In an interview with Spiegel Online, Microsoft development director Craig Mundie said something I’ve never heard Microsoft say before:We screwed up.
Mundie was referring to Microsoft’s failure to capitalise on the smartphone and tablet revolutions.
Specifically, Mundie responded to a question about whether Microsoft had missed the mobile revolution because it had failed to anticipate where the industry was headed. Mundie said no–Microsoft had actually correctly foreseen the move to mobile–but the company had suffered from execution problems that stemmed from a need to focus on its core business, Windows.
SPIEGEL: Microsoft’s track record at anticipating technological trends hasn’t always been the best. With the Surface tablet and the new Windows 8 software you are now targeting the mobile market in particular. Is it 10 years too late once again?
Mundie: My response is that we had a music player before the iPod. We had a touch device before the iPad. And we were leading in the mobile phone space. So, it wasn’t for a lack of vision or technological foresight that we lost our leadership position. The problem was that we just didn’t give enough reinforcement to those products at the time that we were leading. Unfortunately, the company had some executional missteps, which occurred right at the time when Apple launched the iPhone. With that, we appeared to drop a generation behind.
SPIEGEL: What happened?
Mundie: During that time, Windows went through a difficult period where we had to shift a huge amount of our focus to security engineering. The criminal activity in cyberspace was growing dramatically 10 years ago, and Microsoft was basically the only company that had enough volume for it to be a target. In part because of that, Windows Vista took a long time to be born.
Given the confidence with which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dismissed the iPhone when it was launched, one suspects that Microsoft’s failure here was the result of more than mere distraction. But it’s interesting to hear Mundie say this.
Microsoft launched Windows 8 and its new Surface tablet today. Both have received mixed reviews. Although Microsoft has come from behind to win before, such a comeback seems very unlikely this time.