This is a time of great change for Microsoft.
At this week’s Microsoft Build conference keynotes, the company had its big chance to show developers why they should build their applications for the whole suite of Windows 10 everything — including the HoloLens holographic computer.
Holograms! Projected from a headset! That you can wear! By all reports, it’s exactly as cool as its potential. Developers are chomping at the bit to give it a try, and consumers are desperate to hear more.
It seems like an easy sell. Microsoft has all of the cachet of being Microsoft, with all of the benefits that brings. It’s got some of the smartest technologists in the world working there, including some guy named Bill Gates. It’s on track to earn something like $US20 billion this year — that’s profit — on revenues of perhaps $US90 billion. It’s got over $US90 billion in cash.
But at the same time, there’s some wariness. Microsoft has seemed to be in the lead before, and blown it.
A lot of the technology that the world loves today — the tablet computer, the mobile operating system, the smartwatch — was stuff that Microsoft rushed to market only to fall flat on its face, leaving companies like Apple and Google to pick up the pieces.
“One lesson learned is you’ve got to finish the scenario with excellence. You just cannot stop. You have to complete this, and I think that’s where Apple has taught us all what experience excellence means in the creation of categories,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Nadella told the New York Times recently, referring to lessons learned by Microsoft from its past failures.
This week, at Microsoft Build, developers are getting their first-ever hands-on experience with HoloLens. Their impressions will say it all.
Microsoft is trying to make it as easy as possible to get applications running on HoloLens, and has repeatedly shown that the same Windows 10 app can run across everything, from computers to tablets to HoloLens.
But again, those kinds of promises have been made before. A year ago, Microsoft was pushing “One Windows” initiatives that would make it easy for developers to build applications and sell them on any Microsoft device. Even back when Windows 8 launched in 2012, Microsoft was telling developers that it would be easier than ever to convert apps from desktop to mobile, and trying to convince them to write touch screen apps that would run on a billion computers.
It wasn’t that easy, as it turned out. Windows 8 didn’t sell well and the explosion of great touch-screen apps hasn’t happened. Microsoft’s mobile platform, Windows Phone, still suffers from a
thin app selection and a lot of terrible third-party apps.
But with Windows 10, Microsoft says, things will be different. Microsoft estimates Windows 10 will be on between 1 to 3 billion devices — phones, tablets, robots, HoloLens, and oh yeah, computers — within three years of its launch later this year.
Developers will be able to turn their Android and iOS apps into Windows apps super easily, Microsoft promises. And there will be one Windows Store for people to install apps to any of their devices.
Nobody else is doing any of this in quite this same way. Nobody else has a holographic computer, even.
But if Microsoft doesn’t capture the hearts of developers and customers with its new platform story, it won’t matter how cool the technology is. Apple or Google or Facebook or someone else entirely will take the idea and history will repeat itself.
It’s Microsoft’s game to lose.