Microsoft is a profitable, successful company that makes some great products. But it's held back in consumer electronics by its reputation as a stodgy, boring company.
Take the better Windows Phone devices made by Nokia, for example. Pundits agree that these are great phones. But everybody is so enamored of the buzz (and app stores) of iOS and Android phones that Windows Phone-based Nokias are always a second or third choice. That's not a great position to be in when people buy only their first choice.
Now, leaked photos show what could be the greatest mobile phone ever: It's a smartphone that's also a prosumer-quality digital camera. It appears to be a cross between a Lumia 920 and Pureview 808 -- basically a high-end smartphone with a 41-megapixel camera and professional-quality optics.
Even if it's the greatest phone ever, hardly anyone will buy it because Microsoft's brand isn't associated with coolness.
Microsoft Surface RT isn't the best tablet, in the minds of most consumers. The iPad is. But it might be the second best tablet. Still, RT sales don't reflect its quality. They suffer from being associated with boring old Microsoft.
Let's face it. In the consumer electronics space, Microsoft is floundering. But their lack of success isn't the result of their products, and it's definitely not the result of their technology.
Here's how the company could do it.
The Microsoft moonshot
Consumers don't know it yet, but every major company in the industry knows that the desktop, TV and boardroom computer of the future is a big-screen touch-, voice- and in-air gesture-based computer.
What if Microsoft shipped that future years ahead of everyone else?
One year ago, there were two killer huge-screen multitouch computer products on the market.
One of them was made by Samsung using Microsoft's big-table operating system, called PixelSense. (PixelSense used to be called Surface before the mobile group stole that name and applied it to the mobile tablet.)
The other company was called Perceptive Pixel, which made the touch-screen computers you see on CNN during the elections.
Last summer, Microsoft bought Perceptive Pixel. Now Microsoft owns the whole category, making not only the platform, but the hardware and most of the apps, too.
Here's the moonshot: Microsoft should ship an integrated vision for consumer electronics centered around a multi-touch table.
The table could look and work a lot like a new product unveiled this week by Ideum called the Platform 46 Multitouch Coffee Table.