When Steve Ballmer was interviewed at Gartner Symposium in Orlando last month, he said that his riskiest product bet is the next version of Windows. I agree with him.
What’s not obvious is what is on the critical path to that product. I believe it is Windows Phone 7. Here’s why: It’s simple. it’s the Ipad and how Microsoft has to compete with it. Taken to extremes, without a competitive response, the Ipad and other tablets will have a huge negative effect on PCs as we know them today. Thus far Microsoft’s response has been very quiet, and with a little talk about some interim, enterprise focused Windows 7 tablets that derive from the company’s earlier tablet efforts which were of very limited success.
I believe they are quiet about the response for a number of reasons. First, they are focusing on consumer markets first, where Apple has set the bar for secrecy awfully high. They can’t get there but they are trying. someday I’ll write about that more… Also, they are simply waiting to see how Windows Phone 7 and the touch enabled apps for it fare in the market. Success with Windows Phone would mean that they can move forward with an offering that leverages those apps. This is the strategy employed by Apple and being employed by Google and HP/Palm.
So there is a lot at stake with Windows Phone 7. It’s not just another phone. Even though the early indications are that these things aren’t flying off the shelves, don’t expect Microsoft to give up. This is not “Kin 2.0”. They have bet and bet big and will invest in engineering, marketing and whatever they need to do to make it successful. They can afford to do it. More importantly, they can’t afford not to.