Published on November 16th, 2015 | by Varuna Singh1
Talking with Microsoft: Surface, Culture and Windows 10
I met up with the guy behind Windows and Devices for the Middle East. Mr. Mohammad Arif is in charge of everything from Windows 10, Lumia, Surface and devices for the Middle Eastern region as Head of Windows and Devices.
In my interview I question Microsoft on some fundamentals to challenges Microsoft Middle East might face in the next 4 years. During my interview I got the impression that Mr. Mohammad Arif’s vision for Microsoft Middle East is a great extension to the Senior Management at Redmond. Microsoft is a huge brand and Mr. Arif and his team are doing all they can to break in to the region. There might still be some corporate lag in the process but we are seeing the new Microsoft already.
Microsoft recently announced the Surface Pro 4 and the Lumia 950 phones at Gitex this year and it’s never been a more exciting time to talk about Microsoft, Surface, Windows and its culture than right now.
“Where we are and more importantly, where we are going”
Varuna Singh (VS): As we are seeing with Microsoft, a big push and especially at Gitex: big branding of Windows and Surface Pro 4. I think you are trying to lure people in as Microsoft being a comfortable brand.
So you are in charge of Windows and Devices in the whole region. How does that feel, how does your day look like?
Mohammad Arif Head of Windows and Devices (MA): Thanks for having me. I must say, first and foremost, It’s awesome. I think this job right now is probably one of the best things. We are at a really exciting juncture (with Windows 10 and Surface) and what we are doing in partnerships. I must say every day I come to work I feel really good about where we are and more importantly where we are going.
“The Middle-East has been a healthy part of Windows 10”
VS: Let’s talk about where Microsoft is going. Over a 110 million devices with Windows 10 right now in 11 weeks. Where is the Middle East in that figure?
MA: First and foremost, the 110 million is a global number. We don’t necessarily reveal the numbers by region but I must say the Middle East has been a healthy part of that number – and from what I hear from both consumers and corporations, the excitement is good. People are referring Windows 10 to their friends and families, and I think that is testament to how we have built Windows 10. It’s something that we haven’t ever stopped but continued to build on (with confidence).
VS: I understand you can’t tell us how much adoption is happening in the Middle East, but something you have done is work with the Abu Dhabi Western Region to test deployment of Windows 10. How important is this to Microsoft with corporations still hooked on to XP, Vista and 7?
MA: I must say, first and foremost, it gives us a lot of confidence in this process. It’s very different when you go to a customer and you try to explain why it’s a better product, but (with Windows 10) that’s a different conversation especially when the customers come to us about Windows 10 and they say they have tested it out and are really excited saying “Tell us a little more about it”. That conversation (with corporations) gets a lot easier.
Windows 10’s killer feature for corporations – Security
What we are seeing outside of the mass consumer section is a lot of enterprise and corporate customers right now are on the path of adopting or actively trialing Windows 10 – and there are lots of customers that we are working with in the Middle East that I can’t share more specifics on. But what this does for us as a company is (it validates) the way we have built windows with feedback and suggestions and it makes us set for the next 4 years.
VS: Are corporations okay with the whole agile way that Windows 10 is developed. I mean corporates don’t really like change.
MA: That’s a really good point that you are making. I would say they make change only when there is enough reason to make change. Outside of the fact that we have a whole new way of delivering the OS (as a service), one the key features is security. The Security features that we have in Windows 10 makes it really appealing for corporations. With Windows Hello, Passport, Device Guard, Controlled Corporate Stores and other enterprise level security features. What we notice that is different commercial customers are adopting Windows 10 for different reasons and very specially security features.
“What is Microsoft Middle East?”
VS: Help me understand, what is Microsoft Middle East? what’s the culture of Microsoft especially in this region- is it more consumer focused now or is it enterprise? I ask this because the Surface has always been a corporate device. It’s never been a consumer product directly from Microsoft.
MA: So, our real aim (globally) is to build a product that people love. Our ambition, given how pervasive Windows is – from students who need to write assignments to big CEOs who make big decisions. That’s kind of a responsibility. Our aim simply put is to empower every person to be more productive
“Our aim simply put is to empower every person to be more productive”
In our region, we started with commercial and we are working to bring it to the consumer. Surface is already a billion-dollar business for Microsoft.
VS: When can we see the Surface Pro 4 launched as a consumer product in the region?
MA: Commercial customers CAN get the Surface Pro 4 from our Corporate resellers available in November. I really cannot comment on consumers right now but that’s something we are working to. We continue to ensure that we can bring this in the hands of consumers and we have a roadmap for that. It is in our plan. It’s not for our lack of want. All I can tell you that we are working towards it.
VS: So.. this year? Next year?
MA: I REALLY cannot share that right now.
VS: You also announced another product, the Surface Book. Why aren’t we hearing that right now?
MA: I think again with a lot of products we want to be careful about how we go to market with these products. One thing we want to avoid is being careless about it and not being able to deliver on the experience.
Could there be a Microsoft Store in the Middle East?
Globally, the Surface Book will launch in a few countries but it isn’t coming to the region in its first wave. Again, it’s in our roadmap but we don’t have a date. If I could give you one, we would (but nothing to share at the moment)
It also boils down to our need to be responsible about these things- about the experience not just from a product’s perspective but where you can purchase, how it gets supported and we want to ensure we want to deliver on that.
VS: Speaking on corporations, can you tell me who the Surface Hub is for?
MA: Sure, so I Hub is a product that’s born out of our roots in productivity. From office, skype, Windows 10 and the new generation of hardware. If you put that together, you get the Surface Hub. We did research that on a tablet it takes 15 minutes for a meeting to get started. We thought what’s the solution. The ability to just walk into a room, everyone is offline, annotate and email that out. If you think about those enhancements especially since meetings is where decisions are made.
“Essentially it’s a collaboration tool”
Essentially it’s a collaboration tool. Because it’s a Windows 10 device as our partners build out applications on Windows 10 it begins to fit very specific areas.
VS: You mentioned application and that’s one of the challenges that Microsoft faces with the Windows 10 platform. You really need people to start making apps. Tell me about what Microsoft is doing to encourage app development and bring new and existing developers in Windows 10?
MA: As we build windows 10, how do we build windows 10 that’s really attractive to developers. We have over 110 million devices running Windows 10 and we have a 1 billion devices goal. as a developer building for Windows 10, I have a 110 million seats already out there to target.
The App Gate Problem
Secondly, in the next few years more devices will support Windows 10. In fact, more Kinds of devices. From screen less IOT Internet of Things devices to new age devices like HoloLens- we will continue to expand on that and new form factors. Outside of that we have also built dev kits for developers to move to the universal app platform.
Lastly, I think the notion of building once and it gets delivered on all these platforms. If I build an app once it delivers on multiple form factors from phone, PC, tablet, wearables.
VS: What are you doing to encourage regional Middle Eastern developers to come on board?
MA: one of the things we do is we invite developers to come and train them. We partner with specific entities. We have partnered with specific entities- with Emirates Airline and other Hackathons in the region. We’ve always been a developer friendly company and We work directly with these networks and do outreach programs providing information for our developers.
Note: The above interview is edited for clarity.
As Mr. Mohammad Arif mentioned, whats more exciting is where Microsoft is headed and boy does it have some challenges.