Microsoft has made some bold, brave, moves behind the scenes in its announcements this week, with the Surface tablet reveal annoying its hardware partners, and Windows Phone 8 likely to upset recent Lumia buyers. But, it seems that the deeds needed to be done to revive Microsoft's hopes in these markets.
In The Twilight Zone
In another world, Microsoft hasn't just announced what we've seen this week. Instead, in this parallel world, a bunch of vanilla tablets, basically Android clones with the OS swapped out, will launch in a few months with Windows 8. Also, Windows Phone 8 will stick with the Windows CE core, keeping a small user base happy, for now.
In that world, Microsoft's hardware partners will sell some-million tablets, Nokia a million or so more phones, but there will be no excitement or drama, and Microsoft will drift among the also-rans of mobile technology. But, in our world that's not what is happening.
Microsoft kept some decades-long partnerships out of the loop as it announced its range of Windows RT and Windows 8 Surface tablets. Similarly, anyone who just splashed out on a two-year contract for a Nokia Lumia 900 or other Windows Phone 7 device is going to be mighty peeved that they're stuck with, or face an expensive contract buy-out to keep current when Windows Phone 8 devices arrive.
Microsoft Changing the Game?
With the new Surface tablets, when they launch and whatever the questions over them, there will be a whole world of hype flying around the OS and the new hardware. They'll appear on the front of magazines and websites, in casual and mainstream media. Sure, Microsoft's partners will be upset, apparently they were told just days in advance, but they're still partners, and they also know that if they want to compete with Microsoft's own products, they'll have to raise their own game to compete.
In fact, the head of Acer, Stan Shih believes that these are a marketing move by Microsoft to encourage partners to innovate and to stimulate competition. Perhaps he has a point, but Microsoft can't sit back and let Apple and Samsung win all the plaudits for stylish hardware, hoping that the allure of Windows software will paper over the cracks.
Users Left Hanging On the Phone
As far as Windows Phone 8 goes, Microsoft has a grand plan of unified devices from the PC to tablets, to phones and Xbox 720. Apps, games, data and services should run or be accessible across them all easily, or with the minimum of revision.
To get WP8 devices in that family, it had to break compatibility with the previous core and has at least tried to soften the blow with further 7.x updates for offended users. Additional Windows Phone 8 business features, will give the phones more leg room in the enterprise market and make it easier to create a huge market of apps, which is better for the format's long-term future.
Tough Times Mean Tough Choices
Whatever your favorite destructive metaphor, Microsoft was always going to break some eggs in this transitional period. Relationships will sour, but they can be repaired. Customers will be lost, but if more sign up or come back in the new era, then the company has to consider that vindication.
If the Windows brand comes out of this year a stronger one, if Microsoft hardware has turned heads and interested users, the risks will have been worth it. If things don't pan out like that, then at least it was better to be brave, rather than falter like so many tech casualties of recent years.
Sure, Microsoft is richer than most, but no business is guaranteed its own way in these volatile times. Do you think the new initiatives will be a success? Or will they fail, perhaps because Microsoft can't be more like Apple, no matter how hard it tries, or for another reason?