Microsoft Origami: Reviewers' Pans Illustrate Problem With 'Platform' Marketing (MSFT)

May. 8.06 | About: Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

By Carl Howe

The first reviews are in on Samsung's production models of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) tiny tablet PC that it buzz-marketed under the code name 'Origami' and more formally referred to as an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC). David Pogue of the New York Times says:

...the Ultra Mobile PC feels so wrong. It aims to bridge the size gulf between a palmtop and a laptop, but winds up inheriting the worst aspects of each. Like a palmtop, it feels claustrophobic, clumsy for text input and, with its exposed touch screen, vulnerable. Like a laptop, it's expensive, has short battery life and requires two hands to operate.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, gadget reviewer Walt Mossberg hits similar notes with his review:

Unfortunately, the Samsung Q1 is so deeply flawed in key respects that it amounts to little more than a toy for techies. For everyone else, it's impractical and frustrating. Unless the UMPC can evolve significantly beyond this first effort, it may wind up as a footnote in the history of personal computers, rather than an exciting new category.

In response, people from Microsoft's A-list blogger Robert Scoble to mobile technology specialists like James Kendrick are complaining that the reviewers got the wrong impressions because 1) the price is too high, and 2) they weren't using it in the way it was designed. This is a classic technology push complaint: the technology is fine, but the product people marketed it wrong.

Now, Blackfriars pointed out Origami's marketing problems when Microsoft started its buzz-marketing push. Even when we were just seeing concept videos, it was clear these devices weren't designed to solve any particular problem. And worse, Microsoft marketed them as a "platform" -- an architecture designed to spawn many products from many manufacturers -- instead of products. That was the kiss of death; horizontal platform marketing never works.

Now I'm sure many readers will jump up and say, "The PC was the most successful platform ever created! What do you mean platform marketing doesn't work?" I say it because it is true. The PC was never created to be a platform, nor was it marketed as such. The reason the PC succeeded was that IBM marketed PCs as a very specific and very successful product. The PC only became a platform when IBM dropped the ball on its PS/2 products, and Compaq and a variety of other clone makers picked it up. But the IBM PC was already a huge success before PCs as a category became accepted. The product launched the platform, not the other way around.

Geoffrey Moore noted in his book Crossing the Chasm that a product needs to be a complete solution to a specific, desperate customer need to cross the chasm from early adopters to the mainstream majority of customers. Initiatives that just try to build up a lot of momentum and jump across the chasm are called "Evel Knievel" launches, and they usually fail with spectacular results.

The Origami platform is following the Evel Knievel trajectory because of its non-specific platform marketing. Let's hope that the OEM marketers introducing Origami products figure this out; otherwise, these products will never get past their small early adopter clique.