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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Microsoft Will Win in the Mobile Phone Space

It’s no joke. Microsoft is finally in a place where they can and will compete hard with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android platform. As possibly the first company to figure out what it means to compete in this space – and certainly the first with real dollars to back their game – Microsoft has a big chance to win with Series 7.

Lessons from Xbox

image Microsoft came to the table with a gaming system in 2001 with some good juice. More than anything, they wanted to focus on making the developer story better than what was out there. They faced criticism on the size of the console, on the noise, on the size of the controller (which I loved, btw), on pretty much everything…but slowly they won developers over.

imageBy the time the Xbox 360 hit the streets, developers were singing the praises of development on the platform while Sony executives were just waiting for “smarter” developers who actually understood their technology to come along. In the first months of the Xbox 360 release, it became apparent that Microsoft was going to be the console that catered to the people who made games.

Interestingly enough, it seems as though Sony’s going to abandon the technology of the PS3 on their next console because we developers just ain’ts gots the smarts.

The biggest win was differentiation with the 360, not from other players, but from themselves. They reinvented what a product could like coming out of Redmond and it paid off in droves. It was rumoured that early designs were tested against focus groups without the branding, and almost no one was able to identify the manufacturer as Microsoft.

Lessons from Windows Mobile

You can can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Especially if the water is acid and no one in the world wants to ride the horse anyways. And even more so because if you did want anyone to ride the horse, you had to make your own saddle and figure out a way to distribute the saddle on your own. And don’t expect any revenue.

RIP, Windows Mobile.

The development story was crap. Web service (cloud) integration was turd. Some level of expectation for hardware was non-existent, and you were just short of a demi-god if you could figure out how to get your app found. And unless you were a wizard-code-ninja working at HTC, good luck at making anything look good.

While Apple was making millionaires out of fart-generator authors, there were very few success stories in the fragmented, challenged development story on the Windows Mobile platform. Too many devices. Not enough support for developers. Little to no ‘dogfooding’ of the devices and content. Limited interim builds. Late and abandoned features and release dates. Inconsistent programming libraries.

And they’re leaving it all behind. I hope.

Where the Winner Is


I give it two years. In two years Microsoft will be shipping as many units as Apple. I am pretty confident in that number because of the lessons Microsoft should have learned from above.

That sentiment is furthered because of how they came through with Windows 7.

The argument is strengthened even more with the working prototype they put forward at Mobile World Congress.

Hubs are the new pages and clean is the new UI. Apps will be alive and the touch will be a productivity feature and user benefit rather than a scrolling gimmick.

What most people don’t realize is how much work Microsoft has actually done in this space. Apple didn’t invent the wheel here (I’m not say MS did, by the way). Tablets, touch screens, mobile devices…Microsoft has done so much wrong in this space for over a decade that they’ve learned everything you’re not supposed to do, and the very few, straight-forward things you need to do in order to compete.

But where they will really shine is in supporting developers.

By moving to XAML and enabling millions of developers already on the .NET platform to develop media-rich, touch-rich, dynamic applications from within the world’s number one IDE, Microsoft is set to roll a new story for what mobile applications can be (hint: not just fart generators).

Oh yes, if you want to develop applications that will run on millions of phones with an incredible user experience, standardized hardware and an open development platform, there’s an app for that.

It’s called Visual Studio 2010, and it will be the Achilles heel of the iPhone development story.

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