these tablets into Windows servers.  Allow users to log into a tablet and have immediate access to all of their documents.  You could even tie it into Sharepoint or Office365 for out of office use. 
Make it easy to share documents.  Have an easy interface so that one tablet with the push of one button can share a document with all other tablets within 20 feet.  This would make it very easy for conference room meetings.  If you want to make it frendlier for teleconferencing, tie in Skype.  Users connected via Skype could also be tied into the one button document share. 

 Users could mark up the shared document in a collaborative way at the same time.  Sure, Google already allows this feature in Google Drive, but by tying it to your local file server, you make this collaboration accessible to existing libraries, rather than having customers abandon you for the cloud.  It also allows for greater document security, which leads to my next point.
Make it secure.  Unlike many of your competitors, you already own the infrastructure of most offices.  Your servers and software are already being run.  Make these tablets a secure extension of the documents available on their PCs, giving users the flexibility to go paperless but carry their documents around with them.  Most IT departments would be happy to have a much more secure option that gives users freedom to move about with documents.  They would be much more willing to ban the BYOD ethos that users are demanding today.

Don't try to be cool.  You ceded that market to Apple and Google already.  Don't try to personalize the device and appeal to consumers.  Show IT departments why your tablet makes the most sense in an Enterprise environment.  You can lock down the device to approved apps so users are not using them to access Facebook, Instagram, or Netflix.  Many employers are still very concerned about employees being distracted and wasting time on the Internet.  Offer the boss a tool that can be used for work.  If you want, you can make a different device for end user consumers who want to have fun.  But as you have seen, breaking into that market is a tough one.  You are focused here on a separate market for business.

You are the grown up in the room, with stable, professional, enterprise ready devices.  Doing away with bells and whistles makes your device faster, cheaper, and more reliable.  Combine that with a simple easy to understand user interface focused on business use, and you have found a place in the market for years to come.