Nowhere is it more prevalent than at CES that Microsoft is eating Apple’s lunch. I wrote a bit about this a few weeks ago, when I made the argument that Apple’s lost. We haven’t seen much in the way of groundbreaking innovations from Apple, at least in terms of things that other companies haven’t done or aren’t capable of doing, since the introduction of the iPhone and iPad. Meanwhile, at CES, it’s becoming more and more clear that Microsoft and its partners are now innovating more than ever.
Rebirth of Windows excitement
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been as excited about new Windows machines as I am now. There are amazing new products from HP, Lenovo, Samsung and other Microsoft partners on display at the show. From what I can tell, the costs are coming down drastically while the choices are increasing. You’ll find all sorts of sizes, configurations and form factors. Desktops and laptops. Gaming machines and productivity choices. Apple hasn’t ever had this benefit, but one might also make the argument that Apple was once able to succeed, especially in previous years, where Microsoft and its partners had failed. In other words, Windows 10 has been able to breathe new life into laptops that had otherwise been left for dead running Windows 8.
AR, VR and MR
Microsoft and its partners aren’t just talking PCs, though. They’re also talking about virtual reality, mixed virtual reality and augmented reality at CES. Lenovo has its new virtual reality headset on display. It’s still unnamed, but the company says it plans to sell it for under $400, far less than the cost of Oculus or the Vive, and with the promise to offer similar performance. Microsoft told me there will be various price ranges, a “good, better, best” if you will, of these sorts of products. Even more compelling – Microsoft only had to do the legwork on the back-end, adding support into Windows 10, instead of actually needing to build the products itself. Investors sure must be happy it’s not taking unnecessary hardware risks.
Foundation for Home Assistants
It’s also clear Microsoft is starting to lay the groundwork for connected home assistants. I’m not 100 percent sure that we’re going to see a Cortana “Echo” type of device, the sort that Amazon offers just with Cortana instead of Alexa, but it seems more and more plausible. We can see, as is the case with AR/VR, that Microsoft’s partners are willing to build those types of new and exciting products. And we know that there’s interest. Indeed, Lenovo has an Amazon Echo product dubbed the Lenovo Smart Assistant on display at the show. One can just as easily imagine that it would make a lot of sense for Microsoft to push out the support for its partners to build Cortana into similar devices, tying them right into Windows 10 products around the home.
We also know that Apple is struggling with its car project. The opposite is true of what Microsoft’s doing at CES 2017. Microsoft unveiled its Connected Vehicle Platform, built on Microsoft Azure cloud, during the show. It’s designed for next-generation connected vehicles. Partners such as BMW are tapping Microsoft for BMW Connected. Volvo is using Microsoft’s Skype platform in its XC90, S90 and V90, with suggestions that Cortana is coming, too. Microsoft isn’t new to the automobile space, it’s only pushing forward.
A mobile vision
The argument could certainly be made that Apple still has a great upper-cut when it comes to mobile, but Microsoft is advancing there, too. It announced initiatives at WinHEC last month with Qualcomm (perhaps much to the chagrin of Intel) to run Windows 10 on Qualcomm processors. That should mean a new series of connected devices, tablets and perhaps one day even another stab at Windows 10 on phones. In the meantime, we’re also seeing Microsoft continuing to build great apps – Office, Wunderlist, Outlook, etc – for iOS and Android, allowing its customers to access Microsoft products on all platforms.
I haven’t said Apple is dying and I don’t think it’s even heading down that path. But I think there’s always some sort of misconception that Apple’s doing all sorts of innovation while Microsoft lumbers along. I’ve already argued that much change is afoot at Microsoft, and indeed we’re starting to see a lot of that come into the hands of consumers.
Most importantly, Microsoft’s employees are excited
Even here at CES 2017 as I met with Microsoft executives, there seems to be a renewed sense of excitement for the company’s future, a fresh outlook and positive morale, something that wasn’t as noticeable in the days of Windows 8 and during the mishaps of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia. I’m glad to see it and, whether we all see it or not, a lot of the excitement at CES 2017 is being driven by Microsoft.