strategy

A few weeks ago, Satya Nadella called Office 365 the most strategic API for Microsoft. This was echoed by Bill Gates, who in an interview said that getting Office to the next level is a major strategic imperative. They weren’t kidding.

Microsoft made two game changing announcements recently for Office 365:

  1. Office 365 as a platform for third party developers
  2. Unlimited OneDrive storage with every Office 365 subscription

Opening up Office 365 can only add value to consumers and simultaneously keep Microsoft relevant with developers. This is an urgent priority in a mobile world where Windows is a minority; Office 365 on the other hand cuts across all operating systems and devices.

Unlimited OneDrive storage makes Office 365 more attractive than ever; it addresses the competition in both cloud storage and free office programs.

For Microsoft, keeping Office a productivity standard is the next best thing to a Windows monopoly.

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The extraordinary thing about Macs is its ability to convert sales into profit — no other computer manufacturer does it as well as Apple. For every $100 worth of computer that Apple sells, Apple makes $19 of profit whereas competitors are lucky to make $4. That’s more than 4x the margin, which is amazing.

PC makers feel the sting, but Macs still comprise less than 7% market share so Microsoft hasn’t felt the same kind of pressure. The Redmond company soon will, however. In Apple’s latest quarterly report, Macs grew 21% compared to the previous year’s quarter, over a time when the overall PC market is flat. Apple hasn’t done as well since 1995.

Apple has traditionally focused on the high end market; but more and more, Apple has been willing to compete in the middle. That’s why Apple is still selling the the non-retina MacBook Pro, the original iPad mini and the iPhone 5C, even though those products aren’t likely to garner the same high customer satisfaction scores that Tim Cook often brags about.

While Mac units shipped grew 21%, revenue only grew 18% — evidence that the average selling price of Macs sold has declined. This is a signal that Apple intends to grab market share.

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Didn’t know what to write today, and then @nilanp came to save the day:

My answer to that is great design is everywhere. Lots of tech companies have great design. The problem is not everyone cares.

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If a PC company had flat sales, you might think its CEO would go, “Phew, not bad when the overall market is declining.”

Not really though: Lenovo, HP, Dell Acer and ASUS all increased sales the past quarter even though the overall market declined. Apple too. It’s not clear which PC company is suffering, but the strong get stronger while the weak exit.

So flat iPad sales — despite whatever Tim Cook may say — is alarming to Apple and Apple watchers. Moreover, now that Apple is selling larger phone sizes, people are finally realizing that you don’t need a big phone and a small tablet. The bigger iPad will need to grow a lot faster for the overall business to grow.

The iPad may not be one of the weak, but it is not one of the strong either. What should Apple do? The company has two possibilities: 1) make the iPad more appealing to a new market segment, and/or 2) deliver the same proposition to the existing market segment better.

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Google is a smart company and Sundar Pichai is a smart man.

When Android One was first announced at Google I/O, I didn’t fully understand what the program did. New details have emerged in a BBC article, and I have to say, it’s genius.

I’ve consulted for an Indonesian company before interested in launching its own tablet. It was not an easy process. They had to meet many potential vendors in China, test an endless list of components and spend a lot of time haggling over price. Even then, prototypes were often disappointing from a price-to-performance ratio point of view. It was a huge management challenge, especially for a company whose strength is marketing and distribution.

The Android One program makes all that easy.

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The HTC One is one of Android’s best phones — it came second in our list of recommended flagship phones — and it is now available for Windows Phone. Windows Phone 8.1 is a mature platform and mostly on par with iOS and Android, and now it also has top notch hardware. The HTC One for Windows Phone is cheap too at $100 on contract in the US.

Unfortunately, it won’t be enough. This fair review from the Wall Street Journal sums it up best:

In the smartphone market, people tend to join in the biggest crowds. By the time Microsoft got its act together, the masses had chosen sides between iPhones and Android phones. For most, a switch would be like being uprooted from a comfortable home for a comfortable home across the street—it just isn’t worth it.

Microsoft probably has only two plays left before Windows Phone is dead for good. Maybe three: making Windows Phone free, utilizing apps from Windows 9 “Threshold” and waiting for web apps to become mainstream. But really it’s just two.

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Xiaomi and OnePlus proved that it is possible to start a successful smartphone company, even with limited resources. Here’s their strategy in a nutshell:

  1. Create a compelling product for tech enthusiasts
  2. Sell it direct as a loss leader
  3. Limit production to create scarcity
  4. Build awareness and demand
  5. Sell profitable related products and services
  6. Scale production once component costs drop

Small Chinese companies like Xiaomi and OnePlus were able to create markets even while competitors like Apple and Samsung spend billions in advertising their smartphones. Their success is a blueprint for others to follow, whether you’re running an established smartphone company or starting one.

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