A report today from Information Week supposes that Microsoft will introduce its own slate-type tablet computer. The key bit in the story had nothing to do with the quality of the product, but the lack of enthusiasm it has so far engendered. “Microsoft has not officially confirmed the (New York) Times’ report, and investors largely shrugged at the news. Microsoft shares were up .16%, to $31.01, in early trading Wednesday on the NASDAQ.”
True, this is the company’s second bite at the tablet apple (pun intended) and so naturally would not create the “shock of the new.” But it is more likely a response rooted deeply in the minds of consumers who more comfortably categorize Microsoft within the four software walls of Office, than among untethered consumer-focused devices. It is a matter of context.
We make sense of a noisy world by applying context created at the point we first encounter a company or product and is then reinforced by performance. This makes it really hard to expand or pivot a company’s reputation. If Apple is a design company, what isn’t it? If Dell is a manufacturing company, what isn’t it? If Microsoft is a desktop software company, what isn’t it?
Google, with its introduction of the Nexus One “smartphone” has demonstrated one way to break away. Afterall, if Google is an advertising-driven search service, what isn’t it? It is not so much advertising-driven as it is advertising-disruptive. It has taken the market’s acknowledgment of these qualities — shaking up the stodgy for the benefit of consumers — to add new services (like gMail), buy other companies (like YouTube) and enter new markets in need of disruption (like mobile phones). Microsoft has no such market permission.
It can get it, though. The early reports on its new operating system suggest the kind of exceptional performance in a core business that is required for acceptance in adjacent ones. This is what helps the success of the company’s market leading Xbox game console. Think of it as a desktop for the home.
Increasing market demand for wireless devices will earn Microsoft a second look for its software-driven smartphones and tablets. Turning consideration into market leadership will depend on the company’s ability to reveal how it has been looking out for our interests all along.