An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...
Worried About Microsoft Reconsidering Office on iPad? Don't Be.
As I noted in "Microsoft Has Sold Over 200 Million Windows 8 Licenses," Microsoft's Tami Reller appeared at the Goldman Sachs Tehnology & Internet Conference yesterday and provided a quick sales update about everyone's favorite FrankenOS. Perhaps because of the subtlety of her mention of this 200 million figure, tech bloggers have been parsing her other comments at the event and have come away with a bizarre conspiracy theory: Reller, they say, just might have suggested that Microsoft is backing away from delivering Office on iPad. Folks, this is not happening, and if Reller is speaking carefully here, well, that makes sense given the delicate line that Microsoft is walking right now. So what did she say? "You'll see us be thoughtful about how and when we bring what applications to what platforms," she said, and then added, "A part of [the differentiation for Windows] is Office, for sure." Here's what this really means. Microsoft plans to deliver Office for iPad after the Modern (nee "Metro") version of Office, sometime this year. Those two new types of Office, which I call Office Touch for clarity's sake, will sit functionally somewhere between "full" desktop Office (for Windows) and Office Mobile (for phones). The last thing I wrote about this topic, "Microsoft Strategy Update: Office on iPad and Android Tablets," is still accurate. And Mary Jo Foley in November wrote about what she's heard in "Why is Microsoft's Office for iPad taking so long?" Thoughtful doesn't mean "Isn't going to happen." Thoughtful just means thoughtful.
When There's Work to Be Done, Surface Works Better than iPad
Just days after I opined the Microsoft should simply focus Windows on productivity scenarios (in the commentary "In Windows, Veritas"), the market researchers at Chitika have come up with this interesting little tidbit: Despite selling at a rate that is just a tiny fraction of iPad sales, the Surface is used more often by its users during the day than is the iPad by its users ... because that is when people are getting actual work done. So the iPad is all the rage during the morning commute when people are Facebooking and Flappy Birding or whatever consumption activities dominate on those devices. But Surface users are more active on their devices during working hours ... because they work. "Yes, Surface users generate a slightly greater share of their total web traffic during working hours as compared to iPad or Android tablet users," the report notes. The bad news? Microsoft can't escape the reality of the sales numbers: "In terms of raw traffic volume, iPad and Android tablet users lead the pack at all hours of the day." Cue the sad trombone sound.
Making Lemonade: Xbox One "Led US Software Sales in January"
Which is a cute way of saying that Xbox One "was not the best-selling video game console in January." And that, folks, is a problem. Sony announced this morning that the PlayStation 4 was the best-selling video game console in the United States in January and, worse, were "nearly double" those of its "nearest next-gen competitor" (obviously the Xbox One). This explains why Microsoft is touting the coming release of Titanfall, an Xbox One exclusive, so aggressively: The firm is hoping this next-gen shooter title will jumpstart Xbox One sales and create a new Halo-type franchise that it can milk for years to come. Having actually played Titanfall, I can tell you, sadly, that this game isn't that good, and that Microsoft's hopes are unfounded and even, dare I say it, a bit desperate. I do find it interesting that neither Sony nor Microsoft revealed their actual sales figures for the month—the data comes from the reliable NPD—and I suspect that both consoles dropped off a cliff, sales wise, after the holidays ended. But this much is clear: PlayStation 4 is widening its lead over the Xbox One and though it's still early days, obviously, Microsoft needs more than just Titanfall to close the gap.
So, Define "Desperate"
I know, I know. You Xbox fans in the audience don't like to see any bad news, and you aren't particularly keen on giving the PlayStation 4 an early win since, you know, it is early and everything, and anything can happen down the road. Fair enough. But when you read through the Microsoft announcement about Xbox One's January sales, it doesn't look so good. The best the company can claim is that Xbox users enjoyed "nearly 740 million hours of fun since [the Xbox One] launch" back in November. Aside from the fact that this assumes much of that time wasn't in fact "fun"—that is, the time was at least partially spent downloading mammoth online games and game updates—this is really just about saving face, since there's no real leadership to be had. So we learn that "Xbox"—meaning Xbox 360 plus Xbox One—game title sales combined were 47 percent of the market in January. US consumers purchased an average of 2.7 games per console. Xbox (again both consoles) held 5 of the top 10 spots on the console game title list. And so on. There isn't a single meaningful statistic in the bunch, leading us to rifle through the factoids and come away with one salient truth. Xbox One is number two. And by waving its virtual hands and pointing us to other data that isn't nearly as relevant, Microsoft is only accentuating how bad that is for them.
Smartphone Sales Outpaced Dumb Phone Sales in 2013
I thought this happened already, but Gartner reported this week that sales of smartphones outpaced those of feature phones (really, all other mobile phones) in 2013. Hardware makers delivered 968 million smartphones in calendar year 2013—short of the 1 billion figure we're typically treated to—good for 54 percent of all mobile phone sales. Samsung was by far the biggest seller of smartphones, with 300 million units sold, raising both its share of the market (31 percent) and its lead over all competitors. Number-two Apple sold exactly half that figure—151 million units—and saw its share of the smartphone market drop from over 19 percent to 15.6 percent. Most notably for Apple, the firm saw its share of the smartphone market decline in Q4 when it introduced two new models, the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, and that had never happened before: In previous years, Apple experienced a one-quarter bump tied to new product releases. As for platforms, Gartner says Android was number one in 2013 with 78.4 percent market share (up from 66.4 percent in 2012), iPhone was number two with 15.6 percent (again, down from 19.1 percent), and Windows Phone was number three with 3.2 percent (up from 2.5 percent). BlackBerry is dead, folks: The platform accounted for just 1.9 percent of smartphone sales in 2013, down from 5 percent a year ago. And if you look at total mobile phones sold, the top three players are Samsung (444 million units, 25 percent), Nokia (251 million units, 14 percent), and Apple (151 million units, 8.3 percent).
Lenovo Continues Push for a PC Plus Future
The most interesting side story in the whole mobile phone/smartphone thing noted above isn't even noted above. And that's that the world's number-one PC maker, Lenovo, is pushing aggressively into non-PC devices—tablets and smartphones, thus the "PC Plus" moniker"—and this year is, in many ways, its coming out party. So while Lenovo sold only 44 million smartphones in 2013, all of them in China, that was good for a top 5 finish among smartphone makers, and the company is just getting started. As you might recall, Lenovo purchased Motorola Mobility from Google recently and plans to do for that brand what it did for ThinkPad (really, "Think," since they also sell Think-branded desktops) in the PC market: Expand the lineup and grow the business. (In fact, one of the best things Lenovo did was develop a consumer-oriented "Idea" lineup to accompany the comparatively dowdy ThinkPad lineup.) Of all the companies that compete in all three of these markets—PCs, tablets, and smartphones—Lenovo is, I think, the one to watch.
But Lenovo Has One Gaping Weak Spot
I'm referring, of course, to Ashton Kutcher.
But Wait, There's More
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