Why Microsoft is making smartphones its focus

Robert Epstein Windows product manager - headIn this interview with Windows Phone News editor, Richard Milton, Microsoft UK’s senior product manager for Windows, Robert Epstein, talks about Microsoft’s plans.


  •  Expect 7 and 8 inch Windows Tablets soon
  • Microsoft  ‘back in the game’
  • 100 million Windows licenses sold
  • Next big market battles will be over ‘ecosystem’

Richard Milton:  The future of Windows Phone depends on people experiencing Windows 8  on their PCs first, but aren’t PCs dying out in favour of tablets?

Robert Epstein: What we’re seeing is not the death of the PC but we’re starting to see computing devices in more form factors. There are things that people do with computers that require more control and more processing capabilities than one can get from a tablet, say a  large spreadsheet or movie editing, so whether you’re a home user of a business editor, there are requirements for computers. And actually what we see at the moment is that most people’s tablet purchase are in addition to their PC purchase.

In the surveys that we’ve seen, or done ourselves, very few people say that their tablet is replacing their PC.  There are now more computer usage scenarios , the mobile scenarios, where tablets are becoming very attractive to people but most people will get back to either home or desk  at the office and still use a computer.

As I leave home in the morning, I need to think about my next hours and days and what combination of devices I’ll need.  Is it a 4 inch phone plus a 10 inch tablet with some kind of keyboard ? Or actually am I going to need to do a lot more, in which case I’ll leave the tablet and take my Ultrabook.

The arrival of the very low-cost tablet is actually a very new phenomenon. It’s really only since the last Christmas season that that’s arrived. And I think that is it going to split the market a little between those who want highly portable – 7 or 8 inch pure consumption devices, which almost the large phone scenario, – which is why we’re seeing the phone guys coming into the ‘phablet’ space.

How will you persuade your traditional market to accept Windows 8?

People will come at the market  in different ways.  There are 1.2 billion windows users in the world so it’s a very familiar and comfortable system with a huge amount of software and peripherals.  At the time of our last public announcement we’d sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses, so consumer adoption is growing very fast.  But not everyone is going to throw away their Windows 7 machine and rush out to get Windows 8 – it will happen over time as people upgrade their machines, and as there are new scenarios enabled by new form factors, including tablet.  At the same time our phone is growing comfortably at a good rate for a number of reasons.

One interesting thing I’ve heard is that kids with iPhones are complaining, ‘Oh, it’s the phone that Dad’s got’. So it’s not as cool as it once was!  – it’s just not cool any more!  Android has grown very successfully from that, but Windows is now benefitting because we’ve got what we believe is one of the freshest and most usable user interfaces. Live Tiles is a great revelation to people while Apple haven’t updated their operating system or their look and feel for quite some years.

What we have seen is a huge move from Windows XP, which was the big corporate standard,  to Windows 7 – over 50 per cent of enterprises are now running Windows 7 and that is hugely secure, stable, manageable environment  for them.  Companies don’t like to change too frequently, but they do now have the ability to add Windows 8 on a range of devices – typically on tablets – but to do that in a way that is manageable and securable within the same infrastructure.

How important is touch to the Windows market?

We did The Gadget Show recently, and we had about 70 different devices around, many of which looked like traditional laptops, but most of them – bar about five- were touch sensitive.  And what was interesting to me was that, as families would approach our stand, almost universally the parents would go to the keyboard and touch pad machines and the kids would just touch the screen.

We certainly see touch as the future and we’re working with all the hardware partners across all form factors – not just traditional PCs but laptops as well, to make them touch enabled.

The latest release of Internet Explorer is very much built for touch to give people that rich easy navigation environment   IE 10 is part of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, we’re trying to guarantee consistency of experience.  It’s the same with Office.  Office documents is a classic example of where people will be sent an office document; they’ll view it on non-Office products; suddenly the formatting goes to pot. So we’ve ensured that whether you’re on Windows Phone  or Windows there is a full and real copy of Office that will give you what we call full fidelity viewing.

Critics of Windows Phone have pointed to a lack of apps, in comparison with iPhone and Android.

Apps are coming out at a fast rate. Windows Phone has 140,000 apps and games, including more than 92 per cent of the top titles on both competing platforms. We add hundreds of new titles each day, with brands like BBC iPlayer, CoPilot, GoPro and others already announcing their intention to join the platform soon. So the gaps that UK users may have seen are getting filled.

What about future growth?

We’ve got ambitious growth goals for both Windows Phone in the smartphone space and for Windows 8 and Windows RT in the tablet space. The phone space has a fairly high refresh rate and that gives us plenty of opportunity to keep coming out with lots of different shapes and sizes.  Nokia’s a great example with everything now from 520, 620, 720, 820, 920 and the new 925, different sizes, different price points, different cameras and all the rest of it.  And we have announced that will be launching small form factor tablets as well, so expect to see 7 and 8 inch Windows tablets within the coming months.

The market’s catching on and people are realising that Microsoft’s very much back in the game. We’ve got a great platform, with the updates that we’ve had in a pretty short period of time, to phone to windows and our new X-Box announcement, we’re really connecting our stuff together.

The thing that I’m most excited about is how our services start to really connect these things together and I think that’s where people have yet to realise that’s where we’re strongest.

Steve Ballmer says Microsoft is now a devices and services company and the company we’ve been is not the company we will be. There are some very physical  signs of this in products like Surface, which is our own device. But if you have, say, a traditional 15 inch laptop running Windows 8 and then you go out and purchase another Windows 8 machine – say a tablet – and you log on with your Microsoft account, because you log on through the Microsoft account you are connecting through the cloud in such a rich way that people just suddenly get their email, their social media, their calendars, their  contacts, their music their playlists, their photos, the rights to the movies they own – just all flooding into the machine – and all their settings and their favourite websites and their – all that personalisation just flows from device to device.

The next battleground will be the ecosystem.  We’ve been in very much a device world –who’s got the biggest, shiniest device?  But I think there comes a point where a tablet becomes a nice piece of glass.  Then what starts to become important  is what’s the service that the user gets?  What’s the user scenario?  Do they get something exciting like Live Tiles that gives them all the latest information, that then connects them to things like x-box Music, 31 million tracks of stream as much as you like , bring in your iTunes playlist and then sync the whole thing to your phone, then play it at home when you get back on your x-box through your  surround sound system.  I think that’s where we’re going to start to really show.


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