by Ron Grattopp…… I’m pretty sure by now that many of you have an idea that Microsoft invests heavily in research, at least you have if you’ve followed my blogs. I believe our current investment is in the range of $9B/year. It’s this commitment to R&D that has kept Microsoft as an industry leader in innovation for over 30 years so far and more importantly, will allow us to continue innovating to bring exciting advancements to our technology that you and your customers run your businesses, and in many cases, your lives on. As you might expect I bristle when I hear or read some of the many ABM (anything but Microsoft) bigots, or in some cases, just plain uninformed folks, opine about how other platforms “innovate” (typically because they have been “first to market” with something) while perceiving of Microsoft as the follower just because our technology appeared in market later. In this post I want to address that perception and give you some customer conversation talking points around it. Hopefully, you’ll read on…
Of course, in my opinion, the best predictor of who will be likely to sustain innovation is commitment to research – and not just product research, but applied research (real scientists, looking into real areas of research some of which you’ll see outlined below). I give Bill Gates credit for the vision to make research a priority at Microsoft from the very early stages of the company, and that commitment continues. Below is a map of Microsoft Research locations literally across the globe – I’m betting you didn’t know about most of them or that we had that many outside of main campus in Redmond.
I’m sure most of you would probably guess that Microsoft does applied research in areas such as Computer systems and networking, and Human-computer interaction, and Software Development, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t guess that we do applied research in about 15 other areas as well including Social Science and Economics. So here’s a link to and list of Microsoft Research Areas: Communication and collaboration, Computational linguistics, Computational sciences, Computer systems and networking, Economics, Education, Gaming, Graphics and multimedia, Hardware and devices, Health and well-being. Human-computer interaction, Information retrieval and management, Machine learning, Other, Security and privacy, Social science, Software development, and finally, Theory. Now you know. Hmmm, I wonder what all “Other” entails?
Here’s some interesting tidbits from research on Wikipedia that might reveal some things that most folks don’t know about Microsoft innovation.
The Microsoft Surface WikipediA article states that “The product idea for Surface was initially conceptualized in 2001 by Steven Bathiche of Microsoft Hardware and Andy Wilson of Microsoft Research. …A similar concept was used in the 2002 science fiction movie Minority Report. As noted in the DVD commentary, the director Steven Spielberg stated the concept of the device came from consultation with Microsoft during the making of the movie. One of the film’s technology consultant’s associates from MIT later joined Microsoft to work on the Surface project.” It goes on to tell us that the team presented the idea to Bill Gates in a group review in 2003 and that the final hardware design was completed in 2005 with Surface then being unveiled by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on May 30, 2007. On the other hand, the iPhone WikipediA entry tells us that “development of the iPhone began in 2005 with Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ direction that Apple engineers investigate touchscreens” and that Jobs unveiled the iPhone to the public on January 9, 2007. More research shows us that Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL) was also developing a multi-touch technology in the 2001 time frame. I didn’t have time or inclination to find out who had the original idea but my point here is not to try to claim that Microsoft invented multitouch but that, as in a lot of areas, we began doing applied research into this area well before the general public has any clue. Other cases, just to name a few, are: Natural user interface (NUI) which is some of the research out of which the Kinect was spawned, as well as Speech Recognition (we’ve been doing speech since Windows 95). I’m guessing some folks even give credit to Apple for innovation in voice recognition just because Siri is their first real experience with it – I was demonstrating voice recognition in my old Windows Mobile device as part of Unified Messaging about 5 years ago. Btw, speaking of Siri, I want to give a shout out to Ask Ziggy for WP7, in my only head-to-head competition with an iPhone(so far), my sister and I both asked our phones when Daylight Savings Time started – the Siri response gave the wrong date while Ziggy got it right, so that was my own version of “smoked by a Windows Phone 7”, not really a speed thing, but just thought I’d call it out. AND, speaking of NUI (which I was earlier), everyone knows who Bill Gates is, how many of you know who Bill Buxton is? He is just one of the many scientists working for Microsoft Research that are well known as pioneers in their own fields. We have “research fellows” from many disciplines that are the cream of the proverbial crop – again, Microsoft has the commitment to research and this will help us lead into the future.
So my point in all this is two-fold. First, when having customer conversations around adopting Microsoft technology you should never fail to mention that one of our advantages is that we do invest so much in research and thus we ARE the company that is really one of the industry innovation leaders. And secondly, if the customer somehow thinks otherwise, you now have some specific talking points to share around how that perception isn’t always based in reality – just because the iPhone appeared in public before Surface and popularized touch, same with Siri and voice, doesn’t always mean that the first to market was the real innovator. Apple will almost always be the first to market because they own both the software and hardware platform which shortens that dev cycle significantly, but do they really have the commitment to research which will keep them going now that the vision of a Steve Jobs is gone? Your customer may well be betting their business on this perception, hopefully you can help them understand where real innovation comes from and how to differentiate it from “first to market”.
Btw, speaking of innovation, check out this great article on our new Metro UI, it gives a level of insight into what it is and how it came about that I think you’ll appreciate - Why Metro now rules at Microsoft – my congratulations to Jay Green for this insightful post.