Microsoft’s 3 Screen Strategy is DOA?


The telcos have been talking about their 3 screens since last year. Interestingly,  Microsoft recently has started articulating the 3 screens and a cloud as their strategy (PC, Cellphone and TV being the 3).  Let me go out on a limb and lay it down – Microsoft’s’ 3 Screen Strategy is Dead on Arrival.  Stay tuned.

Obviously, Mobile Phones Rule

The rapid rise of the mobile phone market with 4.1B units in use worldwide is a phenomenon that everyone in the tech world is familiar with. And in case you are still interested in PC stats, they are expected to hit 2B only in 2014.

Similarly, everyone will agree that  iPhone, RIM..  have shown the immense potential of the smart phone at the high end.  That makes it is easy to see why Microsoft and others would pick the 3rd screen as the mobile.

But are Mobile phones sufficient?

Not quite.  And this is mainly due to the newly emerging scenarios of usage:

1. Curl on the bed and read an e-book.

2. Share photos and/or videos from the most recent vacation with a friend.

3. Have a Skype video call with someone across the globe.

4. Check facebook/twitter updates

Combined with some traditional usage – browse the web,  type up a short document or a presentation. And maybe there are  few more simple scenarios, none of which fit the mobile phone form factor, especially when you consider doing the above over an extended period of time.

Judging from the reactions to  my previous post on PCs, i don’t think PCs (as well as Macs) can be effective as well, although technically they can do all of the above except possibly no.1. Not to mention the enormous learning curves of PCs/Macs for the average user who is not tech-savvy.

The 4th Screen

Clearly a new type of device that can do all of the above is warranted. Will it be the much anticipated Apple iTablet or iPad or whatever?   To me Time Magazine’s concept video, embedded below,  nails it (though it omits  a video camera and not knowing its weight).

The 5th, 6th, Nth Screens..

I was talking to Priya Raju and she said something very interesting and insightful – why don’t we analogize screens to the clock face showing time. Now,  time has become a feature of many devices  starting from a car to a microwave oven.  So why not we have a cloud-backed screen in more devices? Why restrict them to 3 or 4 screens?


What do you think? Do you agree that Microsoft’s 3 screen strategy is flawed (the cloud part of it seems correct though) ? What is your vision for the future?

Notes & References:

1. Scoble has some great thoughts on how Chrome OS could be targeting a new ~100$ device.  He takes the example of a computer in the kitchen to look at recipes that could use Chrome OS. I don’t agree with Scoble. i don’t think anyone wouldn’t want something as complicated as a PC in the kitchen even if it sports Chrome OS.

2. Sergey Brin on Chrome OS & Android Convergence . Interesting thoughts on how the mobile and netbook markets are converging.

3. Although the Amazon Kindle is a great device. I found it a tad heavy, preventing the curling on the bed with a book scenario,  and limited in scope and function for a device at its price point.

4. I found the Time Inc concept video via this article.


  1. Quote

    Sukumar, Great post and research intensive. If I not misunderstood the 3 screen concept, aren’t we have an existing technology from Apple, which is, Mobile Me? As far as i know Apple’s Mobile Me is huge success and they have a plan to integrate with Apple TV also. I disagree with PC stat Vs Mobile stat because per household we have 1/2 PC but each family member carries one mobile so the ratio is 1:4. If we include sharing, PC may outscore mobile easily. I agree with you that we can’t do everything in mobile but now the industry’s challenge is how to fit in mobile, i believe that is the next IT revolution,how to present the micro content from the macro version, i read a WSJ article about it. The most important piece missing in mobile is big keyboard and they are inventing a virtual projected keyboard for users to type. I’m still thinking about future screens, there will be many on the horizon. One i foresee is, foldable/expandable tablet device, means the main difference between these 3 is screen size, so we can have a device which can be expandable from mobile screen to 50-60” inch TV. We can carry and stick with wall at airport or hotel room to enjoy the movie/sports etc…..

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 3, 2009, 10:05 pm:

    Thanks Subba. I think you are looking at PC penetration differently. The point is, PCs have been around since 1981 or so and in nearly 30 years they have not reached beyond the first world in a critical mass. Whereas mobile phones have expanded much more rapidly in short order. One of the main reasons is the affordability of mobile phones. The other is that they are very easy to learn to use which is why PCs have had a hard time penetrating beyond the first world.

    Your thoughts on the future are very interesting. i am not sure keyboard is the main problem for the mobile. Apple has already solved the keyboard problem with touch. The main problem is the form factor of mobiles. It is not sufficiently big to be a replacement for a book. Now your idea of an expandable device may solve that problem. Interesting.

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    pk.karthik said December 4, 2009, 5:24 am:

    Great post Sukumar, Well researched.

    I agree with Priya on having multiple screens y do we need to fixated to just 3 screens after screen is just an out put.

    Infact if we have a virtual screen and key board (a small projector in a mobile ) we dont need a PC in the first place.

  4. Quote

    Great piece Sukumar.

    Whatever the screen turns out to be, the UI sure shall be different.. the video demo is more a one way display (i didnt stay till end… so E & OE). The UI of interaction is where I expect whole lot of innovation.

    btw, there is another dimension to be considered too… yes, 3D


  5. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2009, 6:54 pm:

    Thanks for the kind words Karthik. Interesting thoughts on virtual screen and keyboard. i guess that will also happen sooner than later.

  6. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2009, 6:57 pm:

    Thanks Kamesh for the kind words.

    Yes the UI needs to be different for each of the screens. and yes 3D also is in the offing. Good points.

    As for the demo, i think the interactivity is happening via the touch gestures and at one point a virtual keyboard shows up, so i guess that will be another way to interact. Both of these have anyway been proven by the iPhone already, so nothing new there.

    It is interesting that you see scope for innovation in the interaction itself. I had not thought of that. What exactly did you mean? What kind of innovation are you envisaging?

  7. Quote


    I feel, the mobile is going to lead the revolution.. THe cell phone will be more of a CPU, with a standardised wireless interface to different input and output devices.. For example, i can pair my mobile to bluetooth enabled TV screen or computer screen and browse the web pages or read a document.. Similarly, a bluetooth wireless keyboard can act as input device..

    I dont know if such setup exists now.. but i feel, it would become a reality soon. If it happens, it would be a game changer.. with everything compacted to a cell phone, like camera, handycam, etc.

  8. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2009, 8:23 pm:

    That is interesting Senthil. Making the mobile the main CPU and pairing it with different types of I/O devices. Very interesting.

  9. Quote
    Jaskirat said December 4, 2009, 9:08 pm:

    Great writeup.. The tablet is definitely a great tool to access ebooks, read your personalized feeds, and whatever that doesnt require intensive keyboard usage. Ubergeek will stick to their laptops though, there is also the netbook alternative.
    The increasing amount of places we access the net from definitely implies more reliance on cloud apps. The cloud is definitely getting bigger. Chrome OS on multiple low end devices would be a great way to get to the net. I read somewhere, a nice analogy which went something like, “Google is betting you dont need two cars but you a more likely to want a car (heavy os like mac/windows) and a bicycle (chrome os).”

    It is interesting to see where all this is going. The day is not far where you might hardly use a mp3 player in your car with a usb key but stream your recommended songs (friend recos or favs maybe?) from the cloud (something like via 3g/evdo is not far away. There are already bluetooth adaptors for car stereo to your cell phone and cell phones have music streaming apps via 3g.

  10. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2009, 10:55 pm:

    Thanks Jaskirat. yep, ubergeeks will use laptops/netbooks. But that is my point though. PCs/Macs have become geek tools rather than a mass market tool like a cellphone.

    Interesting thoughts on streaming songs from the cloud. i guess that could apply to movies and videos too.

  11. Quote

    It is already being applied to movies sort of. You can stream movies on your xbox 360 or PS3 via the internet. You should totally check out project natal (xbox) if you already havent.

  12. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2009, 11:04 pm:

    Yes Jaskirat. That is already happening. good point. Yes, i have checked out Natal. it is very cool.

  13. Quote


    As to what shape the interaction-innovation will take, I don’t know. But I guess interaction would be far more real-world like, powered by powerful guidance systems.

    This I feel strongly tho. The keyboard, real or virtual, is not the way to go


  14. Quote

    Thanks Kamesh. Interesting thoughts. You may want to look at Project Natal from MS as Jaskirat suggests above.

  15. Quote

    Mobile/smartphone will definitely be one of the pillars. It might improvise to something on the lines of what Pranav Mistry has conceptualized.

    As for high-duty activities, I am slightly confused. While the borders between PCs and TVs are blurring, neither of them “quite cut it”. Even with the pervasiveness of internet inside home (except at shower J), I think PC/TV lacks key aspects in terms of usability.

    Just like mouse revolutionized input devices, something has to happen to fundamentally re-define how we use computers. How we send inputs. What effort we put to filter and get the information we need. Whatever the resulting device will be, will be that other pillar.

  16. Quote

    The consumer products convergence is already in place or evolving pretty fast. For example most of the UIs like Panasonic, LG and Samsung TVs, numerous Blue Ray players have beautiful (albeit difficult to setup) display of different widgets. For read only and limited consumption, I am betting on TV as the primary interface than the laptop. For a little more complicated interaction – may be pairing a remote keyboard to the TV will solve most of the issues. Or devices like Apple TV, Roku can double as computing devices.

    Mobile – will become low cost penetration device. But I am very nervous of the mobile with cloud strategy. Cloud’s reliability and security has to increase better. Recent incidents like Sidekick data loss episode makes me think that way.

    I am betting more on the NLP/ speech recognition. Once it is ready for the prime time, the screen could one of the above three or even few more, but one challenging aspect – interaction can be eliminated. I am more thinking in the lines of two mode interfaces – the ones that act like wizard an help people who have very less computing skills and those that help experts. It is also interesting to see how mobile devices shattered the notion of expert users. Nokia has no great UI but almost everyone can do all basic stuff themselves in India even the poorest of the poor. If this is the usage with the current state of Nokia UI, I am wondering how it would be with more intuitive interfaces like Emblaze Else

    Your thoughts?

  17. Quote

    Thanks RK. you are right we need a new pillar as PC/TV/Mobile don’t cut it. And my thesis is that it is something like a touch-based tablet displayed in the video i imbedded in the post.

  18. Quote

    Thanks Vamsi. Yes, a Converged TV, if we can call it that, is likely to become a more powerful tool for our information needs. but i don’t see myself curling up on the bed with an e-book displayed on my TV 🙂 do you?

    Interesting thoughts on speech processing/NLP. The Emblaze UI looks very good. As you say maybe, we can learn from how the mobile phone UI has been learnt by the poorest of the poor in India. Do you know if anyone has done a study on that?

    Your point about experts and novice is a good one. This is exactly why i am advocating that there be a 4th screen. Clearly the PC/Mac have become the domain of expert users. The learning curve is prohibitively long for novices to pick up the PC/Mac not to speak of the attendant hardware/software issues, backups, crashes – very complicated for the average joe/jane in the 3rd world.

  19. Quote

    Nice post Sir !
    I was left wondering why you gave Pranav Mistry’s sixth sense a miss ? Would love to know your thoughts on that.

    As for me, I have dumped the TV long back, I don’t have one & even if it comes free (as in hotels),I rarely switch it on. Mobile, yes form factor is the core issue. I moved back to a simple sony erricson long back. PC is the only screen I extensively use.

    Agree on your data that Mobile usage is spiking esp with contribution from India.But do we have a data on how much of them are smart phones & how many are ‘just call’ phones. Would love to know about it.

  20. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 10, 2009, 3:54 pm:

    Thanks. Yeah i missed talking about 6th Sense. It slipped my mind. It definitely has potential.

    It is my thesis that PCs/Macs are too complex (and not in the correct form factor) to use for the purposes i outlined above.

    In India, how many are smartphones i don’t know. I doubt it will be a significant % given the price point and lack of carrier subsidies.

  21. Quote

    I think in a fully transformed world, there wont be screens and computers at all. I think internet-enabled devices will completely replace concept of keyboards and screens.

  22. Quote

    You are right RK. However i think that type of thing is a it farther in the future. I still need a book to curl up on the sofa with. Dont think a pervasive computing device can do that.

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