Microsoft's Game of Catch-Up

Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360

Yesterday evening, I was sitting on my sofa quietly reading. I had my television on in the background, and noticed a recurring ad spot that I had not noticed before. Microsoft has evidently begun to advertise the Xbox 360 for the holidays, and has smartly included the forthcoming Dashboard update as part of the advertising campaign.

What's really striking about the ad campaign is the focus on Kinect compatibility. There's young families talking to their Xbox, asking it to open Netflix, or playing a variety of motion and voice interactive games. It all looks very fluid, casual, and intuitive.

Of course none of this is new. The Kinect has been around for quite some time, and its feature set has been largely unchanged since its introduction. What is striking, however, is the focus upon voice control. If it weren't for the television in the frame, Microsoft's latest ads could almost be mistaken for an iPhone 4S campaign.

When paired with last week's collective uproar following Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer's claims that Microsoft invented Siri-esque technology over a year ago, Microsoft's flaws become painstakingly obvious.

Amidst rumors of a Siri-controlled Apple television, Microsoft is latching onto its pre-existing technology, and attempting to pre-empt Apple's purportedly serious move into the living room. Microsoft is actively looking to bring more streaming content to the Xbox 360, and with Kinect, that could be a powerful combination, but considering this potential has been there for quite some time, it is odd that they choose to begin promoting it now.

Windows Phone is a good thing for Microsoft, and it does indeed have Tellme voice control technology, but Microsoft has failed to capitalize on this feature, and that alone is truly telling about the company.

M.G. Siegler's response to Microsoft's comments is entitled, "If You Had Invented Siri, You Would've Invented Siri." Siegler rightly highlights Microsoft's propensity for yelling "us too" whenever its competitors release a new product. The question is, if Microsoft did invent Siri-esque technology over a year ago, then why did they not trumpet it? Microsoft attributes Apple's success in the space to good marketing, but that begs the question, where on Earth was Microsoft's marketing of this revolutionary feature? Apple's move toward voice control was inevitable, and yet, Microsoft sat blissfully unaware of the potential in the voice control field, particularly embarrassing considering Microsoft bought Tellme in 2007, and already had the technology implemented.

Voice control has been largely dismissed in recent years. The technology has been finicky, and frustrating to work with. Apple's Siri, however, works in a natural, intuitive manner that upends any preconceived notions of voice implementation. As such, Apple has marketed Siri, and has shown the world what benefits it can bring to your life.

Microsoft has done none of this, and its current scramble to do so is embarrassing.

What really becomes apparent is that even if Microsoft develops a great, market-disrupting product, the software giant lacks the foresight and maneuverability to recognize it. They included Tellme, but it only becomes important once Siri ships? They built the Kinect, but its voice control ability only becomes important once voice control is popularized?

Why couldn't Microsoft be the one to popularize the technology?

Windows Phone 7.5 has been extremely well-received, but you see little of it on television, and you hear few people discussing its benefits. Part of me thinks that Microsoft is unaware of what it has. Prior to Windows Phone 7, their mobile platform was falling apart. Windows Phone 7 (and specifically 7.5) has made the platform enticing to even the most platform-devoted Android/iOS fans. And yet, here Microsoft is, proving its inability to recognize its own benefits. Rather than proudly announcing its features, Microsoft seems to build features on accident, and when the market moves there, later realizes that they've already built something along the right lines. 

Put simply, Microsoft has the means to guide the industry, but seems to lack the forethought to do so.

Following the revelations of the death of the Microsoft Courier, and the apparent fear of market disruption embodied by Windows 8, Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox have become bastions of positivity for Microsoft, in my eyes. The two demonstrate that Microsoft has a latent desire to reinvigorate itself, and to look forward. The inclusion of streaming television in the Xbox 360, and the strong improvements in Windows Phone 7.5 are great things, but, as evidenced by Microsoft's catch-up campaigns, how long will it take for these platforms to succumb to their sluggish parent's failure to recognize talent and potential?