Friday, February 07, 2014

Microsoft’s New Indian Face

In case you did not notice, Microsoft now has a black Chairperson and an Indian CEO, and Bill Gates will now be reporting to Satya Nadella three days a week. Bill is back! Someday Sundar Pichai might end up CEO of Google, and Bobby Jindal might end up President Of The United States. And Nitish might wipe out poverty from India. And Jayalalita might help architect genuine federalism for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. And India is already on its way to Mars. Jupiter is not far.

Amitabh is the most recognized face on the planet. 

Bill Gates is the ultimate Maoist, if you ask me. I only got to “know” the guy after he launched his global war on poverty. Computers only became interesting to me because of the Internet, and Bill was a PC guy. My company to love is Google.

My tribute to Satya Nadella was a blog post An Opening For Microsoft: Supercheap Smartphones.

I think the biggest new opening for Microsoft to get back on the tech map is for it to cash on its Nokia acquisition and a CEO who grew up in India, a country that has more poor people than any other, and to offer the cheapest smartphones across the Global South. That steep price gradient is the only hope Microsoft might have to become a significant third force in the mobile space where Android is the new Windows. If it were to move fast enough I think there is a slim chance that Microsoft might end up with Apple like global market shares.

The large number of Android manufacturers are tough competition though. Android is free. And those hardware makers are doing their best to offer cheap phones. But I have a feeling Nokia knows a thing or two about cheap.

And to think Nadella is not an IIT guy. He claims pretty much everything he learned about leadership and teams he learned playing cricket. That is a true Indian! This is no lost Desi. He is true to the roots.

If India were the Al Qaeda the recent humiliation of the Indian diplomat would have ignited a call for jihad. That organization has a simplistic two dimensional cartoon idea of what America is. It is a large, complex country that can also put Nadella on the top. For every Nadella there is also a Pichai, waiting in the wings, ready to take over.

I think Bill Gates’ comeback cannot be overlooked. That is a big story in its own right. Gates will still give the majority of his time to his foundation, and I think that is awesome because I am a huge fan of his foundation. But this time away from Microsoft has been good for him. He now has new, global, non-Microsoft perspectives. This is not a Personal Computer world we live in, not anymore. But then he was thinking tablets a full half decade before Steve Jobs, only Gates’ tablet had an accompanying pen, and it never took off, not even inside Microsoft. So don’t think the guy is behind.

How would you design super cheap smartphones? I say, ask Nokia. But smartphones are no good without data. How do you bring wireless broadband to vast swaths of the Global South (that is like saying African American) also known as the Third World (that is nigger)? Google is throwing balloons up into the upper parts of the atmosphere. Microsoft might try satellites and cheap antennas on the ground. My point being, it’s got to compete in the space of taking internet to the masses, the left out billions. A smartphone with internet access is the 21st century voting right. If you don’t have it, you are disenfranchised.

So imagine a $20 Nokia smartphone that someone in Darbhanga, Bihar, buys on the roadside, that immediately connects to wireless broadband beamed down by a Microsoft satellite for free. The phone runs Windows Mobile, which is free. It has the Bing search engine by default, and Hotmail Mobile, and Office Mobile. And Skype comes preloaded. And every Skype account gets a free phone number too. As in, calls are free. Skype gives you unlimited free SMS. And of course the keyboard can be in English or Hindi.

How does Microsoft make money? $20 for the phone, and ads served on the phone through the various services. Ads that are super relevant, because your usage of the phone builds a rich profile of you at some Microsoft data center. And Microsoft ends up rich, and we all end up happy.

This part is obvious. Steve Jobs gave us the Graphical User Interface, or the mouse. He stole it from Xerox, but then Picasso was also known to steal. Jobs also gave us the touch interface. But I think Microsoft gave us the next big thing before Jobs gave us the touch. Gestures are more natural than touch. And Microsoft’s Kinect is master of the gesture universe.

There is something called the Natural User Interface. I think there is so much more Microsoft could do in that space.

Supercheap smartphones with the accompanying wireless broadband and the Natural User Interface fully scaled together can easily take Microsoft past a 500 billion valuation. And Nadella could stay busy for a decade. And that is enough time before another Indian takes over. Maybe Pichai? And Vivek Wadhwa perhaps is Mayor of Silicon Valley by then, or is it Vinod Khosla? Khosla is already Dean.

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