After writing Does Microsoft still matter? it occurred that I write a lot of posts about a company that is possibly out of the running when it comes to leading the technology industry.
At the time of writing there are 92 stories tagged Microsoft on this site. That’s more than the number of tags for Apple, Google and Samsung combined.
One possible reason is my tagging isn’t that good. The word “Apple” turns up in 114 posts, while “Microsoft” is in 140. That’s partly because Microsoft has ambiguous brand names. I have to spell out that Word or Windows means the Microsoft product while iPad, Mac, iPhone and iPod are all unambiguous.
A second reason is that this site is now seven years old. Microsoft loomed larger in the early days. If you look at posts only from the last two years, Apple is well in front of Microsoft.
And let’s not forget my focus is more on business than on consumer technology — that’s Microsoft’s core market.
Still, for a company that may “no longer matter”, Microsoft gets a fair share of coverage.
Three companies are unquestionably important: Apple, Google and Samsung. Together they drive the changes that shape the tools and devices you will use in the coming years. Facebook and Amazon are also vital.
Microsoft spent many of the past 25 years in the top tier. While Microsoft still matters in some limited circles – mainly hidebound corporations – its influence is increasingly peripheral.
That’s despite a significant and bold technology refresh in 2012.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 is arguably today’s smartest, most polished smartphone operating system. If Nokia’s stunning Lumia 920, which uses Windows Phone 8, fails to turn the tables for both companies, nothing can.
Although the Microsoft Surface isn’t a flop, it barely registers on the landscape for most tablet buyers. Ultrabooks were supposed to re-ignite the PC market but sales are, at best, limping along.
Delivering an operating system which is essentially the same across smartphones, tablets and PCs was a technical achievement – even if Microsoft screwed up creating an incomprehensible, jarring dual-mode desktop user interface.
By all accounts OS sales are lacklustre. That should surprise no-one. Have you met Windows 8?
Microsoft continues to be important. The company’s core businesses remain as rivers of gold. I wouldn’t entirely write-off its chances of mattering again. Microsoft has deep pockets and can buy its way back to relevance. A merger, even an alliance, with Samsung could build a behemoth.
But for now, Microsoft has little influence over where technology is heading.
Want to know where technology is heading over the next few years?
Then keep a close eye on events at Apple, Google and Samsung. You should also have dials for Facebook and Amazon on your dashboard.
HP and Intel clearly no longer matter.
Despite a ripper 2012 with a slew of improvements and great products, we need to put Microsoft to one side. One thing is clear, Microsoft strategy is mainly reactive. And it isn’t obvious where the company is heading.
If you had asked me 18 months ago which companies drive the tech sector, Samsung wouldn’t have been on my list.
Today the South Korean hardware giant sits at the top of the tree along with Apple and Google. Those three companies are making the decisions shaping the tools and devices you’ll use over the coming years.
One notch down and slightly to the side sit Facebook and Amazon.
HP is nowhere. That company is now a technology-taker. Stuck in a world of low-margin commodity products, HP is going through yet another meaningless restructure.
Microsoft? Ah, Microsoft. I’ll save my thoughts on this company for another post.
Things aren’t much different in tablets. While they are all important in the PC business, that sector faces declining sales and importance. This is strike one against Microsoft.
One interesting question that’ll be answered in 2013 is whether Samsung moves to become more Apple-like. That’s been on the cards for some time. The hardware giant is the only company that has consistently challenged iPhones and iPads in terms of technology.
While the two are miles apart in tablet sales, the sales gap in smartphones is close. According to ZDNet, Samsung sells more phones in Europe while Apple is number one in the US. And overall, Samsung sells more smartphones. According to researcher Strategy Analytics, Samsung will sell 290 million smartphones in 2013. The research forecasts iPhone sales will reach 180 million.
This is a move to loosen its dependence on Android. Presumably it could extend this to tablets as well.
Samsung could use Tizen to build a vertical technology stack like Apple which includes software, hardware and services like cloud computing and app stores.
That decision has implications for Google. Samsung accounts for as many as half of all Android devices. It is one of a handful of households name making Android kit and quite possibly the only brand selling Android phones at a profit.
Without Samsung Android is a mess.This gives the company interesting options. It could nail Google to the floor or it could develop what would in-effect be its own operating system and technology stack.
The CES evidence
Samsung underlined its new leadership role by dominating this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company’s press conference drew the biggest audience of journalists and its keynote including a guest appearance from Bill Clinton was also a show highlight. Reports from CES say the company’s booth was the most crowded and most impressive.
It should surprise no-one to learn Samsung has moved past Apple to become the top phone maker in New Zealand.
The latest figures from IDC Research show Samsung has a 28. percent share of the smartphone market. Smartphones now account for 43 percent of the New Zealand mobile phone market.
NZ behind Australia on smartphone ownership
That puts us a long way behind Australia where smartphones account for 65 percent of the market. Why?
Australian incomes are higher than New Zealand salaries. Buying a smartphone is less of a financial stretch for Australians. At the same time, Australian carriers offer phones with plans and in many cases lock phones to networks. That doesn’t happen in New Zealand. Although locked phones on plans often work out more expensive in the long run, the lower bar means more kit is out there in the wild.
Australians have access to a better range of phones and, usually, get the good kit earlier than New Zealand. It helps that there are 13 Apple stores in Australia — and that would certainly be one reason why Apple is relatively more popular over there.
Australia was earlier to the mobile broadband party. Telstra had a fast, relatively reliable network long before Telecom NZ got its XT network off the ground. And speaking on Telecom NZ, the company only began offering Apple phones when the 4S launched last month.
Samsung phones are good
Many reviewers consider the latest Galaxy Nexus, which arrived too soon for the IDC survey, to be comparable with, or even better than, the Apple iPhone 4S.
I can’t confirm this. I can say the experience I get from an older Android phone is way better than I saw with the earlier Apple iPhone 4.
Android is a poor experience on a tablet when compared to the iPad, on a phone there’s no noticeable quality gap between the two rival operating systems.
Samsung’s Galaxy S II was the earlier flagship phone. Reviewers often compared it favourably with the iPhone.