Microsoft missed the boat on mobile computing, it missed the boat on tablets, and a long time ago it almost missed the boat on the Web and Internet. That latter tidbit may seem odd to those who aren't Microsoft historians, but when Netscape first came on the scene Microsoft was nowhere to be seen as far as the Web was concerned. Bill Gates (News - Alert) soon thereafter wrote a memo to all of Microsoft stating in no uncertain terms that it would now move at lightning speed to both embrace and dominate the Internet and Web.
Microsoft always has amazing R&D going. Most of the time that R&D is maybe a few steps ahead of cutting edge and it doesn't often translate into real products. When it does it sometimes can have an impact. For example, the Kinect with its various capabilities for capturing motion and gestures is already key component and an "idea force field" for augmented reality. As part of the Kinect operations Microsoft has been working on various smart glasses technologies and ideas for quite some time.
We have no doubt that as part of its overall Kinect work the company is also testing out various motion- and gesture-based wearable capabilities. We also expect that not all of these are consumer-oriented; there may also be various enterprise wearable components in the overall mix. Most of these are likely to never see the light of day, but given the prominence that both smart glasses and wearable technology have begun to develop, this may change.
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Microsoft missed the boat on mobile operating systems due to massive hubris and sheer management stupidity. It missed the tablet boat because it made a pure business decision to stick with an enterprise focus for Windows, which drained the needed resources for building out a divergent path to tablets. Surely everyone remembers Steve Ballmer (News - Alert) famously killing off the dual-screen Microsoft Booklet PC? And Steve Jobs famously introducing the iPad shortly thereafter?
That was one for the history books. At exactly the moment Microsoft needed to embrace tablets, it killed off its efforts to deliver on them. Yes, it had hoped as part of the process that Hewlett-Packard would deliver a Windows-based Slate tablet - and it did, but the device was pathetic.
Microsoft missed the mobile game entirely because it viewed its original Windows Mobile operating system primarily as an enterprise tool, and held on to that for a very long time. That caused Microsoft's mobile OS business to collapse entirely - though to this day we can still find a very few old school rugged devices that still run Windows Mobile 6.5. It's a scary thing to behold - every so often one comes across these in the very back halls of places like the Consumer Electronics Show.
What went missing in both cases was the extraordinary call to arms for mobile and tablets similar to what Gates issued back in the early 1990s. The key difference is that Gates had discerned that the Internet and Web were crucial for Microsoft's then emerging lines of enterprise technology.
Ballmer finally and belatedly came around to understanding just how critical "devices" and mobility are in today's enterprise world. It’s a true wonder he did not really understand the notion of BYOD and its implications, or how the consumerization of IT really worked in the enterprise - he paid it lip service, but that was it. Now, given the top to bottom re-org that is taking place to transform Microsoft into a true devices and mobile services player -fully reinforced by the acquisition of Nokia (News - Alert) and Ballmer's imminent departure as CEO, we do need to begin paying attention when we hear even the tiniest of rumors that Microsoft may be working on wearable technology such as smart glasses. We'll note as well that
Smart Glasses? Of Course!
The latest rumor to have cropped up, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, is that according to "a person familiar with Microsoft's project" per the WSJ story, Microsoft has requested from various Asian component makers to provide Microsoft with a variety of cameras and other key components that can best be described as appropriate for developing eyewear prototypes.
Further from the WSJ story, "The person cautioned the device may never reach mass production." Well there is a winning statement! We ourselves are fully convinced that Microsoft is working on various smart glass devices within its Kinect team and we hardly find it surprising that the company is reaching out for parts! In fact we have fully assumed that it has been doing so for at least several years.
Microsoft is "determined to take the lead in hardware manufacturing to make sure the company won't miss out on the opportunities in the wearable gadget market," the same person noted. Well, that is certainly good to hear from a far-flung anonymous person but Ballmer already made this statement when he announced the re-org, and clearly it was the long awaited call to mobile arms. So there is nothing surprising here. Wearable tech is clearly a part of the "devices and services" Ballmer noted Microsoft was transforming itself to become.
Market-research firm ABI Research (News - Alert) expects annual sales of wearable devices will reach 485 million units by 2018. We ourselves believe that the market for wearable technology will go as high as $40 to $50 billion by 2018. There is simply no way Microsoft cannot be preparing to tackle a market of this potential size.
It is worth noting that, according to Envision IP Microsoft currently has 78 U.S. patents related to head-mounted display and other wearable technologies, and 94 published pending applications as of Oct. 10, 2013. Envision also notes that Google (News - Alert) had 59 such U.S. patents and Apple had 27 as of the same date. Microsoft always has plenty cooking behind the scenes on the R&D front - as we noted earlier.
The bottom line is that Microsoft has no choice but to jump into both the smart glasses and wearable tech markets. Nokia of course has a variety of smartwatch designs in hand so we'll see how that might play out as well. Keep an eye on smart glasses coming from Microsoft first on the Kinect augmented reality front, and subsequently as part of various enterprise field service efforts as well.
Edited by Alisen Downey
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