Under CEO Satya Nadella, who succeeded Steve Ballmer in February 2014, Microsoft has re-engineered itself in multiple ways to ensure that decades-old cash cows such as Windows and Office are part of technology’s future rather than legacies of a more PC-centric past. The company has invested in AI; championed bots as a new computing paradigm; and developed ambitious apps for platforms such as iOS and Android rather than trying to weaken the competition by tying its core assets directly to Windows.
One core tenet of Nadella's leadership has been his focus on accessibility and inclusive design so that Microsoft products are available to the one billion people around the world who may require additional assistance due to being differently abled. Emblematic of this mission is the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is designed for gamers with limited mobility. Originally a hackathon project, it takes into account people who don’t have fine motor skills or control of both hands and all their digits. Because of the high number of variables that could affect a user's ability, as well as the switches, joysticks, mounts and any other input devices users may already have to enable play, the Adaptive Controller spreads out the possible inputs in a single-file line to improve ease of use. The rectangular device is designed to sit on a player's lap, allowing for more comfortable and longer play than may have previously been possible for users for whom holding a traditional controller can be overly taxing. Grooves and symbols guide users to the right ports. Even the packaging materials were redesigned with accessibility in mind. Many of the team's efforts are informing the company's thinking for all its products moving forward.
Another key trait of today’s Microsoft is its willingness to design its own hardware to show off what its software can do. In 2016, the company shipped commercial and developer editions of HoloLens, an augmented-reality headset that runs a “holographic” edition of Windows 10. It also launched Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC with a pressure-sensitive pen and a 28” display that doubles as a drawing table.
Plus, thanks to Microsoft's $2.5 billion acquisition of Minecraft, a video game that has become a cultural phenomenon, the company has a foothold with younger audiences. Millions of families around the world already pay for Minecraft licenses; with the unveiling of Minecraft: Education Edition last year, schools are now lining up, too.
So far, investors are excited by Nadella’s vision: Microsoft’s stock, which was famously stuck in the doldrums during the Ballmer era even as Apple surged, reached an all-time high in January 2017, and ended up growing by about 30% over the year. Among the company’s 2017 landmark moments? The release of a Surface laptop and the Xbox One X, as well as new Mixed Reality headsets. Meanwhile, Microsoft has continued to turn AI and bots into products that appeal to businesses and consumers at the massive scale that Microsoft is most comfortable addressing.