Microsoft Surface RT Review, Part IV: Ecosystem

I’m going to continue with what could be considered another tangent, but like the company’s philosophy, it has many implications for how the device can be used.  In nature, an ecosystem is the environment around an organism that allows it to eat, breathe and live.  A computing device also relies on outside influences to make it useful.  This is why a company can come out with a brilliant device and it can flop, or a mediocre device and it can sell like hotcakes.

One of the reasons that Microsoft Windows has maintained a dominant market sharein the PC world is because it already has a dominant market share.  If you are a company that wants to write a new software application, you will most likely write it for Windows first because that will give you the largest audience of available users.  More people then buy computers with MS Windows because it has the largest library of available software.  The same is true of hardware.  This has created a thriving ecosystem for Windows PC’s that builds on itself.

In the mobile world, the dominant operating systems are iOS and Android.  You can tell this not only by the number of apps available (700,000+ each for iOS and Android), but also from support from hardware vendors.  For example, Lego recently released an updated programmable robotics system called Mindstorm EV3, which among other things now also supports Android and iOS.  Even a recent firmware update for my printer now offers iOS support.

An important part of Apple’s success is their development and management of their ecosystem.  It started with iTunes and the iPod.  Users could purchase music, even just a single song instead of a full CD, on their computer and then quickly and easily transfer it to their music player.  As they were developed, other devices could be connected including the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.  When the iPad and the iPod Touch came out, they could run the tens of thousands of apps that had been developed for the iPhone already.  Other media was added including video, podcasts, audiobooks, university courses, rentable movies, apps and probably more that I am not even aware of.  If you had an iPhone and an iPad, you could connect both, back them up, and sync your media.  When each new product was added, it already had vast support from everything that Apple had already built.  Once stuck in the Apple ecosystem, it is difficult to get out.  The only problem is that there is a fairly large barrier to entry from poorer countries, namely a credit card.

From what I have seen, this is an area that Android has not done so well.  Google is currently trying with the Play store, but most users do not know you can purchase more than apps on it.  When Amazon came out with the Kindle Fire, I had high hopes for it because they were already selling music, books, and videos, but I have not seen evidence that it has taken off as well as I had assumed.  Because Android can be modified to their own specifications, it has become quite popular with device makers.  The long list of quality devices that run Android, topped by the Samsung Galaxy S III, has also made it popular with users.  The problem is that I don’t see Google having a unified strategy, instead shooting in different directions.  I have not really seen Google TV go anywhere, the Nexus Q was a failure before it even finished launching, and Chrome OS is causing confusion because it seems to compete directly with Android.  The beauty of Android is that since it is open source, I think another company will find a way to make it all work, much like Amazon has tried to do.

Microsoft tried to emulate Apple’s ecosystem with the Zune and failed miserably.  But in 2012 Microsoft made another attempt at the ecosystem idea, this time from a different direction.  Windows Phone 8, Windows RT, and Windows 8 (including Windows Server 2012) all use the same OS kernel.  My guess is that the next Xbox will as well, but even now it is getting the same “Metro” interface.  At the very least, across all of these platforms you have the same interface, making it easier to switch between them.  At the second level you can use your Microsoft account and Skydrive to sync your settings and files between them via the cloud.  Microsoft has also released smart glass technology that provides interaction from your tablet to the game you are playing on your XBox or the TV show you are watching.  Finally, some apps can be written for all of them with some modifications (please note the use of the word some).  If Microsoft can really pull this off, they can use the sales of Windows 8 computers and Xbox consoles to drive the adoption of Windows Phone and Windows RT.  With Microsoft’s recent acquisition of home automation company R2 Studios, it obvious that they are really making a play for your whole house.


Microsoft Surface RT Review


One thought on “Microsoft Surface RT Review, Part IV: Ecosystem

  1. re: the Kindle Fire,
    I don’t know what their international policies are, but they don’t sell them here in Canada, and friends that have one have found to their regret that purchasing stuff for it here in Canada is difficult.

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