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7/31/2014
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Microsoft's Device Strategy: 3 Unanswered Questions

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's scaled-down device strategy creates new questions about unreleased and rumored devices.

Smartphones Of The Future: 6 Cool Technologies
Smartphones Of The Future: 6 Cool Technologies
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This month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sought to clarify his company's strategy to build its own devices. Previous CEO Steve Ballmer positioned products such as the Surface tablets as a key pillar in his "devices and services" game plan, but Nadella, who has recast Microsoft's identity as "productivity and platforms," cautioned that his company is "not in hardware for hardware's sake."

Nadella's scaled-down plan focuses on devices that "light up" the company's cloud services and set an example for its ecosystem partners. In other words, the devices aren't strictly about chasing market share, let alone challenging Apple. Rather, the acquisition of Nokia's device business is about "responsibly" building the Windows Phone market, while the Surface line appears dedicated more to exploring new avenues, such as hybridity. Still, Nadella's statements leave several questions unanswered. Here are three things we still don't know about Microsoft's device strategy.

1. Where are Surface blades?
Back in the fall of 2013, at the launch of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, Microsoft teased an in-development line of Surface accessories that executives called blades. The accessories look somewhat like the Surface keyboards and magnetically connect to the device in the same way, but they're not made for typing. Rather, they act like a touchscreen without the screen.

Microsoft showed off a prototype blade that could be used to mix music, which became the since-discontinued Surface Music Kit. Executives also suggested that such accessories would push new boundaries. Since then we've heard only a few blips about these products, notably Surface leader Panos Panay's declaration during a May Reddit AMA that Microsoft killed the Music Kit because it's working on "other cool stuff."

Microsoft didn't respond to InformationWeek's inquiry about the status of blades and similar Surface accessories. Still, to give credit where it's due, the company has developed a respectable ecosystem around Surface, complete with several types of keyboard covers, docking stations, and charging carts.

[Does Satya Nadella have Microsoft back on track? Read Microsoft Faces 4 Big Challenges.]

2. Is the Surface Mini really dead, and will there be any more Windows RT devices?
Microsoft hasn't officially acknowledged the Surface Mini, which was expected to debut last spring alongside the Surface Pro 3 and was reportedly mothballed at the 11th hour by Nadella. However, despite its silence, the company has indirectly admitted as much at least twice -- first when it accidentally left Mini references in the Pro 3 user guide, and later when its earnings report included a Surface charge related to its decision "not to ship a new form factor."

Since then, some reports have claimed that the Mini might still be released in the future, though most recent buzz indicates the product has been terminated. The mini-tablet market is fraught with tight margins and encroachment from phablets, so Nadella might have decided to let partners handle those duties, rather than investing Microsoft's resources in a "me-too" product.

Moreover, Windows Phone 8.1 Update enhancements indicate Windows Phone might become an option for OEMs that build small tablets -- which makes sense, given that no company other than Microsoft cares about Windows RT. Nadella has also promised that the next versions of Windows will converge all versions on a common core. It's possible Microsoft was hesitant to release a smaller device until these OS changes had been implemented; it's hard to "light up" an experience that's half-baked, after all. But it's also possible we'll never see the Surface Mini.

3. Will Microsoft make wearable devices?
Reports have claimed for months that Microsoft is readying a fitness-oriented smartwatch, perhaps for a launch as soon as this fall. A variety of patents affirm Microsoft's interest in wearable devices, including some that closely resemble the rumored smartwatch.

That said, with Nadella evidently willing to axe projects that don't align with Microsoft's core, does he still consider smartwatches worthwhile? In his public statements, he has repeatedly mentioned wearable devices and the Internet of Things, so it's a good bet Microsoft shifts Windows increasingly into these areas and probably produces some devices along the way.

Indeed, given the emphasis on contextually informed, on-the-go productivity experiences, sensor-laden wearable devices fit the new CEO's mindset better than a Surface Mini would have. Still, smartwatches haven't lived up to the industry's outsize expectations for wearable devices, so it remains to be seen when, and in what form, Microsoft makes a move.

Consumerization means CIOs must grant personal devices access to corporate data and networks. Here's how to avoid loss and corruption. Get the new Mobile Security Action Plan issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest today (free registration required).

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2014 | 5:24:09 PM
Re: Either you try...or keep trying
@mejiac,

This is true BUT have you seen how groups within large organizations work together. It's a disaster. Everyone has their own agenda & hate it when their leader(s) or PMs now ask them to work with someone else that isn't focused on the same deliverables.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
8/4/2014 | 4:10:12 PM
Re: Either you try...or keep trying
@shakeeb,

To be honest, if we look at history, it not the best,

Windows Mobile Phones were a good competitor prior to Iphones and Androids becoming the dominant players they are now.

So far we've seen a lot of movements (like Microsoft buying Nokia), but nothing has been able to fully stick.

 

The ideal future state is that I would have one handled device that would be able to control my PC and Xbox from my couch.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
8/4/2014 | 4:03:23 PM
Re: Either you try...or keep trying
@melgross,

WOW...great statistics!!!

This does rais the serious question on what is Microsoft trying to aim for?

Response on the Surface as a tablet are mixed to negative, and the Surface Pro has a niche market mostly for professionales... but as for tablets use, I think the numbers speak for themselves.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
8/4/2014 | 4:01:23 PM
Re: Either you try...or keep trying
@pcharles09,

"The only thing MSFT has on their side is that they're so big. But this also eads you to split people's focus... which is also not good.",

Agreed, but sometimes when you get a team together to focus on a specific activity, and leverage existing synergy from other departments/initiates, then we see the magic happen :)
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
8/2/2014 | 3:39:34 PM
Re: Either you try...or keep trying
Well, the iPad has over a 70% share of tablets in business and government, according to one measure, and 93% according to another. It should be obvious that this can do what organization need. This is the problem Microsoft has. If the iPad fullfills most organizational needs, then where does the much more expensive Surface Pro fit in? I believe that it will find some uses within IT, and some other niches, but where else is a serious question.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
8/2/2014 | 3:36:22 PM
Re: Changing course
RT has been failing because there is no reason to use it. What does it offer that Android or iOS doesn't? It came with a truncated version of Office, but despite what Microsoft, and some others seem to think, Office isn't the draw Microsoft expected it to be. So even with that free version, people weren't interested.
damsanchande
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damsanchande,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/2/2014 | 12:16:23 AM
Re: Either you try...or keep trying
Microsoft's tablets look and feels really good IMHO. The reason they are slow to take off is just, people use tablets to play and read news, and do simple, no brainer stuffs. Yet Microsoft's tablets offer complicated tools to work. Too bad for Microsoft, People don't really use technologies to work like the time of Bill.

sàn gỗ công nghiệp
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
8/1/2014 | 11:04:55 AM
Re: Changing course
To me the OS  cooked for mobile device looks  a little bit weird. Windows Phone did not get its popularity yet compared  to Android and iOS. Windows RT is even more weird - I am afraid few people have ever played it. For Surface, I think using normal Windows is a wise choice. If it can become slimmer and lighter, more people will love it.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
8/1/2014 | 10:14:38 AM
Re: Changing course
While some disagree with me on this, yes, I do think it's, in large part, the mobile OS. I see little evidence that people like it. Of course, some do, but most don't. It's different enough from what they're used to that they don't understand it. Microsoft is finally making folders, something they should have had a couple of years ago. Maybe that will help somewhat.
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 11:43:04 PM
Re: Either you try...or keep trying
@shakeeb,

MSFT's image has already been hurt a little bit. with their mobile push. Not necessarily a damaging blow but it's not a badge of honor. They have a ways to go before it could even be considered a service-able business unit.
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