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Joe Belfiore, Vice President of Windows, officially killed the Windows 10 phone in October – ‘much to the consumers’ surprise and dismay’. Following an obvious lack of enthusiasm from Microsoft executives and device failure after failure, the final blow to the product was HP’s abandonment of the Elite X3. Though Microsoft has conceded the smartphone market to Apple and Android, it has not given up entirely on the personal device market.
With the decline of the PC market and the failure of the Windows Phone, Microsoft has had to come up with another strategy; and quite predictably they have jumped on the augmented reality bandwagon. With the release of the HoloLens, Microsoft revealed their move into the AR market (with a hefty price tag). The HoloLens is not Microsoft’s only venture into the AR market. The tech giant is also developing apps that overlay images onto reality, pushing us closer to the future of a completely digitized world where we can point our device at an avocado and know the grower and calories in seconds. ‘Our device’ is the keyword – it is already evident that the eventual death of the smartphone is on the horizon. The next ‘personal device’ is Microsoft’s plan, and Microsoft considers AI and AR one and the same. Potentially it will be a device like Google Glass, but hopefully we’ll get wearable tech that doesn’t make you look like Star Trek’s Geordi La Forge.
What drove this change in Microsoft? A decade ago, the company was seen as unapproachable and unfashionable. The brand’s identity has changed rapidly in the past 3-4 years, thanks to a CEO change to Satya Nadella in 2014. Nadella has completely reformed Microsoft and made it, well – cool. The dethroning of Windows OS has allowed overlooked departments of the business to flourish and develop new technologies.
One of the great changes is the universal availability of Office on devices and 365 for Business. The access to business behaviour is invaluable and aids the development of AI. With the increasing presence of ‘chat bots’, such as Microsoft Assistant, the customer service market is changing with reduced waiting times, less staff and hence lower overheads. As ‘chat-bots’ have machine learning integration, the service can also advance with reduced human intervention.
Nadella has been instrumental in the culture change of the company. This is more than evident with his response to Tay’s (a machine learning AI chat bot) racist outburst. It was speculated in the media that ‘heads would roll’ but his actual response was: “Keep pushing and know that I am with you…the key is to keep learning and improving”. This approach is unrecognisable from the Microsoft of the past.
They have continued to innovate and carve themselves a new market. Microsoft has always been seen as the boring brother next to Apple, but there appears to be a switch as Microsoft continues to innovate and impress, while Apple is drowning in mediocracy (and I say this as an Apple ‘fan-boy’). Microsoft’s creation of a separable tablet and a fully functional PC is admirable as well – plus conventional USB compatibility is a bonus. I am excited to see the tech that comes in the next decade and if Microsoft continues on this path, they will continue to succeed and impress – me at least.