Microsoft has made a number of impressive announcements in the past few months (with hopefully more to come as early as Wednesday, when we’ll begin to hear more about Windows Phone 8), all beginning last October when we caught our first glimpses of Windows 8. Since then, we’ve had promises of more to come from Kinect, a move toward generic branded apps to somehow replace their Windows Live Essentials big brothers, the death of Zune and a seeming but only partially revealed rebirth as Xbox Music, something called SmartGlass, which will augment gameplay and entertainment watching on Xbox (but really only if content providers write directly for the app), and now the Surface, a bedazzling but somewhat bewildering new set of tablets coming directly from Microsoft.
All of these pieces, while impressive sounding on their own, seemingly imply a “better together” ecosystem of finely meshed parts. But surprisingly, putting them all together as one seamless whole doesn’t seem to be part of the marketing plan, or at least that hasn’t come out yet in the numerous demos and presentations we’ve seen so far.
Nothing was said today in the debut of the new Surface tablets about software (other than a few obligatory mentions of Windows 8 itself). No mention of music or video streaming on the Surface, of Xbox game play or integration with the many content provider partnerships that Xbox Live has been rolling out in recent weeks. In presenting Xbox SmartGlass at E3 two weeks ago, Microsoft in fact played up the ability to use it just as easily on iOS or Android as on Windows devices, and there weren’t even any hints today about SmartGlass running on Surface (we did get a glimpse at new logos for SkyDrive and the Windows Store, but that was it).
A post on the Bing Facebook page yesterday hinted that Bing would have big news today, too, and we were half hoping to hear about the Bing part of the ecosystem prominently displayed on Surface (as it’s built in to Windows Phone), but nothing came of that, either.
Apple has made a point of making iCloud a prominent and necessary part of iOS, or they’re trying to, anyway. But aside from that logo, Microsoft didn’t play up the connected cloud features of SkyDrive, and again have positioned SkyDrive as a somewhat ecosystem agnostic service, just as easily accessed from your iPhone as a new Surface tablet.
Now we’re not saying that there’s anything wrong with embracing a full spectrum of devices to work with Xbox, or that Microsoft should be developing a proprietary ecosystem, but shouldn’t it be selling a “Microsoft first” philosophy, where Xbox and Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Surface are shown to be not only cool devices on their own, but all part of the same big picture?
And while we understand that today’s announcements were about hardware, that’s precisely the point: it’s not just about hardware, anymore, or just apps, (although, in a way, it IS all about apps, and another part of this whole equation, again as yet unaddressed, is what about the apps? Can Microsoft pull a complete app ecoystem out of its hat in time to compete with iOS and Android before Windows 8 goes dead in the water?), or just partners. It’s about putting all the pieces together in a way that makes believing in Microsoft the best choice, in buying a Windows Phone because you use Office, and buying a Surface because you have an Xbox. We think there are some compelling pieces in play, or about to become in play. We just hope they all fit together, as Bill Gates used to like to say, seamlessly.