Microsoft's tablet strategy

We talk to the software giant on its battle plans for the tablet market...
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With every tech firm out there trying to get involved in the voguish tablet space, Microsoft – for over 30 years the heart of the PC industry – isn’t about to be left behind. David Rodger, partner strategy lead responsible for tablets, tells us why, when all the others scramble over the consumer space, it can clean up in the business market…

The tablet market is a notoriously crowded category, and difficult to stand out in. What is Microsoft’s strategy here?

A lot of the tablet demand is in consumer, but what we’re seeing from local intelligence is that about ten per cent of demand is coming from within the work place.

We see the current set as for consumption of content rather than creation. There is a capability with apps to do it, but inherently they are closed systems. It’s a growing issue in the work place – business have had to worry about PC and smartphone estates, now they have to think about their tablets estates.

That’s where we’re seeing an opportunity with our devices. What’s happened is Apple has come in, and then a lot of ‘me too’ devices have followed, primarily aimed at the consumer. From our perspective, we really understand business needs.

So you’re ploughing your efforts into the business space?

That’s the opening we’re seeing right now. It’s an obvious answer. I’ll give you a scenario. Influencing the boardroom on technology is an amazing thing, and the tablet has done that.

Doors are opening. You can think about the organisations that possibly were using legacy software, and the guy at the top who previously saw IT as a cost, now sees technology as something to open. That creates a discussion, and makes them believe technology is a lever for their business to help them grow.

And you feel you can hit that market much better than the other tablets out there? Would you argue you couldn’t do these things on an iPad or an Android tablet?

I think there’s been such great positioning of the media tablet that people totally understand or have a view of it, which is maybe broader than what the devices can bring sometimes. But the first question we ask when we meet customers is ‘what are you truly wanting to use it for? Is it a product trying to find a home, what’s the true usage?’ And we get them to understand the business needs.

If the usage is primarily about touch and consumption, then that’s maybe a little bit different. There are ways where we know we can succeed because it’s all about the business usage.

When you come down to managing and securing an estate and the simplicity for an organisation, I think the media tablet is an addition rather than synching in at the moment, that’s how we see it. We think we bring that to the fore.

Will you be going after the consumer market at all?

The OEMs are also selling into the consumer space as well with the devices, so again I think it comes down to how people want to use the device. You know that Windows 7 is one of the most popular operating systems out there. The satisfaction levels are over 90 per cent. 350 million units worldwide sort of explains itself.

It’s a popular operating system, so in the house and the home, people understand it and want to go for it. So we think there is a degree of success there already.

Much of the market is so similar, seeing as it’s basically a screen which mostly runs Android, apart from Apple. Will you be able to bring some sort of differentiation within the market? To shake it up a bit?

Yes I think so, from the perspective that this is a full PC. With a PC you can go on the internet and download any application you want. It’s the richness of the interface that it brings, with Internet Explorer 9 and full Office. We understand our market, our business market.

People will progressively expect more and more from the device they have. I’m not saying our competition won’t evolve with that, but certainly we believe we’re there already.

Is there room for everyone in this market? Or will we see some hasty retreats?

Like any opening market it’s going to grow like billy-o, you just have to see how it matures. The door has been opened by the media tablet, and that makes people think ‘where do I go next’.

Can Apple be knocked off the top spot? Some have said they may come to almost ‘own’ the sector in a similar way to how they dominate the MP3 market.

The dependence on that is the evolution of the usage and the people that are actually buying into it right now, that’s probably where you’re going to see it. I can’t judge what that will mean, I think you’ve got to think where the users are going to go and what they’re going to expect from their devices.

That’s why we’ve got a degree of confidence as Microsoft with the products we’re bringing in right now, that we think people are going to expect more and more from these devices. Better chip technology, size, better battery life. Everything is going to drive a richer experience in that format.

That’s where we see it evolving, but who knows where we’re going to evolve on that. They obviously have the position they have right now in the market. The next generation brings a richer experience, not just a consumption experience.

Basically offering businesses flexibility in what tablets they use is your chief benefit?

We’ve been watching the market and we think this is the right position to come in with it now. It delivers as a PC, but there are so many different versions. Its delivering choice to the consumer and the business, at the same time as giving choice in the UI – its not all about touch.

So the antitheses of the closed App Store system?

Mmm. And I think we’re answering the questions businesses are asking about: ‘how do I secure, how do I manage, and how do I make people fully productive in an environment to create stuff rather than just consume stuff?’

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