Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Windows Phone 7 is cool, just a couple years too late

In New York this Monday, Microsoft finally held its Windows Phone 7 event, officially introducing the new operating system along with 10 different handsets that will run it. The entire time I watched the keynote, however, as excited as I was for a product that looked to be extremely tight and polished, I also couldn't help but kinda pity Microsoft for one main reason: they needed this platform and these devices two years ago.

After watching the hour-long, slow-going keynote, which, while not an Steve Jobs presentation, was at least as informative as it was entertaining, I found myself continually nodding my head. Microsoft really has something here with Windows Phone 7. And having used Windows Mobile in the past, everything I saw up on that small stage was a complete rework of a struggling mobile strategy that now has the fit and finish to slide in among the big names already in the field. If only this event was held a couple of years ago, where would the industry be now?

There's no doubt that Microsoft is late to the game. While remaining somewhat relevant among smartphones, Windows Mobile 6 just didn't have the vigor to compete against the shine of the iPhone and iOS, as well as the slew of phones coming from handset makers adopting the Android platform.

So, why has it taken Microsoft this long to get on the bandwagon, to put something on the market that actually has a chance? They are a big cat in the industry -- they make freaking Windows for heaven's sake. How can the makers of the most popular software in the world not create something on the cellphone to turn consumer heads?

You might say the Redmond-based software giant suffers from managerial issues. Hell, when the iPhone was first announced, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at the notion of the iPhone becoming popular, ignoring not only how drastically different it was, but also how the iPhone was exactly what the industry needed: a jumpstart on serious mobile computing design and applications, and a handset-to-carrier relationship that worked for the consumer. I have no idea what's really going with Microsoft's board of directors, but I imagine their meetings might look like a scene from "12 Angry Men."

From my perspective, instead of having a clear mindset of "We need to make a better product now," the ideas around the heads of Microsoft decision makers, or lack thereof, were seemingly fruitless. For too long, waiting on the market and riding on WinMo 6, they appeared to not be able to make a decision about anything. All the while, iPhone was having one hell of a party. Vision and motivation in taking an idea, even those outlandish, is what was lacking from the spirit of leaders. Numbers and figures in the face of art, business suits in the face of fashion, maybe... As Chris Ziegler of Engadget writes about Microsoft senior vice president Andy Lees, "Lees -- like most Microsoft execs -- is a no-nonsense numbers guy" (Link). Maybe they only felt comfortable playing a sure thing.

Lack of vision and leadership. Case and point: Two Windows Phones, which were doomed from their conception, somehow made it to market only to be discontinued in less than two months. The Kin One and Kin Two, called project "Pink" before they were released, apparently had the same problem with project management: too many chiefs, not enough indians. Or maybe more appropriately: too little chiefs with vision, plenty of indians. This is an excellent story by Ziegler of Engadget on the whole Kin debacle: Life and death of Microsoft Kin: the inside story.

The point is, if Windows Phone 7 was ready and released this time in 2008, the time when phone manufacturers really started to get behind and drive the market share for Android (the only other viable touchscreen smartphone platform -- sorry Blackberry Storm), I do believe that Microsoft would be next to, if not overtaking, the iPhone in terms of market share. But, alas, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world, though the Android platform had already been conceived, most companies in technology had their thumbs up their butts wondering what to do next.

So with the worst days hopefully behind Microsoft on the mobile front, lets imagine a world without Windows. Or not.. that'll never happen. But well see just how Microsoft fares on their new offering, and if it will gain any traction. I predict by this time 2011, Microsoft will have regained a good position in terms of both mindshare and market share, but not enough to constitute overtaking the market any time soon.

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