I'm not one for usually talking up IT companies, but given my interest in technology innovation and the dramatic way in which it is shaping our lives and businesses I feel compelled to give my thoughts on where I think it is all going over the next few years.
Microsoft, for the last decade or so had been excluded from the 'cool technology' gang that Apple, Google and Facebook have created. The iPad and Android devices that catapulted these companies and their share price into the stratosphere, are now everywhere and you would be hard pressed to find somebody who isn't using one. Some say that Microsoft lost its edge in the innovation space when Bill started to wind down, or because of the silo management within the organisation, or indeed because of their HR policy on forced ranking which made employees focus on competing with each other rather than the competition.
Irrespective of the actual reason, it is safe to say that Microsoft has relinquished its technology domination to other companies like Apple - until now. With the release of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, they look, at least to me, set to take back what they once had - the technology world. Let me explain my reasoning.
Apple produced the iPhone and iPad, and we all know the frenzy that insued in making it the must have device. They then released more iPhones and iPads with newer designs but ultimately weren't that different from the original. For years people paid lots of money to get the latest version of the device, but recently there is a growing view that Apple is milking their franchise by simply changing the version number and providing little more innovation in the functionality....except perhaps the maps which innovate new ways to get lost. The iPad also made its way into the corporate world, a place where Apple had very little business (outside of marketing and graphics departments) and every executive wanted to walk into the meeting room with his tablet instead of a pen and paper.
The problem is that whilst executives could write notes or emails on their iPad the rest of the employees in the company couldn't actually work with an iPad because all their apps run on windows. OK... browsing the Internet, looking at YouTube and Facebook is fun, but sometimes you need to work on a spreadsheet and possibly even print it...and the iPad doesn't do those boring things. Former Apple leader Steve Wozniak recently conceded that the company had gotten too comfortable selling shiny devices, and said that he 'worried' that Microsoft was now more innovative and creative - the cornerstone of Apples success. Cue the Windows 8 surface, and Nokia with their flagship Lumia 920 - dubbed the most innovative phone in the world. In my view not only innovative, but pretty much also going to be responsible for putting Garmin and TomTom out of business, because the built in offline navigation it comes with is free. Nokia shareholders agree with me and the stock price is up 150% since August 2012.
Many of my colleagues question why I think Microsoft will be taking back what Apple stole from under their nose...and I simply tell them that it's because they finally now have a tablet and smartphone of their own that does cool stuff Iike Facebook and YouTube but, and here it comes - also does spreadsheets, printing and runs all the apps that employees around the world have been using for the past twenty-something years. What's more is that they have a huge development legacy which is firmly embedded in all companies, and the apps they run.
Granted there are a few business apps which run on IOS and Android, but nothing in the ballpark of windows. What's more is that the birth of HTML5 and other common development platforms mean that porting from IOS and Android to Windows is going to be a breeze. Already most of the top apps on IOS and Android are available on the Windows 8 store. The reverse is not the case.
I'm not finished there. Another reason why I see Microsoft assuming 'Cyberdyne Systems' status soon, is their well orchestrated strategy of big data channel convergence using the pc/laptop/tablet/smartphone/Skype/Lync/shop window. Shop window? my colleagues ask. Yes the range of large hardware touchscreens supporting Windows 8 means that by the end of 2014 I am certain that most retails stores will have a touchscreen in the front window, and on their store walls... running windows 8. I would even go so far as to say that Windows 8 touch screens might even be the critical ingredient needed for retail survival on the high street. Browsing product catalogues on large touch screen walls, and then buying the product by touching the screen with your Windows 8 NFC smartphone with built in Microsoft Wallet might make for a compelling, new retail experience.
Now I am not entirely unaware of the fact that Microsoft's previous mobile operating systems have not had great success, but this time it is different because you can see the integration with their tablet and PC experience. They have taken Skype from the consumer world and Lync from the corporate world and happily married them using federation so that now Microsoft effectively owns the telecom industry. Both Skype and Lync work on the windows phone...and the iPhone. In my view, all it will really take for Microsoft to kill off IOS and Android, and make Windows 8 the phone OS of choice is for Microsoft to buy RIM and convert all those BBM loyalists to Skype on Windows 8 Mobile. Oh, and if Microsoft can buy a company like Square then world domination will follow shortly afterwards and you can expect to see T-1000 terminators running around with little Windows 8 logo's on their chest by the end of the year.