Paul Thurrott’s Short Takes: March 13, 2015

Because sometimes it’s better to be right than to be loved, this week’s other news includes a reported Microsoft plan to bring Cortana to (gasp!) Android and iOS, an MSN move into the Windows group, Xbox One still doesn’t beat PS4 despite record sales, IDC cuts PC sales forecast for 2015, how that change will impact Microsoft, and the FCC issues its rule-less Net Neutrality rules.

Report: Microsoft is porting Cortana to Android and iOS

Because there is no technology that can be exclusive to the software giant’s own platforms, Microsoft is porting its Cortana personal digital assistant past Windows Phone and Windows 10 and to Android and iOS, according to a report in Reuters. And those rival platforms aren’t just getting plain Jane Cortana, they’re getting a new version infused with “Einstein” technology that “can read and understand email,” thanks to some home-spun Microsoft Research work. It’s unclear why anyone using Android or iOS would ever use a standalone Cortana app when their devices already have built-in voice-based digital assistances—Siri on iOS and whatever the frick Google calls it this week—but maybe being better will actually make a difference.

“Microsoft co-founder plans to live-stream tour of sunken Japanese battleship”

As I would call it, “pulling a Geraldo Rivera.”

Microsoft shakeup sees MSN move into Windows

According to a report in Geekwire, Microsoft is moving its MSN group into the Windows division, which probably seems to make some sense until you understand what’s really happening. The MSN of today isn’t anything like the MSN of the mid-1990s—when Microsoft launched it as a traditional online service—nor the evolving MSN that eventually became Windows Live. Today. MSN is just a web portal, and it’s the default home page in Internet Explorer, which I think is the only reason it even still exists as a brand. Apparently, some in Microsoft think the same, because many groups want to change that default. Bing, for example, would like its web site to become the default. And Windows has been pushing to make the default home page a promotion for Windows 10. Well, Windows just won. So it’s going to be interesting to see whether that default page changes and, if it does, what happens to MSN.

“Microsoft Has Its ‘Groove Back,’ Say Some CIOs

So then it’s equally fair to say that some CIOs are not so sure.

Xbox One experiences record sales in February

Good news, right? The console saw an 84 percent jump in console sales in the month, which is nothing to sneeze at. But you know me well enough by now to know there’s a down side to this story. Two, actually. First, that 84 percent jump? That’s month-over-month, which is not how we measure such things, and the only reason it’s such a big change is that Microsoft reneged on its original plan to raise the price of the console back to original levels and lowered prices yet again. Second—and seriously, you’ll want to sit down for this one—regardless of the record sales, Sony still beat Microsoft in the month, with the PlayStation 4 once again coming out as the best-selling console. Still if you’re looking to make some lemonade, we can at least look at the overall health of this console generation as a good thing. As NPD noted, “the first 15 months the PS4 and the Xbox One combined unit sales have outsold the PS3 and the Xbox 360 combined 15 month totals by close to 60 percent.” Hooray?

“Apple Releases iOS 8.2, It’s The Big One”

That explains the point two bit, then.

IDC cuts forecast for PC sales in 2015

This should be an “uh-oh” moment for anyone hoping to see the PC market rebound this year as I previously expected. Instead, IDC now says that PC sales will fall globally by almost 5 percent in 2015, to about 293 million units. There is, however, some good news, if you’re of the glass half full persuasion. First, IDC has also slightly revised its 2016 and 2017 estimates upwards, if slightly. And while PC sales seem stuck in sub-300 million unit territory, tablet sales have likewise slowed nicely too. So the point in time at which tablet sales exceeds that of PCs—originally expected to happen this year, by the way—is being pushed out as well.

“Windows Mobile Becoming a Liability for Microsoft Corporation”

Fortunately, Microsoft killed off Windows Mobile in 2010.

How will the PC forecast impact Microsoft?

Of course with IDC downgrading its PC sales forecast for 2015 as noted above, one must naturally wonder how this impacts Microsoft. After all, the software giant is set to release a newly PC-friendly Windows 10 this year, and surely that will give PC sales a boost. Right? No? Maybe not. And for that reason, Barclays has downgraded its financial estimates for Microsoft. “Microsoft noted during its last earnings announcement that it expects PC activity to return to levels similar to those seen prior to the XP refresh cycle, and Intel’s announcement yesterday morning suggests that the refresh cycle has officially ended,” Barclays noted. And it now expects now expects Microsoft to earn less in fiscal 2015 and 2016 (i.e. through mid-calendar year 2016) than before. So what’s the real issue here? I think it’s that Microsoft is getting skittish about “zero dollar” licensing on certain classes of devices and that it wants to raise the average selling price of PCs out of the basement. That makes sense, but it will impact unit sales volume, obviously. And apparently Microsoft’s bottom line as well.

“Can Microsoft Corporation’s Surface Pro 4 Challenge Apple’s New MacBook?”

Let me travel into the future and find out. [pause] Yes.

FCC issues 400 page report on its Net Neutrality rules

Not known for moving quickly, the US Federal Communications Commission this week issued a 400 page report detailing the rules it use to regulate its Net Neutrality mandate. But despite its mammoth size, what it really boils down to is a wait-and-see strategy. “We find that the best approach is to watch, learn, and act as required, but not intervene now, especially not with prescriptive rules,” the agency writes in the report. So it’s like Fight Club, then, where the first rule of Net Neutrality is that there are no rules. Until of course there are.