Why Win7Phone is a mistake

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

While Microsoft has a long history of dabbling in mobile, and tons of infrastructure for creating mobile developer ecosystems, it never really had a mobile strategy.  I’d argue that it doesn’t really have a mobile strategy now.  Apple’s strategy is to make the prettiest consumer-focused phones on the market, Google’s strategy is to make mobile ad revenue (of which they’re already pulling in $1 billion a year), RIM’s is to appeal to the e-mail heavy business user.  But is Microsoft just trying to look relevant?

MS was early to the mobile game – they had an entire mobile-app developer experience while Apple was charging $500 for iPods.  But Microsoft saw a smartphone as a tiny PC – a large clunky form factor with a shrunken Windows XP user experience.  Going after the same business market RIM and Palm owned, Microsoft lead the mobile smartphone charge by clumsily adapting the Office suite to mobile.  They focused on the unsexy information worker –that’s where the market was – and despite their expertise in this area (and heavy investment), couldn’t really get it right.

Apple then swooped in and proved a viable consumer smartphone market, and the sexiness of the consumer device seeped into the business world.  Google came in, and sorta copied Apple but with a different business plan.  Microsoft quickly learned a valuable lesson about the consumerization of business technology.

And they went in a radical new direction.  They’re first attempt at a smartphone in the new world was the Kin.  Instead of the business-focus, it was tween-hipster-social-networking focused.  Despite the massive failures in marketing, and device sales (Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of experience selling things to “the kids”), the Kin showed some promise as a device:  it was the first to seamlessly connect mobile with the cloud – obviously the near-future of all mobile devices.  

So, now we’re at Windows 7 Phone, and I think we missed a huge opportunity.  Kin had technological benefits, but not near enough cool factor to tackle Apple in the consumer space.  Windows 7 has a few user experience improvements over the competition, but in general a pretty run-of-the-mill device.  There’s a lot of noise about how Win7Phone will get market share via Xbox, or whatever (certainly not Zune), but I don’t buy it.

Instead of tackling the Apple/Google model head on, why didn’t we go after RIM?  Our original Windows Mobile devices failed because they were the phone equivalent of a beige-tower PC, but with Microsoft’s hegemony in the IW worker, e-mail, productivity area why couldn’t we make a perfect e-mail, productivity device if we really tried?  It could be just as pretty as an iPhone, but serious about being a business device – a keypad for typing on the go, awesome mobile-y tailored Office apps, seamless Exchange and SharePoint integration that backs up to the cloud.  Basically, a better, more directed, sexier version of what we’ve been doing all along.

Then, after making a business phone we could sell to enterprise (the way we sell everything else), and creating some real market share (taking RIM down in the process).  Then we could sit down and intelligently decide if Microsoft has a reasonable possibility of a future manufacturing consumer phones.  Right now, it doesn’t.

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