The Windows market is a rather complicated, and crowded place. Each year a hand full of the world’s biggest consumer electronics makers announce a new slate of devices that promise to do everything from making little tasks quicker, to embracing the latest and greatest technologies designed to keep the laptop and desktop form factor relevant.
I don’t expect that to slow down in 2014, in fact I expect Windows hardware makers to continue throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at users as it tries to fight to hang on to usage numbers in the face of tablets and adapt to new trends in software originating from tablets. If I’m right, they’ll sell millions more PCs. They’ll also doom the market. That’s because for the Windows ecosystem to grow vendors need to realize that the fundamental equation of selling consumer devices has changed.
Microsoft and its partners have always been good at two core things. Mass-producing form factors that users tolerate because they have to, and selling those mass-produced form factors and dangerously low prices. If that philosophy sounds familiar to use it’s because that’s exactly what they are still doing today.
Sure, there are a few high-end tablets and convertibles, but for the most part the Windows ecosystem is still awash in under-cooked, under-designed and uninspiring products. Companies like Dell are starting to get this, its exquisitely designed XPS 11, and XPS 12 devices are impressive. Unfortunately, they just don’t come in at a price point that makes a convertible a decent option for users instead of a tablet. Companies have to create devices that offer a decent experience – at every price point. It’s not enough to create $1,300 PCs that most people couldn’t be bothered to look at twice based on its price alone.
Tell A Story
At some point the PC industry decided that normal marketing techniques didn’t apply to their devices. Whereas any software product or service forces marketers to tell users a story and build products around that story, Windows device makers simply don’t do so that often. Even when they do, that narrative is limited to one-off product videos with deep bass and dub-step. In turn, Apple’s television marketing and products tell a story. The iPad was created to combine the ease of use of Apple’s smartphone platform while giving users a more PC-like portable hardware paradigm to play and work with. I don’t own an iPad, I know this was the iPad’s mission because I’ve watched Apple’s iPad Air commercials.
Looks Matter Too
One of the biggest myths I’ve ever heard involves creating a device that values form over function. According to this myth, how something looks shouldn’t matter as long the device is functional. Respectfully, that statement is nonsense. No matter what target market, no matter what audience, no matter what price, devices – all of them – need to be both attractive and functional. Every corner doesn’t need to be chiseled but it needs to be well thought out. Cramming a laptop with all the latest and greatest technology won’t help you if the device is large, bulky and feels like garbage when you hold it. Sure, you’ll sell a lot of them, but it won’t be enough to make up for the number of users flocking to tablets and things that meet both their aesthetic and functional needs. Users pay for devices with their wallet, they decide to buy with their heart.
In 2014, Windows device makers managed to slow the flow of users flocking to other devices by embracing touchscreens, convertibles and tablets with removable keyboard. If they hope that trend continues they’ll need to realize that there is a new consumer out there and he or she wants devices on their terms and not yesterday’s stale approach.