Microsoft is a Software Company, Should They be Making Hardware?
Written by: Jonathan Cuthbertson
With the recent release of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 7, Surface Pro X and Surface Laptop 3, it made me question, why is Microsoft, a software company competing with their own hardware partners? Shouldn’t they stick to software and let their partners build the hardware?
From the beginning of the modern computer era, the separation of “Hardware” and “Software” has been ingrained in the heart and souls of computer scientists and engineers. The first electronic general-purpose computer “ENIAC” was over 30m long. This first iteration of a computer is the definition of hardware. The operator was required to write software or “program” using punch cards to then run it.
This concept of separate hardware and software continued into the IBM compatible era. The industry was divided into companies that produced computer hardware and others that wrote software. At the time very little thought was given to user experience (UX). Operating computers required a keyboard and in-depth knowledge of text based command line interface.
This all changed in the mid 80’s when an amazing new device called ‘mouse’ hit the market. However, the mouse was not alone, it stood alongside two key pieces of software: Windows 1.0 and Mac OS (the “Classic” version). Both pieces of software were revolutionary. Each presented the user with a graphical interface which could be navigated using the new mouse. It was the first true combination of hardware and software that provided a giant leap forward in UX.
For the next 20 years, we continued to see incremental changes in the world of computers. Devices got faster and smaller, but the way in which they are used hardly changed. Then in 2007 a perfect collision of hardware and software took place when the iPhone was released. The way people interacted with technology instantly changed forever. The original iPhone sold over 6.1 million units in 12 months and it continues to sell more than 2.2 billion devices ever since.
Why was the original iPhone so successful? In a time of blackberry’s, QWERTY keyboards and styluses, the iPhone delivered a refined and simple user experience for consumers. This is something that could only be achieved with sophisticated integration of hardware and software.
In both cases of iPhone and the mouse/graphical operating system, the hardware and software were tightly controlled and integrated. The marriage of hardware and software gave Apple and Microsoft the confidence in delivering products that achieved greater user experience.
While writing this article, it dawned on me that I operate much the same way when leading technology projects. My goal is to provide an exceptional user experience through systems that are intuitive and easy to use. The evidence is paramount, in order to deliver a truly seamless user experience, hardware and software must act as one. To answer my own question, should Microsoft develop their own hardware? I say bring it on! It’s time for the next giant leap forward in user experience.
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