Microsoft's devices boss hints at wearables and Windows consolidation
How does Microsoft catch up in phones and tablets? According to devices and services chief Julie Larson-Green, it's a combination of appealing to consumers while adding enterprise features and the next big hardware innovation: natural user interfaces, especially for new devices like wearables. And maybe rationalizing the Windows business, which she ran until this summer's reorg gave her a more expansive role.
Speaking at the UBS Global Technology Summit today, Larson-Green explained that user interaction with technology goes through various inflection points. In the early days of personal computing, the mouse and the user interface was a major inflection point, and software companies like WordPerfect who didn't embrace it fell by the wayside.
Next came touch, which is where Apple leapt ahead of the competition, including Microsoft. "We had smartphones but, like BlackBerry, they were based on the keypad and the stylus and trying to use the concepts of Windows in a smaller device."
Microsoft was on the right side of the first inflection point and on the wrong side of the second -- at least until Windows Phone and Windows 8 -- but it's ready for what Larson-Green believes is next.
"There is an inflection point coming that is something else beyond phones and tablets. There will be another inflection point and it will come from the hardware input model; so that's why you've seen us do things with Kinect with gesture, why you see us doing things with voice. Just as the mouse was an innovation, touch was an innovation there will be the next new way to interact and that's why we're in devices."
She thinks Windows and PCs and even desktops PCs will be around as long as she will, but we'll also have a new category of devices like wearables that fit into a future of ubiquitous computing.
"For my lifetime, there will desktop computers where people are doing precision movements with the mouse, which are highly tuned for productivity and typing -- as well as maybe something on your wrist or on your head or something in your pocket where you will want to interact. You'll want to see your emails, get notifications, get access to the information you need to do your job as well as interact with friends and family."
Microsoft's strategy matches that ubiquitous computing idea. "Devices that are going to be in your home or on your body, services where you can get access to all the information and data you care about. The people, the documents, the entertainment, all the things in your life from whatever device is most convenient for you at the time."
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That device could be using your phone for multi-factor authentication and single sign-on through Azure Active Directory, or it could be you walking up to your Xbox and having it show you your calendar. "If you want it to," she added quickly. "It's about permeating technology through your life and making it available to you. We're really focused on having devices integrated in your life, in whatever way you want it integrated."
What will those devices look like? She didn't say, but she did promise "next year you'll start to see lots of exciting things." That could mean the rumored Microsoft smartwatch, or the (also-rumoured) Google Glass-style Xbox glasses. But whatever they are, they'll combine the sensors we have in wearables today with a new way of controlling devices, and a new kind of app to use with them.
The revolution in apps with the iPhone came from being able to run them on a touch device and buy them from an app store, says Larson-Green. She thinks the next step is the magic that happens when you bring together sensors that you wear or walk past, combining information from apps that can connect to each other and natural interfaces. Think of it as an extension of what you can do with a Fitbit or a Nike FuelBand, combined with smart information about you and your location -- and these new ways of interacting. After all, you might tap on a screen on your wrist, but if something is round your neck or on your head, you're probably going to want to talk to it and maybe make gestures at it.
"From telling you didn’t quite do your pushup as far down as you could go, or your heart rate is too high, you're stressed out, take a deep breath or letting you know when your bus is running late -- there are lot of things we can do bringing those together in a new way of thinking about how people interact tech. Just as the mouse was an innovation and touch was an innovation, there will be a next new way to interact."
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