Microsoft’s Big Day

Microsoft had a big day of product announcements yesterday. I watched the videostream to see and hear what they had to say.

Product announcements can be tricky things to do well. Too often they can be mind-numbingly boring, and Microsoft has been guilty of doing plenty of those in the past. However, I have to say that – for the most part – Microsoft did a very good job. Agreed, the first few minutes did not bode well. The event opened with the typical corporate aspirational video, followed with a welcoming introduction from Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group. Gawd love him, he’s clearly doing a good job at Microsoft, but an inspirational speaker he is not. He opened with some facts and figures about the takeup of Windows 10 in both the consumer and business markets, then segued into talking about Xbox One and finished by introducing a demonstration of a HoloLens game. The demonstration looked pretty impressive, but questions remain about the experience that the wearer of the HoloLens actually sees. Time will tell.

Following that was a video and then a product presentation of the next generation of the Microsoft Band given by Lindsey Matese from the team that developed the product. She did a reasonable job, and there were whoops and cheers from the crowd, but my attention kept wandering. Perhaps it’s because the Microsoft Band and the Microsoft Health cloud service behind it is currently focused on athletes. If a focus on pensioners’ healthcare were to be added, then I’m sure that I would be more interested.

Right, we are now 30 minutes into the product announcement, and so far, it’s your typical corporate event. Now, Myerson moves on to talking about Lumia and Surface, and introduces Panos Panay (head of engineering of all premium Microsoft devices), and things move up a gear or three.

Panay is a showman. He is passionate about his products, and there’s more than a whiff of the preacher about him. He works the crowd (and the crowd are already a noisy bunch) and they respond enthusiastically. Part of me hates this style of presentation, because it’s so nakedly manipulative – like an evangelical prayer meeting – and part of me can’t help admiring it, because he does it so well. It’s helped, of course, by the fact that when you get down to it, the products mostly stand up to the hype.

He starts with the Lumia phones: the 950 and 950XL.

Panay introduces Bryan Roper to demonstrate the Continuum feature of the new Lumia phones, and once again I think this is not your father’s Microsoft product announcement. Once again, I am struck by my ambivalence towards Roper’s style of presentation. Roper reminds me of the old-style market trader, with his patter. I should hate it, but I am won over by the corniness of it, by his humour, and by the fact that he really does demonstrate (with consummate ease) why Continuum has the potential to turn the Windows Phone business around and grow the market share in the Business and Enterprise markets.

Back to Panay to wrap up the Lumia part of the presentation, and then he says: “So, I guess you want to talk about Surface?”.

He starts with a review of how well the Surface Pro 3 has done in the market (“98% of people who use Surface Pro 3 recommend it”), and then unveils the Surface Pro 4. He proceeds to walk us through the technology of the Surface and the Surface Pen, and throws in a little dig against the Apple Pencil, which is loved by the home crowd. After 20 minutes devoted to the Surface Pro 4 and related products, he asks: “Do you want to talk about another product?”.

This is his cue to move into the final part of his presentation and introduce the Surface Book – Microsoft’s entry into the 2-in-1 Laptop market. The crowd goes wild.

After a further gripping presentation on the Surface Book, he is finished, and after a final video, the floor is given over to Satya Nadella (Microsoft’s CEO) to wrap up.

Panay and Roper delivered, and lifted that product announcement up several levels.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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