Microsoft gives up on Band?

Various sources — including Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet — report that Microsoft has pulled all references to the Band fitness devices from the Microsoft Store online. She reports that the company responded to questions about the product with this:

We have sold through our existing Band 2 inventory and have no plans to release another Band device this year. We remain committed to supporting our Microsoft Band 2 customers through Microsoft Stores and our customer support channels and will continue to invest in the Microsoft Health platform, which is open to all hardware and apps partners across Windows, iOS, and Android devices.

I spoke with Christina Chen, then Microsoft’s General Manager, Emerging Devices Experiences, back in February. Reviewing my notes, we spoke almost exclusively about watches, and the Band never came up. She left Microsoft in April, and is now product director at YouTube gaming. Hmmm.

At any rate, it looks like Microsoft is regrouping on wearables, although maybe it’s just doubling down on sectors where it has a real play, like Hololens.

Welcome to the Post-Email Enterprise: what Skype Teams means in a Slack-Leaning World

Work technology vendors very commonly — for decades — have suggested that their shiny brand-new tools will deliver us from the tyranny of email. Today, we hear it from all sorts of tool vendors:

  • work management tools, like Asana, Wrike, and Trello, built on the bones of task manager with a layer of social communications grafted on top
  • work media tools, like Yammer, Jive, and the as-yet-unreleased Facebook for Work, build on social networking model, to move communications out of email, they say
  • and most prominently, the newest wave of upstarts, the work chat cadre have arrived, led by Atlassian’s Hipchat, but most prominently by the mega-unicorn Slack, a company which has such a strong gravitational field that it seems to have sucked the entire work technology ecosystem into the black hole around its disarmingly simple model of chat rooms and flexible integration.

Has the millennium finally come? Will this newest paradigm for workgroup communications unseat email, the apparently undisruptable but deeply unlovable technology at the foundation of much enterprise and consumer communication?
Well, a new announcement hit my radar screen today, and I think that we may be at a turning point. In the words of Winston Churchill, in November 1942 after the Second Battle of El Alamein, when it seemed clear that the WWII allies would push Germany from North Africa,

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

And what is this news that suggests to me we may be on the downslope in the century-long reign of email?
Microsoft is apparently working on a response to Slack, six months after the widely reported termination of discussions of acquisition. There has been a great deal of speculation about Microsoft’s efforts in this area, especially considering the now-almost-forgotten acquisition of Yammer (see Why Yammer Deal Makes Sense, and it did make sense in 2012). However, after that acquisition, Microsoft — and especially Bill Gates, apparently — believed they would be better off building Slackish capabilities into an existing Microsoft brand. But, since Yammer is an unloved product inside of the company, now, the plan was to build these capabilities into something that the company has doubled down on. So now we see Slack Teams, coming soon.
Microsoft may be criticized for maybe attempting to squish too much into the Skype wrapper with Skype Teams, but we’ll have to see how it all works together. It is clear that integrated video conferencing is a key element of where work chat is headed, so Microsoft would have had to come up with that anyway. And Skype certainly has the rest of what is needed for an enterprise work chat platform, and hundreds of millions of email users currently on Exchange and Office 365.
The rest of the details will have to wait for actual hands on inspection (so far, I have had only a few confidential discussions with Microsofties), but an orderly plan for migration away from email-centric work technologies to a work chat-centric model coming from Microsoft means it’s now mainstream, not a bunch of bi-coastal technoids. This will be rolled out everywhere.
So, we are moving into a new territory, a time where work chat tools will become the super dominant workgroup communications platform of the next few decades. This means that the barriers to widespread adoption will have to be resolved, most notably, work chat interoperability.
Most folks don’t know the history of email well enough to recall that at one time email products did not interconnect: my company email could not send an email to your company email. However, the rise of the internet and creation of international email protocols led to a rapid transition, so that we could stop using Compuserve and AOL to communicate outside the company.
It was that interoperability that led to email’s dominance in work communications, and similarly, it will take interoperability of work chat to displace it.
In this way, in the not-too-distant future, my company could be using Slack while yours might be using Skype Teams. I could invite you and your team to coordinate work in a chat channel I’ve set up, and you would be able to interact with me and mine.
If the world of work technology is to avoid a collapse into a all-encompassing monopoly with Slack at the center of it, we have to imagine interoperability will emerge relatively quickly. Today’s crude integrations — where Zapier or IFTTT copy new posts in Hipchat to a corresponding channel in Slack — will quickly be replaced by protocols that all competitive solutions will offer. And Skype is that irritant that will motivate all these giants to make a small peace around interoperability, in order to be able to play nice with Slack.
We’ll have to see the specifics of Skype Teams, and where Facebook at Work is headed. Likewise, all internet giants — including Apple, Google, and Amazon — seem to be quietly consolidating their market advantages in file sync-and-share, cloud computing, social networks, and mobile devices. Will we see a Twitter for Work, for example, after a Google acquisition? Surely Google Inbox and Google+ aren’t the last work technologies that Alphabet intends for us? How might Slack fit into Amazon’s designs? That might surprise a lot of people.
But no matter the specifics, we are certainly on the downslopes of the supremacy of email. We may have to wait an additional 50 years for its last gasping breath, but we’re now clearly in the chat (and work chat) era of human communications, and there’s no turning back.

Isn’t signing a document just a feature, not a company?

I have to confess that I’ve been surprised by the valuation for DocuSign, which was valued at $3 billion in a funding round last year. I’ve had niddling doubts about the growth possibilities for a company that is basically built around the document signature use case, especially since the idea of ‘electronic signatures’ feels like a skeuomorph crying out for disruption by other approaches to identity verification, most notably fingerprint recognition on smartphones.
Perhaps those questions are being raised by others as well. According to Bloomberg, Rick Osterloh, a former Motorola Mobility exec, had been picked to lead the company forward to an IPO, but just before the announcement he balked and took a job as head of hardware at Alphabet. DocuSign is left with Keith Krach as CEO, who said last fall he wanted to step down.
Basically, verification of identity is now in the hands of the Internet giants, like Google and Apple, and DocuSign is a dinosaur just waiting for the shower of meteorites to come raining down.
So, here’s a small prediction, based on the senior executives that have been bailing out of the company — four out of nine top execs left this year: one of the majors — Google or Microsoft? — will buy DocuSign, and for less than the $3 billion valuation. The company is unwilling to share its financials, and has invested heavily to meet the requirements for eIDAS regulations in the EU, going into effect on July 1.

What does Linkedin really mean to Microsoft?

Microsoft has stirred up a swirling buzz of discussion around the Linkedin acquisition for $26.2 billion. There are a number of angles that have been considered in the gazillion news stories floating around. Here’s a few of those threads:

  • Linkedin is a Salesforce counter by Satya Nadella — It has been argued by Steve Nellis and others that Linkedin’s efforts at developing and selling the tools in the company’s Sales Solutions unit have not gone very far, but the data in Linkedin’s network — when coupled with Microsoft’s own Salesforce competitor — Dynamics — could become a real player. Note that Nadella’s rumored efforts to acquire Salesforce stalled because of a too-high price tag (10X revenues), while Linkedin was much more affordable (7X revenues). Plus, with Linkedin in there are other angles to play.
  • Linkedin is a professional social network, and could counter Facebook for Business — Facebook has not yet released its business variant, Facebook for Business, but it’s supposed to roll out this year. Nadella might be trying to get there first by offering a fusion of Linkedin’s current mix of blogging, social networking, and recruitment use cases with Office 365 productivity options. Linking together the professional graph (Linkedin) with the work graph (Office 365)– as Nadella talked about in a call with the NY Times — and getting a premium on the integration of the two is probably a smart move so long as the seams can be made low friction. There is a devil in these details, but this is one of the most powerful visions for the merger.
  • Linkedin alone was a company with real problems — Linkedin stock got hammered earlier this year after lowered sales estimates. This would be bad in itself but doubly bad for Linkedin, since many of its best and brightest are compensated in part by stock grants, so when the stock falls, so does compensation. As a result, Linkedin was facing a mass exodus unless they could right the boat. This is one of the reasons Microsoft got the terms that it did. And now, people will be compensated in the more standard Microsoft way (as will the accounting for these expenses, which were clouded by non-GAAP practices).
  • Microsoft sees Linkedin as a way to deflect Slack — Personally, I don’t buy this conflation of threats to Microsoft. Yes, Slack is making huge inroads in work technology — specifically as the defining product in the exploding work chat space — but just because is has some of the features of a ‘social network’ (in that people are logged in for long periods of time each day, message each other, can coordinate outside of company boundaries) that doesn’t mean Slack and Linkedin are in some way head-to-head competitors. Yes, Slack is a competitor to Microsoft’s productivity/work technology products — most specifically Yammer, but also the core functionality slowly growing in Office 365 — but that doesn’t mean that Linkedin is intended as a Slack killer. Although Microsoft should be working on that, as well. I just don’t expect it will come from the Linkedin side of things.

After all the dust settles I expect that we’ll see a reoriented Linkedin, with a greater focus on CRM technologies and networking, and also a much enlarged focus on people operations (HR) technologies and networking, an area that Microsoft has functionally no offerings. This will take the form of enlarged platforms, and an ecology of partners building on Microsoft/Linkedin capabilities, as well as other, subsequent acquisitions. And Linkedin will immediately find its operational core — and culture — pulled toward CRM and HR by the Microsoft sales operation.
I also don’t believe that Jeff Weiner will be at Microsoft for longer than his required tenure, two years or whatever it is, and Kara Swisher agrees. More likely he will find new worlds to conquer, and Satya will find someone in Microsoft or Linkedin who will better execute what will rapidly become an integration strategy, rather than a trailblazing one.

Microsoft Planner is rolling out on Office 365

Microsoft Planner — the work management complement to Office 365 — was made available as a preview in December 2015, but has entered ‘general availability’, meaning it will become immediately accessible to users of eligible subscription plans. In Office 365, it will appear as another tile in the Office 365 tools (see the leftmost tile in the second row, below).
Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 3.41.04 PM
Microsoft Planner is a task-centric work management solution, despite the ‘project management’ terminology other reviewers are using. The orientation of the tools is to support teams and team members tracking tasks and coordinating task work through social communications.
Planner is one of several task-oriented solutions that Microsoft is working to integrate, including Wunderlist and Microsoft Project. Conceptually, this means that users will be able to manage personal tasks (in Wunderlist), team work (in Planner), and to manage project planning (in Microsoft Project), and for these to be integrated in sensible ways. So for example, it might be helpful if I could see my work-related tasks, perhaps created and annotated in Planner, in a mobile Wunderlist app. Or to analyze the cost implications for a shift in personnel in a Planner project within the portfolio of company projects managed in Microsoft Project. That’s one part of the company’s long-range vision for Planner and the other tools manipulating task information. But it is going to be a long time before all the kinks and use cases are worked out for that grand vision. And at any rate, ultimately Planner will have to stand on its own, based on how good of a work management tool it is.
And that assessment poses another issue. If Planner requires Office 365 in order to use it — or even experiment with it — many prospective users will simply never jump through the hoops to try it out. I have raised that very issue with Microsoft representatives this year, as I was being briefed on the product. My suggestion is that Microsoft should create a standalone version of planner — at least a web app, if not mobile apps — so that an individual, team, or company could do an apples-to-apples comparison with Asana, Trello, or Wrike, and not the apples-to-oranges comparison with the umpty-ump boxes in that Office image, above. Also, that is the best way for Planner’s functionality to improve — in head-to-head competition — and not as a captive work management ‘capability’ locked into Office 365, relying on its integration with Office email, Outlook, Groups, and other tools.
The following is a condensation of the review of Planner from the in-process 2016 Work Management Narrative (much delayed), that I am authoring.
Planner is based on the well-known kanban-style, ‘board’ architectural model, and three modes of boards are supported at present: user-defined ‘buckets’, task assignment to members, and progress. As shown in the screenshot below, there is a left hand column where I have selected a plan, in this case Work Management Narrative, and I chose to display that plan as Buckets, not by Progress or Assigned to. In the ‘research tools’ bucket there is a single task, ‘research Microsoft Planner’, which shows icons indicating 0 of 2 subtasks have been completed, that there are comments, and the task has been assigned to Stowe Boyd. The half moon icon indicates that the task is in progress, a third state for tasks: unstarted, in progress, and completed.
Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 5.27.27 PM
Clicking on ‘write method section’ expands that task (or, in the usual terminology, turns over the ‘card’), as we see in the screenshot below. At the foot we see a stream of comments — the one with a white background was entered in an associated discussion, about which more later. There are a variety of other attributes, showing a rich task model, however, lacking support for some common social communications like ‘@mentions’.
Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 4.03.56 PM
What’s not clear from this zoom into Planner is that the ‘work management narrative’ plan corresponds to a Office 365 group of the same name. Groups support group-oriented communications, but those are not accessed in the Planner section of Office 365.
I believe that Planner users will find the need to return to Outlook to conduct conversations about their projects annoying, as opposed to the more normal model of an in-context — or best, in-project — activity stream. I bet that Microsoft will hear this as a frequent suggestion for additional Planner functionality. However, I often operate in multiple windows on the same project workspace, and so, having a conversation window and a Planner board view open at the same time is really not very different, and may be workable for many. Note also that if Microsoft builds a standalone version of Planner there will be no Outlook to lean upon, so an in-context activity stream or chat model would be best.
Office 365 users are likely using the spectrum of features — Outlook, OneDrive, Office apps, Groups, OneNote, and Planner — and therefore will rapidly habituate to transiting the many loosely integrated components, and will likely adapt to a model of use involving a lot of moving around. 
By itself, Planner would only be considered a team task management tool, not a true work management tool, since it lacks activity streams, @mentions, and other baseline social communications. However, that’s a red herring, since Planner — at present — is never without Groups and Outlook, and can’t be separated from them.

At present, I think the initial implementation of charts is a better indicator of where Planner is headed. In the screenshot below I’ve pulled an example from the Microsoft website (since my examples aren’t rich enough), and this shows the ease of quickly grasping the status of a Planner ‘document’ through a dashboard view.
charts planner
I also want to give a nod to the designers of Planner for including the three state model for task status: not started, in progress, and completed. The in-progress state is incredibly powerful, and after using it in some tools, I now chafe whenever confronted with a solution that lacks it.
Planner is an obvious choice for those already committed to Office 365 as a baseline for work productivity. However its current level of integration with Office 365 services — like Outlook, OneDrive, and OneNote — falls short of work management nirvana. Still, it’s early days, and when I reviewed it the product was only in a ‘First Use’ release phase.
I can imagine that within a very short time frame the myriad hooks that could make Planner a first-class member of the Office 365 suite will begin to emerge. I wager that creating tasks from email, or in the comments of a Groups or OneDrive comments — as just some of the most obvious examples — will be implemented within the next few releases, or sooner.
 

Work Management in Theory: Context

This is an excerpt of the upcoming report, Work Management Narrative, in which I will be reviewing around a dozen products, including Asana, Azendoo, Basecamp, Clarizen, Fleep, Flow, Liquid Planner, Mavenlink, Smartsheet, Trello, Work Front, Wrike, Zoho Projects and others.


Work Management in Theory: Context

Work management is a term that has emerged in recent years as task management tools were enhanced with various social communication capabilities, principally derived from design motifs from work media tools. This increase of capabilities — and the resulting overlap of work management capabilities with those of work media tools — means that trying to assess the trends that are prevalent  in work management really require stepping back. Today, there are a wide range of approaches to supporting cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for  team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.

The Lay of the Landscape

Here’s a table that attempts to make sense of a variety of technologies that are used in business to support cooperative work. It is not exhaustive, but I hope it will clarify some of the distinctions between these classes of tools. At the same time, there is a great deal of overlap so some degree of confusion is inevitable.
Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 2.37.22 PM
Today, there are a wide range of approaches to support cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.The primary distinction here is the degree of emphasis for task-centric versus message-centric tools. Those that we will focus on in this report are task-centric, even though there have to include some fundamental level of social communication to be considered work management tools. So for example, Todoist is a leading team task management tool, widely used in business. However, the tool lacks social communication aside from comments (‘notes’) associated with tasks: Todoist does not support messaging, discussions, activity streams, or ‘call outs’ (also called ‘@mentions’). While tasks can be assigned to others by the task creator, there is no other way that users can reference each other, or ‘talk’. And at the least social level of task management, personal task management tools don’t allow even the most basic level of business-oriented task assignment. As a result, team task management tools are not covered in this report, although Gigaom may develop a report like this one for that market, at some time in the future.
Work management tools share a lot of similarities with various message-centric work technologies. Note that I have divided the message-centric tools into two sorts:

  1. Follow centric — like Yammer, where the primary orientation of messaging is around following of message sources, and messages are primarily displayed in activity streams based on the user choosing who and what to follow.
  2. Chat centric — such as Slack, where the primary orientation of message is around chat rooms, or channels, and messages are principally displayed in those contexts when the user chooses to’ join’ or ‘enter’ them.

Some work media tools provide a degree of  task management, although it may not be the primary focus of the tool. And, as a general case, products like Jive, Yammer, and IBM Connections have little or no native task management, relying instead on integration with third party solutions. Likewise, many leading work chat offerings, like Slack and Hipchat, don’t have native task management, also relying instead on integration with task management tools, like Asana and Jira.
Lastly, the class of tools I refer to as workforce communications (like Lua, Avaamo, Fieldwire, and Sitrion One) have characteristics that are like those of work media and work chat tools, but are principally oriented toward communications management with an increasingly mobile contingent of the out-of-office ‘hard’ workforce, such as construction, retail and restaurant workers, field sales, security, and others.
At the bottom tier of the table in figure 1 are tools that are not principally oriented toward business use, like personal task management (Todoist, and Google Tasks), social media (Facebook, and Twitter), and consumer chat apps (Facebook M, and WhatsApp). This are widely used in business contexts, although they aren’t geared for it. Note however that this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be recast as team or work oriented tools, like the trajectory of Facebook for Work.
There are other less-closely related work technologies that are also not investigated here, like curation tools, conferencing tools, and so called ‘productivity’ tools (like Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox Paper, and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides). These, again, are candidates for inclusion in another report.


Next week, I will be posting another excerpt from the report. 

New Open Connectivity Foundation combines Open Interconnect Consortium and AllSeen Alliance

Update 21 February 2016 — I received email from Sophie Sleck of Blanc & Otis:

OCF is not unifying OIC and AllSeen, this is not a merger of two groups. The technology leaders who have been specifying software protocols for the Internet of Things announced they are now working together to form a new entity. OCF is the successor to OIC; it’s initiatives are about solidifying and trying to reduce fragmentation in the industry.

Also, Meredith Solberg of the Linux Foundation wrote to correct me:

I represent AllSeen Alliance and just wanted to reach out in response to your article with a correction that there has been no merger with AllSeen Alliance. AllSeen is not combining with OIC to form OCF and we remain a separate organization. We do, however, have some overlap with members in common. If you could please issue a correction and include a correction note to your Twitter followers, we’d greatly appreciate it! Want to remain transparent and share accurate info.

So, OCF is the successor to OIC, and we will have to wait for the cooperation between OCF and AllSeen to lead to yet another organization/consortium/foundation/whozis.


A new milestone in the maturation of the Internet of Things has been reached: two contending organizations — the Open Interconnect Consortium (backed by Intel and others), and the AllSeen Alliance (back by Qualcomm and others) are merging to form the Open Connectivity Foundation. (See correction above.)
This is a big step, and one that may help break the logjam in the market. After all, consumers are justifiably concerned about making a bet in home automation — for example — if they are unsure about how various devices may or may not interoperate.
Aaron Tilley points out that IoT has seemed to be, so far, all hat and no cattle:

In some ways, the Internet of Things still feels like empty tech jargon. It’s hard to lump all these different, disparate things together and talk about them in a meaningful way. Maybe once all these things really begin talking to each other, the term will be more appropriate. But for now, there is still a mess in the number of standards out there in the Internet of Things. People have frequently compared it to the VHS-Betamax videotape format war of the 1980s.

The VHS-Betamax format war was not solved by standardization, it was the VHS vendors making the devil’s bargain with porn companies. The OCF may be more like the creation of the SQL standard, where a number of slightly different implementations of relational database technology decided to standardize on the intersection of the various products, and that led to corporations to invest when before they had been stalling.
The consortium includes — beside Intel and Qualcomm — ARRIS, CableLabs, Cisco, Electrolux, GE Digital, Samsung, and Microsoft.
Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President, Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft announced the company’s participation in the creation of the OCF, and spelling out Microsoft’s plans:

We have helped lead the formation of the OCF because we believe deeply in its vision and the potential an open standard can deliver. Despite the opportunity and promise of IoT to connect devices in the home or in businesses, competition between various open standards and closed company protocols have slowed adoption and innovation. […]
Windows 10 devices will natively interoperate with the new OCF standard, making it easy for Windows to discover, communicate, and orchestrate multiple IoT devices in the home, in business, and beyond. The OCF standards will also be fully compatible with the 200 million Windows 10 devices that are “designed for AllSeen” today.
We are designing Windows 10 to be the ideal OS platform for Things, and the Azure IoT platform to be the best cloud companion for Things, and for both of them to interoperate with all Things.

Microsoft was late to the party on mobile, but Nadella’s leadership seems to be all about getting in early on other emerging technologies, like IoT, machine learning, and modern productivity.
Noticeably absent are the other Internet giants: Apple, Amazon, and Google. When will they get on board?

Dropbox beta tests Paper, a collaborative writing tool

Dropbox has revealed a new collaborative writing tool. It’s called Paper — not to be confused with Facebook’s news reader app, FiftyThree’s drawing app, and likely a dozen other less prominent software products — and right now Dropbox is inviting select consumers to beta test it.
Paper is the next iteration of the Notes service Dropbox previewed earlier this year. It works a lot like a trumped-up version of Google Docs: People can use the service to write together, communicate, and assign each other individual tasks.
Here’s what Engadget, which got a preview of the service, had to say about it:

When asked what differentiated it from the rest of the field, [Dropbox product manager Matteus] Pan pointed to Paper’s focus on building documents that let users work and share multiple content types regardless of what’s used to create them.
He cited Paper as a way to collaborate that keeps things from getting overly ‘messy’ in terms of both clean design and organization. The last differentiator is organization and helping teams find their work quicker. ‘Creation and collaboration are only half the problem,’ he said. ‘The other half is how information is organized and retrieved across an entire company.’

Dropbox picked a funny day to reveal Paper to the public. Another company, Quip, announced just this morning that it has raised $30 million from a number of investors to keep working on its own collaborative office tool. Given the inevitable competition between these services, it wouldn’t be hard to believe Dropbox revealed Paper to try and steal some attention away from its new rival.
Not that Quip is the only service Paper will have to compete against. There’s also Google Docs, Microsoft Office, and who-knows-how-many other tools out there. The service will have to fight an uphill battle to become something more than another interesting service Dropbox introduced only to let it become stagnant. (Say hello to Carousel and Mailbox!) To state the obvious: Odds are against it.
Dropbox users can ask to be added to Paper’s waitlist through the service’s site. The company hasn’t said how many people it plans to allow on the beta service, nor when the service will exit beta and become available to the general public.

Why enterprise will choose iPad Pro over Microsoft’s Surface

Just two years ago, Apple chief executive Tim Cook took pot shots at the rise of 2-in-1 tablets, and claimed the iPad was a far better option for anyone seeking a tablet. Oh, how things change — Apple now has a similar product, the iPad Pro.
And perhaps surprisingly, it is the iPad Pro, not Microsoft’s Surface tablet, that will be popping up in cubicles everywhere this time next year — despite Apple’s history of ignoring the decidedly-unsexy-but-still-lucrative enterprise market.
The iPad Pro is much larger than its predecessor, and was designed to work with a new Smart Keyboard and a glorified stylus called Apple Pencil. It’s basically an SUV: not strong enough for some tasks, but packed full of useful features.

A look at the iPad Pro's Apple Keyboard attachment, which allows the tablet to double as a laptop.

A look at the iPad Pro’s Apple Keyboard attachment, which allows the tablet to double as a laptop.


The iPad Pro is a lot like Microsoft’s Surface product. Both feature displays that seem just a little too large to be convenient, both were designed with keyboard covers in mind, and both have gone to great lengths to convince people they should opt to spend between $49 and $99 on a stylus. There is one important difference, though: the iPad Pro is an iPad, and Surface products are not.
That might sound facetious, but it’s an important distinction. Apple isn’t trying to sell a new product to the enterprise customers it so obviously wants to attract with the iPad Pro. It’s trying to sell them an iPad (which many of those potential customers probably use outside of work) that was built with them in mind. Microsoft tried to establish something new; Apple is expanding a popular product — and that’s how it’s approaching enterprise.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that 70 percent of the smartphones and tablets used by enterprise workers bear Apple’s logo, according to a recent report by CompTIA . People are already using iPads for work, even though the device was designed as a vehicle for enjoying content instead of a workhorse machine. Apple’s decision to capitalize on that popularity with a new device should hardly come as a surprise.
It doesn’t hurt that analysts believe the iPad’s growth, which has slowed in recent years, will be bolstered by increasing popularity in the enterprise. Forrester Research said earlier this year that it expects business-owned tablets to represent 20 percent of the total segment by 2018; that’s a large increase over the 14 percent of the tablet market is owned by businesses this year.
All of which means that Apple products represent a large portion of a growing market segment — and that was when the company focused almost exclusively on the consumer market. If the iPad found a place in enterprise when its claim to fame was HBO Now, imagine how well it could do now that it comes with a dedicated keyboard accessory and what appears to be a rather capable stylus.
The iPad Pro is the latest example of Apple doing what it does best: waiting for its competitors to fizzle out in a market, designing a product that reinvigorates interest in the category, and then acting like those other products never even existed. The company even had a strange ally in creating that illusion: Microsoft executive Kirk Koenigsbauer, the corporate vice president of the Office division.
Koenigsbauer took the stage yesterday to show off how Microsoft’s Office productivity suite planned to support the new iPad Pro. He showed some interesting things, like PowerPoint turning doodles into presentation-worthy shapes, and expressed his employer’s excitement over Apple’s new tablet. That’s right — a Microsoft executive helped present a product that directly competes with Surface.  And since software is far more lucrative for Microsoft than hardware sales, I’m sure the company is extremely happy Apple is finally catering more toward workplaces with the iPad Pro.
Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the company's new 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the company’s new 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

‘Apple tax’ vs. perceived value

Surface has just one advantage over the iPad Pro: its price. Buying a Surface Pro 3 with 128GB of storage, a Surface Pen, and the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover will cost at least $1,029 before tax. An equivalent iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard will cost at least $1,218. (There are cheaper options available, but these two are the most comparable, at least for our purposes.)
That’s the stereotypical “Apple Tax” that has allowed the company to make more money than its competitors. The iPad Pro will cost more, sure, but it also has access to the App Store, a bigger and better display, and other features that put it ahead of the Surface Pro 3. I suspect many people will be willing to pay extra for those features and the ability to keep everything inside Apple’s ecosystem.
There have already been jokes about Apple getting credit for something Microsoft released three years ago. (And they aren’t too far off the mark!) Apple basically just announced its take on the Microsoft Surface after it spent years pooh-poohing the idea of using a stylus or of using one device to fill various functions instead of buying an iPad, an iPhone, and a Mac for their separate roles.
Like I said, this is what Apple does best. It watches others fail, then it releases its own product and makes ungodly amounts of money on products that establish their categories in the public conscience. Before the iPhone there was BlackBerry. Before the iPad there were Microsoft tablets. Before the Apple Watch there was Pebble. And before the iPad Pro there was the Microsoft Surface. If the Pro follows the same historical pattern, it’ll probably be a knockout hit.