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January 26th, 2012

When Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer did his keynote address at CES 2012, more than a few attendees (and most of the media) thought that the overproduced hip-hop-techno-video-extravaganza introduction was a bit odd. Plus, there was no “core messaging” at all regarding Microsoft’s focus of  “three screens and a cloud.”

The three screens are PCs, tablet/game devices and phones, all with online storage and apps in the “cloud.”

PCs – Microsoft’s “first screen”

Microsoft is doing great with the “first screen” – PCs. Windows 7, which powers all of CRE Rentals’ PC desktop computer rental units and PC laptops, has shipped over half a billion copies since 2009 and is solidly ensconced in both homes and businesses.

Games & Tablets – “second screen”

Following the introduction of Kinect, the Xbox 360 has overcome its slow start to become a billion-dollar success. With new film and TV partnerships, Xbox is becoming a media hub for moms and dads, at least when they can get the kids off the thing. Chasing the success of iPad rentals are hundreds of Android tablets, but Microsoft can’t field a tablet product until later in 2012, after Windows 8 ships. Hardware details are nonexistent at this point but it’s fair to say that Microsoft is moving in the right direction with the “second” screen.

Smartphone – “third screen”

The firm’s biggest problem is with the third screen – smart phones. Windows Phone got mostly positives reviews, but market share is tiny after more than a year and attempts to use it on devices like tablet PC rentals didn’t work out. Apple and Samsung products dominate phone hardware, while iOS and Android own the software side. Windows Phone has a big challenge ahead.

The big question…what about the Cloud?

cloud confusion

With little information about how and when Microsoft and its partners plan to roll out Windows 8 tablets, even the rosiest scenario puts the company in a distant third place at the end of 2012. So much for the three screens – what about the cloud that ties them all together, like Apple’s iCloud? For consumers, Microsoft has steadily refined SkyDrive and Windows Live, introducing new features and planning much better Windows 8 integration. For business users, Office 365 is doing well against Google Apps as Windows Azure continues a slow but steady growth.

Since the company’s cloud strategy requires customers loyal to Microsoft on all three screens, can Microsoft bring smart phones into the mix? The firm has been slow to deliver solutions for Android or iOS, and there are no Office apps on non-Microsoft devices. Microsoft already has a presence on the iMac and other Apple computers – as Macs run the Windows OS natively. If the company dedicates itself to “invading” the iPad and iPhone, this will be a very interesting year.

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