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It’s Windows 10 launch day and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella isn’t at the company’s headquarters in Redmond Washington. Nor is he in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York. He’s in Kenya. That’s important, because it gives us a clue as to just how important Africa might be for Windows 10. Here’s why.
In the run-up to today’s launch, Microsoft said it would be putting taking a more human approach to the launch. Rather than concentrating on the features (which anyone who cares already knows all about) and the business case, it’s pushing the focus onto how people use Windows and other Microsoft products to make a positive impact on the world.
It’s a sharp contrast with the “daddy knows best” attitude we saw during the launch of Windows 8 under Steve Ballmer. So negative was the reaction that it was partially blamed for a global slowdown in PC sales. It also means, despite a slew of new features, that Microsoft has been forced to return to a more familiar layout with Windows 10. In effect, it’s had to take a step backwards to go forwards.
It’s also a realisation that old models won’t work and that the easier it is for people to use and get their hands on your product, the more likely to adopt it.
However much better Windows 10 is than Windows 8, it’s unlikely to cause a resurgence in Microsoft’s traditional markets. The damage is done, both on desktop and mobile – where it recently wrote off its 2014 Nokia purchase at a cost of USS$7.6-billion. At the same time, it’s cut thousands of jobs and completely changed its overall strategy.
You could argue that much of this is down to Nadella trying to cut loose from the legacy left by Ballmer, but to outsiders it seems as if Microsoft is still scrambling, figuring out what to do in the face of Apple’s total dominance.
It’s pretty clear then that Microsoft needs a win and that it’s best chance of getting one is somewhere Apple hasn’t already claimed top spot.
There aren’t many regions where that’s the case, but for large swathes of Africa, it is.
Beyond the clichés
For people familiar with Africa, the frequently trotted out stats about the continent’s young population, fast-growing economies, and technological opportunities have become old-hat. But just because you’ve heard something plenty of times, doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Africa’s population is young, the continent is home to some seriously fast-growing economies and there is a massive technological opportunity. All of those are important to Microsoft. It’s no coincidence that the company bussed in more than 300 school kids for its Johannesburg Windows 10 launch event, nor that it’s released adverts claiming that a whole generation of kids will grow up with Windows 10. It wants people to be loyal to Windows from as early as possible.
— Stuart Thomas (@Stu_Thom4s) July 29, 2015
Thing is, even if you hook someone as a kid, you won’t necessarily retain their loyalty into adulthood. Once those kids become adults and decision-makers in business, you’ve got to give them a reason to stick with you.
And on that’s where Microsoft’s real African opportunity lies. The company’s 4Afrika programme
has been a major force in encouraging entrepreneurship on the continent for some time now. One obvious benefit is that this support gives it first-hand access to some of the most innovative brains on the continent. The real positive however comes when that startup grows up and becomes an enterprise-sized operation. How much more likely is it to stick with a provider it knows than someone new?
There’s no doubt that’s already happening in Africa and it’s going to keep happening, only at an increasingly accelerated pace.
It might not be cool, but Microsoft has always been very good in the enterprise space and if it can capture that space in Africa then it stands to gain big-time.
The right OS
Thing is, until now, the Windows upgrade model hasn’t made sense for Africa’s high-growth emerging markets. That’s because Microsoft was still treating the operating system the same way it did 20 years ago. With Windows 10, it’s realised that the operating system is a service that can be tweaked and improved upon all the time.
The update system for Windows 10 seems tailored for emerging markets with slower internet connections too. Rather than pushing an update to every single PC in an office, it can be pushed to a single device which can then push it through the internal network.
Microsoft’s also realised that apps matter, hence the ability to compile Android and iOS apps onto Windows 10. That’s just of many important features the Redmond-based giant has baked into the OS as it looks to make it as painless as possible. And if people genuinely enjoy using it, it could have an interesting effect in Africa at least.
Apple and Google (through Android) played a massive role in sparking the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) revolution, because people preferred the experience their home devices were giving them. But if a young, increasingly prosperous, tech-savvy generation finds themselves preferring the experience they have at work, the phenomenon could be reversed.
Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. As Microsoft makes gains, so do its competitors. Still, in the race for Africa it seems pretty well-poised.