Saturday, March 04, 2006

Microsoft’s Stealth Origami

The buzz created around its next gadget may be Redmond’s finest marketing moment, even Apple-like in its efficiency.
March 3, 2006

As Microsoft fuels widespread speculation about its mysterious Origami project, industry veterans on Friday gave the Redmond software giant high marks for pulling off one of the most successful stealth marketing campaigns in recent high-tech history.

The software giant was able to generate millions of dollars worth of marketing buzz with just a teaser web site and a campaign of well-managed, tactical data leaks.

"Frankly it was Apple-like," said Roger Kay, president of the market intelligence firm Endpoint Technologies Associates. “Microsoft generally cannot muster one-tenth of the stealth marketing Apple does, because they just have so many OEM partners that it is almost impossible to keep anything secret.”

Newspapers, industry journals, and bloggers continue to create their own picture of the device with "inside" details about the nature of the handheld gadget, code-named Origami, which came to the world’s attention on Monday.

Depending on which publication one reads, the device is a very mobile tablet computer powered by an Intel chip and Windows XP. It has anywhere from a 4-inch screen to a 10-inch screen and can support games like the Xbox, play music like the iPod, and make and receive phone calls like the Treo.

It will be priced anywhere from $499 to $1,000. It will include handwriting recognition, and support for 3G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, according to the speculation.

Microsoft shares got a bit of boost from the talk. After closing the week at $26.63 on Friday March 24, the stock was trading recently at $27.06. By comparison, shares of Apple dropped to $69.20 from $71.46 over the same period.

Feeding Frenzy

Microsoft added to the speculation this week by offering vague tidbits to its favorite publications, while updating its Origami promo web site to maintain the feeding frenzy.

The promo now says that the mysterious device is everywhere, including in the mountains and in New York’s subways but it is "never in the way." It also says details about the device will be available next Thursday—that is, one week later than was earlier promised.

"This begins to match Apple with the buzz that Microsoft generated," said Mr. Kay. "Some of the buzz over the video iPod was excruciating, but the Origami buzz was in proportion to the secrecy."

Apple has stage-managed a lot of its buzz over the last few years, but the company has fewer partners that it must keep under control. And Apple has employed lawsuits to keep its partners in line. For Microsoft, stealth marketing has been very difficult because its universe of partners and OEMs is massive.

"Microsoft has to talk to hardware developers about drivers," said Mr. Kay. "They must speak to software developers, analysts, and the long-lead press, so it’s tough to have any fun with marketing. The Windows ecosystem includes just about everybody, so kudos to them on Origami."

Potential Letdown?

Microsoft must now brace for a potential letdown, according to Peter Gorham, an independent analyst.

"I can’t imagine that this device can live up to the buzz," said Mr. Gorham. "It’s like Apple did recently. They created all of this promotion and then announced a living room speaker, which Bose already markets, and leather iPod pouches, which you can get at the mall. Origami could be an updated version of the Newton."

The Newton, now defunct, was Apple’s best-known contribution in the PDA market.

Rede Herring Article


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