But uptake has slowed.
Why I'm still excited about Windows RT and Surface -- and they're not going away
Perhaps it's all the science fiction I've read, where spaceships and flying cars and antigravity and coruscating beams of lambent force were as common as light switches and television sets. I do have a tendency to believe in the perfectibility of technology.
Part of the joy of working in this industry is that we come across things that excite us with possibilities. But when I see a new product or feature that looks as if it will be useful to me, I can't just assume that it will work -- or even that it will ship, given the number of research projects I'd still like to see make it out of the lab.
I would love the telephone system that Eric Horvitz, the co-director of the Microsoft Research lab in Redmond uses; while we were talking in his office once, he told me, the automatic economic calculation about the value of our time together it had performed meant that we wouldn't be interrupted by anyone except his wife or Bill Gates.
Naturally, my mind leaped to how much easier it would be to get some work done if the only calls that made my phone actually ring were the useful ones. But then I thought, what about the call from someone I've never heard of who has the perfect scoop for me? Would the system let that through if it came in when I was supposed to be working on something important like my tax return?
It's fine to get excited about the possibilities of new technology and it's tempting to assume that it will actually work the way you imagine, and that will make it successful. But given how many products flop you also have to think about the ways it could fail and break, especially if it's just too clever for its own good. Tactus is working on a technology that pumps oil into tiny bladders on the surface of a touchscreen to give you a physical keyboard that pops up when you want keys and deflates when you don't; it's developed a prototype with Synaptics that it's showing off to Android OEMs. The company promised at CES that a system that was designed from scratch wouldn't have the residual bumps you could feel on their retrofitted Android tablet. I'll believe that when I feel it, but I'm also still a little concerned about the combination of liquid and a live screen.
Windows RT and Surface
I was very excited when I first saw the Microsoft Surface last summer. It had gorgeous industrial design, it had a beautiful screen, it ran OneNote (which I run my life in), it looked just like the Windows 8 interface I was already becoming fond on my touchscreen HP tablet convertible -- but it was much smaller and lighter. My immediate frustration: to keep the price down, Microsoft hadn't built a pen into it, making OneNote much less useful for me and turning my attention to the pricier, heavier but far more powerful Surface Pro.
What could go wrong? Well, Microsoft still had to ship the Surface -- and sell it. And keep the OEMs it was now competing with happy so they'd sell their own Windows RT systems.
They had problems with all three.
Because Microsoft was still building its international retail system, it took a long time to get Surface into all the countries where people wanted to buy it. Cue enthusiasm turning to frustration. Microsoft lost one OEM when Texas Instruments dropped out of the tablet CPU market and the others priced their RT systems to compete with their netbooks and low-end notebooks, not with their Android tablets. Including Office and having a keyboard that integrates so well makes that reasonable, but people don't make buying decisions about personal electronics just on rational grounds. You need to sell to them.
Don't think that's all about the quality of your products or how well they work. (There's been an egregious bug on Samsung Android phones that can cause factory resets after you copy and paste a certain number of items; it's been there for more than a year and hasn't affected sales.)
The realities of selling products are often much more banal and little to do with aspirations and needs and potential. Want to sell a phone? You need the carrier to like it enough to buy it, subsidize it, test it on their network, load it up with their settings, decide if it's a hero product that will win customers or an also-ran that can be offered as a loss-leader, buy enough to keep it in stock, actually deliver it to the right stores, buy adverts and print posters for it, label it correctly, and train their sales team to understand, sell, and promote it. Oh, and give their sales team the same incentive to sell it as the other phones they already know about and get commission for selling. Then you need to advertise it so people come in and ask for it. You have to make them want it.
Google's plan to bring Chrome packaged apps to Android and iOS is part of its strategy to make the web the primary platform for users. Converting Apple device owners will be a challenge.
Most companies understand that they need a social media presence, but many are flying by the seat of their pants instead of crafting a social media plan that aligns closely with business goals.