The personal-computer business is at a crossroads, and Microsoft Corp. isn't sitting still.
The software giant is developing a new lineup of its Surface tablets, including a 7-inch version expected to go into mass production later this year, said people familiar with the company's plans.
[...] One person familiar with Microsoft's product plans said the 7-inch tablets weren't part of the company's strategy last year, but Microsoft executives realized they needed a response to the rapidly growing popularity of smaller tablets like Google Inc.'s 7-inch Nexus, which was announced last summer, and the 7.9-inch iPad Mini introduced by Apple Inc. last October.
Let me preface this with an acknowledgment: Microsoft's apparent decision to build a 7-inch tablet competitor is unquestionably logical and pragmatic.
Consumers have shown their propensity toward the form factor, whilst Microsoft has introduced an under-adopted — and presumably failing — large-scale tablet. Thus, to grasp at relevance, it makes (elementary) sense to build something perceived as affable for modern consumers.
At the same time, the news is so ridiculously Microsoftian (for lack of a better word) it borders upon painful.
The company seems hellbent upon lingering a year or two behind all of its competitors. Google and Apple are presumably well into planning and developing follow-up iterations of their tablets from last year, Android is garnering increased intrigue from the Apple sect, and Apple is said to be plotting a distinct aesthetic departure from its iOS roots. Meanwhile, Microsoft is planning a 7-inch tablet to debut a year late with an operating system that continues to baffle even the most technologically-versed members of the community.
I can just imagine the PR team who brought this item of news to the Journal, wringing their hands together with gleeful excitement, under the impression this ought to send shockwaves through the market.
Instead, the news has almost immediately been cast aside. In fact, funnily enough, the most exciting stories of the moment center upon the Xbox brand, aptly demonstrating quite how confused Microsoft's strategy has become.
I continue to harbor praise and admiration for modern day Microsoft. They're a company experimenting with radical UI designs and they're actively disrupting their own core businesses. And yet, it's these moments of transparency in which we witness the conflict of creative and engineer within Microsoft. For every good idea, there seems to be a pessimistic reticence expressed. (Hence the existence of the genuinely baffling Windows RT.)
Although the product thinking is entirely logical in this instance (i.e., introduce a 7-inch tablet for a market conducive to 7-inch tablets), Microsoft's strategy continues to be utterly bereft of experiential consideration. Rather than pondering the best experience for its consumers, Microsoft is instead focusing upon simply selling things. There's an entire avenue of thoughtfulness that simply has not been incorporated into Microsoft's strategy.
Much of me wants Microsoft to succeed with the Surface, Windows Phone, and even Windows RT, but the systemic nature of thinking within the "Windows" portion of the company is poisonous to effective and affable innovation. Xbox continues to be the best of its class and excitement for its successor has reached fever pitch. Meanwhile, the Windows teams continue to rely upon outmoded responses to last year's market — at best.
Perhaps the so-called "Blue" movement within the Windows team will work to harmonize, unify, and rectify much of the company's computing woes. But, for now, all I see is a company operating with a clumsy lack of agility in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
And that certainly doesn't bode well for the company's upcoming prospects.