So Microsoft is going 3-D.
Unveiled today alongside the new Windows 10 operation system, the company’s holographic interface looks awesome. It even looks like the future! But here in the present, where super-flat screens in our pockets dominate personal computing, Windows 10 still won’t put Microsoft back in the most important race. The company came to the new mobile world last. And that’s where it will likely remain.
In today’s keynote, Microsoft showed off a new Windows 10 feature called Continuum, which, like Apple’s Continuity, is meant to make moving from PC to tablet to phone as seamless as possible. In fact, the Windows 10 experience may be even more continuous, since Microsoft is creating “universal apps“—starting with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Photos—that the company says will run across all devices with just a few tweaks to the interface. This device-agnostic approach to the OS is the inevitable future and, in many ways, already the present. But will it suddenly make iOS and Android users switch to a Windows phone or a Surface tablet?
Not likely. The race to become the world’s dominant mobile operating systems is over. Apple and Google won. Microsoft’s updates to Windows aren’t so much about trying to peel off a large swath of the consumer market but to keep the enterprise customers at the core of its business from defecting. It may do that, but not much more.
Witness Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now, called Cortana. The voice-activated interactive assistant will be integrated into the desktop. It’s hard to imagine how that will work in an office with everyone yammering at their computers. But it arguably puts Microsoft on par with its competitors.
The same could be said for Spartan, the Windows 10 web browser, rebuilt from scratch. Spartan has received some good advance press. But the expectations set by Internet Explorer have been so low for so long that Microsoft could have just shipped Firefox or Chrome with Windows and been hailed as wildly innovative.
As has happened for most of the 21st century, the new features Microsoft unveiled today—with the exception of its holograms—are all about catching up with the products that have set the pace. And merely moving up to the starting line isn’t a strategy for changing the direction of consumer sentiment.
Instead, with Windows 10, Microsoft has given themselves a little bit of insurance. The next time employees at some massive corporation that runs Windows go whining to an IT manager that their work phones can’t do everything their iPhones or Galaxy Notes can, the manager can point to Windows 10 and say: “Sure they do.” Or at least close enough.