Archive for June, 2012:

Microsoft Surface For Windows 8 – is it a good idea?

Some quick and initial thoughts on MS releasing their own Surface tablets:

Q. Did I expect this?

A. A week ago, no.  A day ago, I thought it was a possibility, based on the ideas below.  I still thought that an ARM tablet for developers to have early access to was more likely.

Q. Will their OEM partners mind?

A. Yes.  Yes they will.  And they may well bitch and moan a bit.  But let me ask you a few more questions:

Assuming Microsoft really are betting the consumer shop on windows 8 (and it seems they are), do they actually have to compete with anyone other than Apple?

If Microsoft are competing with Apple, will they (based on previous experience of the OEMs) have a better chance if they make design decisions about hardware?

Would their OEM partners mind if today MS announced that they could license XBox?

Q. Will OEM partners keep on manufacturing tablets?

A. Yes.  Probably.  If I told you you could go out and sell your own ipad compatible device, do you think you might consider it.  If MS is clever they will design one device (well, two – one for ARM, one for Intel) and put it at the sweet spot, price wise, for the home user.  Other OEMs can fill the niches on price, power or features.  My bet is that they will.  A bigger question is:  if MS are successful, how long will they feel the need to support their OEMs as much as they do today in the consumer segment?

Q. Can MS function as a hardware company?

A. They don’t have to.  They are no more a hardware company than Apple.  Or indeed than Dell.  All their hardware is going to be built by the Foxcons and DNIs of the world.  What MS are is a brand label, a design house, a venture capitalist, an advertising agency and end user support.

Q. Can MS keep prices low?

A. They would be stupid not to. Each tablet sold is the loss of one windows licence fee.  So thats how much profit they need to make on the tablets.  Meanwhile, by keeping quality high, and prices low, they will be telling their OEM partners the prices they need to aim for.  There was no other way MS would be able to ensure that the pricing of windows tablets would be competitive with the iPad.

Q. Overall?

A. MS are adapting to a new marketplace. And are doing it rather slowly, but more skillfully than I would have expected a year ago.  They really do seem to be betting their consumer shop – but they are trying their best to stack the deck in their favour.  Will it work?  I think there is a good chance they will carve out a strong postion, albeit not the market leading position they used to have.  With this new hardware strategy, they are playing an interesting game : will licensing their OS to other manufacturers be a bigger win, than the amount it costs to support said manufacturers.  Interestingly Apple played this game once and that gamble didn’t pay off.

Oh, and I don’t think this affects the corporate / enterprise space at all (at this point).

Q. Will MS’s history mean they only repeat the bits of Apple’s history that they want?

A. Watch this space.


Kickstarting Events

Lets consider some people:

A is a professional trainer.  She organises training courses which have a general interest.  Lots of people are looking for similar courses in their own part of the country.  Right now, if A wants to organise such a course, she needs to take the risk of booking a venue, then finding enough people to pay for both the venue and her time.

B is a stand up comic.  He is not well known, but has a fan base across the country.  They would certainly pay to see him go on tour.  But right now, not that many venues are booking him.  If he could book venues – or show venues there is demand (especially pre-paid demand) he would be happy.

C and D want to organise a conference.  To do this they need to not only sign up attendees, but also speakers and a venue.  They won’t get attendees without good speakers, but they can’t afford to pay the speakers unless they can get the attendees.  Right now either they – or the speakers – have to shoulder the risk.


Elsewhere, Kickstarter is solving this problem.  The creators put in a lot of work, preparing a product, but they pre-sell to keen fans before the part which involves putting down hard cash.  And they offer extra benefits to people who pay more (and help subsidise the costs).  Kickstarter is not a one-time offer.  The products that get produced can be sold to the non-kickstarter audience once they are ready – the kickstarter crowd just remove the risk from making that first big investment (and also turn out to be a form of handy market research too)

Kickstarter has been used to organise events – the sort of events I’m describing above.  But if you organise an event through kickstarter, someone is taking a risk

Either the venue is taking a risk (offering a sale or return price, but not letting anyone else book the space while they are waiting to find out)

Or the organiser is taking a risk (booking the venue, to give a date and location up front)

Or the participants are taking a risk (paying for a ticket to an event they may not be able to go to, because the date hasn’t been set)

My solution – a kickstarter for events.  It works much like kickstarter, except the organisers specify the location (as generally as they want with the participants knowing they may have to get to anywhere within this area – too big a location means less participants) and a range of potential dates.

Participants then get to back the event – and may be able to pay a range of different prices (not only for best seats – but also as a way the organiser can pre-sell various items of merchandise).  The participants also get to specify a range of dates that they can make.  Until the project is funded participants can alter the dates they can make.  After the project is funded, participants can still cancel, so long as the project would still be funded after their cancellation.

Organisers can also drop particular dates if they are subsequently unable to make them (ultimately dropping all dates bar one once a venue is found)

If organising a conference, each speaker could offer a range of dates they are available, and each participant might be able to say ‘I want to see A B & C’ at this event, not caring if D drops out.  They would only have to back the event if it occurred on a day A B & C could attend (though they could choose to change their level of support if some of their preferred speakers were unavailable, and their backing was cancelled)

So A could put forward prospective training events in major cities around the country.  If she got enough interest for any given date, she could find a venue in a particular area knowing enough attendees would be coming to pay for it.

B could either hire venues to play at – or he could get venues to book him, knowing they had already sold enough tickets to make it worth their while.  He could also make extra cash selling his back-catalogue of DVDs

C & D could pick a venue for their conference, and a range of dates.  They could also pick a range of speakers.  They could use the system to find out which speakers are most popular, then – money in hand – book the venue for a date all those speakers – and the people who wish to hear from them – can attend.  They might also be able to organise smaller mini-conferences for people who wished to hear from other speakers.