It’s not a secret that Microsoft hasn’t been winning the hearts and minds of consumers lately.
Killing off products like the Groove Music service, Microsoft Band fitness tracker and Windows Phone have left many questioning whether Microsoft’s grand plan is to simply focus on business users and leave consumers to its competitors.
But at the company’s Inspire partner show this week, Microsoft execs told partners that Redmond isn’t giving up on consumers.
Yusuf Mehdi — whose new title as of June 2018 became “Corporate Vice President of Modern Life and Devices” — led a session at the partner show in Las Vegas where he outlined the company’s vision for what officials plan to christen “Modern Life Services.”
“Modern Life and “Gaming” are the two new additions to Microsoft’s core digital solution areas that its own sales force and its partners are meant to target in fiscal 2019 and beyond. (The others, which Microsoft announced a year ago at Inspire, are Modern Workplace, Business Applications, Applications and Infrastructure and Data & AI.)
In teeing up his presentation, Mehdi acknowledged that “in the last couple of years, we’ve lost a little of that magic with consumers,” according to attendees who asked not to be named. He added (as can be seen on the teleprompter in a screen shot embedded above that Mehdi himself tweeted) that this year, “we begin the journey to win back consumers with our vision.”
Most consumer companies are laser-focused on one thing, Mehdi said. Amazon is focused on shopping; Spotify, on music; Netflix on movies. Microsoft’s core value proposition is productivity, he said. The company’s job is to try to make productivity more sexy.
Microsoft is targeting so-called “professional consumers” with these services, Mehdi said. These are people who already know how to use technology but need to figure out how to use it better to make them more productive. The goal of these services will be to give users back time and help them focus on what matters to them.
Microsoft officials believe because the company already “owns the work calendar with Outlook,” that it has a foothold in working to blur the line between consumer and commercial activities.
(For the record, Microsoft leadership has continued to insist that there is no identifiable line between consumer and commercial software and services, as people often do work at home, and personal tasks at work, but in recent months, haven’t really tried to make that argument as vociferously as they did several years back.)
What, exactly, will qualify as a Modern Life Service? Mostly they will be apps, services and features that Microsoft already makes available or soon will in Windows, Outlook and PowerPoint, but which officials will attempt to position as well suited to the needs of professional consumers on Windows PCs, iPhones and Android phones.
One example: The Microsoft”Your Phone” app, which Microsoft execs first showed off at the Build 2018 developer conference earlier this year. Your Phone on Windows 10 will allow users to respond to text messages on their Windows desktops, as well as drag and drop photos from their desktops and send them via their phones without actually having to access the phones. The idea is by not having to interrupt their workflow, users will save time and be more productive.
Features like Focused Inbox, @mentions, Time to Leave in Outlook for Windows 10 and Outlook Mobile also will make professional consumers more productive, Mehdi said.
Microsoft plans to tout the recently announced cheaper, lower-end Surface Go tablets running Windows 10 S and Office 365 as part of this “win back the consumers” push. Microsoft is dedicating more marketing and sales resources than ever to try to push the Surface line, especially taking aim at consumers, Mehdi said.
Microsoft also will make part of the new consumer campaign its Cortana digital assistant, which will be coming to more smart home devices, such as the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat as of this summer. (It sounds like Microsoft is expecting the Cortana-powered thermostat to be available in its Stores as of August 2018 based on remarks from Microsoft Executive Vice President Judson Althoff at the partner show this week.)
Not surprisingly, Mehdi didn’t mention the Microsoft Andromeda dual-screen mobile device (I asked a few folks.) Andromeda is not happening this year and Microsoft is considering possibly changing the form factor to be more PC-like for any kind of new mobile device it may introduce at some point, sources have said.