Microsoft needed a great Christmas season. After years of product stagnation, and a big market shift toward mobile devices from PCs, Microsoft's future relied on the company seeing customers demonstrate they were ready to jump in heavily for Windows8 products - including the new Surface tablet.
But that did not happen.
This inability to make a big splash, and mount a serious attack on Apple/Android domination, is horrific for Microsoft primarily because we now know that traditional PC sales are well into decline. Despite the big Win8 launch and promotion, holiday PC sales declined over 3% compared to 2011 as journalists reported customers found "no compelling reason to upgrade." Ouch!
Looking deeper, for the 4th quarter PC sales declined by almost 5% according to Gartner research, and by almost 6.5% according to IDC. Both groups no longer expect a rebound in PC shipments, as they believe homes will no longer have more than 1 PC due to the mobile device penetration - the market where Surface and Win8 phones have failed to make any significant impact or move beyond a tiny market share. Users increasingly see the complexity of shifting to Win8 as not worth the effort; and if a switch is to be made consumer and businesses now favor iOS and Android.
Microsoft's monopoly over personal computing has evaporated. From 95% market domination in 2005 share has fallen to just 20% in 2012 (IDC, Goldman Sachs.) Comparing devices, in 2005 there were 55 Windows devices sold for every Apple device; today explosive Apple sales has lowered that multiple to a mere 2! (Asymco). Universally the desire to upgrade Microsoft products has simply disappeared, as XP still has 40% of the Windows market - and even Vista at 5.7% has more users than Win8 which has only achieved a 1.75% Windows market share despite the long wait and launch hoopla. And with all future market growth coming in tablets, which are expected to more than double unit volume sales by 2016, Microsoft is simply not in the game.
These trends mean nothing short of the ruin of Microsoft. Microsoft makes more than 75% of its profits from Windows and Office. Less than 25% comes from its vaunted servers and tools. And Microsoft makes nothing from its xBox/Kinect entertainment division, while losing vast sums on-line (negative $350M-$750M/quarter). No matter how much anyone likes the non-Windows Microsoft products, without the historical Windows/Office sales and profits Microsoft is not sustainable.
So what can we expect at Microsoft:
Ballmer has committed to fight to the death in his effort to defend & extend Windows. So expect death as resources are poured into the unwinnable battle to convert users from iOS and Android.
As resources are poured out of the company in the Quixotic effort to prolong Windows/Office, any hope of future dividends falls to zero.
Expect enormous layoffs over the next 3 years. Something like 50-60%, or more, of employees will go away.
Expect closure of the long-suffering on-line division in order to conserve resources.
The entertainment division will be spun off, sold to someone like Sony or even Barnes & Noble, or dramatically reduced in size. Unable to make a profit it will increasingly be seen as a distraction to the battle for saving Windows - and Microsoft leadership has long shown they have no idea how to profitably grow this business unit.
As more and more of the market shifts to competitive cloud businesses Apple, Amazon and others will grow significantly. Microsoft, losing its user base, will demonstrate its inability to build a new business in the cloud, mimicking its historical experiences with Zune (mobile music) and Microsoft mobile phones. Microsoft server and tool sales will suffer, creating a much more difficult profit environment for the sole remaining profitable division.
Missing the market shift to mobile has already forever tarnished the Microsoft brand. No longer is Microsoft seen as a leader, and instead it is rapidly losing market relevancy as people look to Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, Facebook and others for leadership. The declining sales, and lack of customer interest will lead to a tailspin at Microsoft not unlike what happened to RIM. Cash will be burned in what Microsoft will consider an "epic" struggle to save the "core of the company."
But failure is already inevitable. At this stage, not even a new CEO can save Microsoft. Steve Ballmer played "Bet the Company" on the long-delayed release of Win8, losing the chance to refocus Microsoft on other growing divisions with greater chance of success. Unfortunately, the other players already had enough chips to simply bid Microsoft out of the mobile game - and Microsoft's ante is now long gone - without holding a hand even remotely able to turn around the product situation.
Game over. Ballmer loses. And if you keep your money invested in Microsoft it will disappear along with the company.
(Adam hartung is the managing director at Spark Partners.)
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