(for an alternative viewpoint, see Kip’s opinion on why cutting bait on the late and lame Groove Music was the right move)
That’s right, as the title would suggest, CEO Satya Nadella and by extension, software giant Microsoft doesn’t want you or me as customers.
Why might you ask?
Perhaps, because we’re fickle, fair-weather, shiny gadget chasing consumers whose financial investments are mostly spent perpetuating the status quo rather than helping to make the leaps necessary to shape a technology future envisioned in countless science fiction books and films.
Instead, Microsoft’s ideal customer is a 250,000 seat Office 365 licensee, or an aerospace facility using Azure as its backend cloud solution. Microsoft can no longer be bothered with our petty wants or needs as a Microsoft Health, Band, Windows Phone or Groove Music consumer.
Microsoft believes a future isn’t in the shackles of 5-inch plus rectangle piece of glass, the latest streaming media platform, or even the most powerful gaming console of the time. Instead, Microsoft is betting that the future is in an always-connected mesh network of interconnected devices, nodes, sensors and software that combine to anticipate, automate and regulate the lives of most people. And, quite frankly, it seems Microsoft is tired of walking consumers hand-in-hand through this process.
While a bit crass, it’s that same cold, calculated and seemingly emotionless approach Microsoft has quietly been taking over the past few years to attain its goal of being the connective cloud tissue for tech rather than catching the latest consumer-friendly headline and I think it’s this laser-focus that will kneecap the company in the long term.
As a die-hard Microsoft product user, this realization came to a head earlier this week when the seemingly innocuous Groove Music streaming service was scheduled to be put out to pasture. Sadly, I can no longer trust what is being said by the very company that I’ve shared a not too insignificant amount of my financial investment with. Surely, the quiet misdirection on the future of Windows phone should have been my ‘final’ red-flag, but perhaps it was the culmination of smaller more clearer cancellations that ate away at my peripherals and forced me into a tunnel-like vision on where I stand in the eyes of Microsoft.
Yes, change is hard and perhaps the next few sentences come from a place of misguided or even bitter entitlement, but I believe that while Microsoft may be doing what it thinks is best for the future of the company, its fundamental consumer oversight coupled with reckless corporate double-speak will inhibit its ability to attain its cloud-only future.
I’m not sure how many remember Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s memo two years ago that declared the company would segment its Windows phone production into two consumer-focused endeavors and one commercial expenditure. “A phone for the fans,” was a phrase he used, right before pulling the plug on all Microsoft led Windows phone production. The doublespeak continued in an interview with Windows reporter Mary Jo Foley,
“So when I think about our Windows Phone, I want it to stand for something like Continuum. When I say, wow, that’s an interesting approach where you can have a phone and that same phone, because of our universal platform with Continuum, and can, in fact, be a desktop. That is not something any other phone operating system or device can do. And that’s what I want our devices and device innovation to stand for.”
Since then, Microsoft has remained relatively mum on Continuum, no longer using it in demos at its developer conferences, only adding stability updates to the mobile operating systems for the past year and a half and ultimately limiting the number of access consumers have to these ‘innovated’ devices.
Nadella also routinely declared that while Microsoft pursued a more diversified platform distribution of its services and products that would shift the company focus from Windows first, the company would remain resolute in making sure those services were at least best on Windows.
However, in its quest to partner and open its platform for developers, many Windows users are noticing not only are they receiving services and products on Windows last but a lot of the time they’re subpar experiences compared to other platforms.
Take for instance the Mail app in Windows (which I use almost exclusively) which is arguably a sub-par experience to the Web, Outlook, and Outlook for Mac alternatives.
When it’s not Microsoft’s own first party development letting down users, it’s the one side partnerships it volunteers Windows users into such as the laughable subpar Flipboard app, feature deprived Twitter experience and now this Spotify subscription-grab deal. Yes, Spotify is cross-platform and hosts a bevy of streaming features Groove had yet to incorporate, but where Groove shined compared to Spotify was its integration with OneDrive and its native development. For all intents and purposes, the current Windows Store Spotify app is Universal Windows Platform developed wrapper. The Spotify app is still resource hog by comparison and has no links to the Windows 10 experience like Groove did.
In the end, these changes by Microsoft are negligible, as the next computing war will be a cloud-based one, and the company is setting itself up for what it believes is a successful fight. The problem with the company’s pivot towards the cloud comes down to its execution for me. The corporate double speak not only seems unnecessary but user hostile, and to which, many of these scorned users will be exploring seemingly more consumer-friendly alternatives and in the process Microsoft is ceding mindshare to its competitors.
Imagine a world where a recent Android convert is more likely to explore the embedded free productivity and web browsing solutions on their phone out of convenience rather than seek out Microsoft alternatives in the store. As an Amazon Music listener, this convert is more apt to seek out other Amazon related products and services. When presented with a choice of cloud services providers, they are more likely to chose the one that connects the myriad of devices they own and services they use rather than the isolated solution from a company with a history of user hostile practices.
This is where I believe Microsoft’s lack of a consumer base in favor of a corporate and scientific clientele will eventually see its business become an also ran cloud company with a substantially limited product portfolio.
Every day more people pass through schools using Chromebooks, Chrome to browse the web, funnel millions of queries through Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa, or use Android and iOS devices to conduct point of sales transactions, communicate, collaborate, access sensory data that ultimately fuel an underlying Internet of Things framework. On the flip side of things, Microsoft’s reduction in the already limited consumer facing products it offers is going to inhibit its access to the big data it needs to fuel its cloud future, and that seems almost comical.
Microsoft isn’t doomed anytime soon, but with Office being the only real linchpin to Azure that the company is actively developing, it seems like only a matter of time before Google and Amazon pivots and puts some serious resources behind productivity software to seriously jeopardize Microsoft’s limited cloud offering.