It’s easy to look back over the past couple of decades and pinpoint Microsoft’s Windows as the dominant force in the industry. So dominant, in fact, that at some point it is inevitable that most, if not all, of us have used a Windows-based machine. And if you’re currently on a PC, there’s a 90% chance you’re running Windows as we speak.
Whilst opinions are divided on the matter of quality, Mac OS X and the many Linux distributions pale in comparison to Windows when it comes to worldwide usage, yet the mobile industry strikes a stark contrast, with Apple, and a previously unthought of party in the form of Google, commanding a far greater presence than Microsoft, who has failed to impress repeatedly with its Windows Mobile operating systems in recent years.
Now, if you’ve been following Zath of late, then you may have caught my full opinion on what’s great and, well, not so great about Microsoft’s latest mobile platform, Windows Phone 7. And having seen the latest TV commercial for the platform, a few things struck me as odd about Microsoft’s approach to marketing Windows Phones.
Microsoft’s Past Success & Current Mobile Approach
Firstly, and probably most importantly, I feel that Microsoft is simply out of its comfort zone with WP7, in that with the desktop OS the success in recent years particularly, has been built on the flexibility and compatibility of the software with pretty much any collection of hardware you can throw together. It gives users the choice of how much to spend, based on their own potential usage of the machine, and businesses a whole host of options tailored to their own needs.
Compare that to Windows Phone 7 however, and you’ll find that generally the tariffs for Windows Phone 7 devices are all pretty much of a muchness, with prices remaining consistent no matter the device. This is undoubtedly due to the restrictions that Microsoft has placed on the hardware supporting Windows Phone 7, which really sounds like a very ‘Apple’ thing to do. I know you’ll all be thinking at this point, if you haven’t already, ‘here we go again, Microsoft vs Apple’, but don’t switch off just yet.
The fact is, that Apple has built an overwhelmingly strong ecosystem of devices by developing iOS for mobile devices, and keeping the backend so similar to the desktop OS, that it’s relatively easy for developers to craft applications for both platforms that operate in complete harmony with one another. Even Google, with Android, despite its fragmentation problems, makes great use of Google’s own suite of applications and synchronisation systems in the ‘cloud’.
Microsoft, however, has a big problem on its hands – one of it’s own making, I might add – due to the enormous gulf between Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7. Having used both platforms, on the face of it there is very little similarity apart from the odd piece of branding here and there, such as Internet Explorer and Outlook. Microsoft itself, let alone third party developers, has almost entirely failed in making solid use of the Windows Live services, which are pushed so hard for the desktop arena, in the ‘to the cloud’ range of TV ads.
Play To Your Strengths
The big question though for me, is ‘what do Microsoft and Windows do well?’ and it’s a relatively straight forward one to answer. For years, Microsoft’s software has been the focal point of IT setups in businesses, and the company rakes in billions of dollars every year from this application of its software alone, and suites such as Microsoft Office are undoubtedly the best in the business. But, neither Android nor iOS are really focussed on the business aspect, making Windows Phone 7 the sole party that incorporates full office functionality out of the box. And whilst this may not be glamorous, we can bring in a fourth competitor, RIM, and we can see the BlackBerry‘s have been flying off the shelves for years, simply because they’re a businessman’s best friend, with e-mail, office and all sorts of business orientated traits that no other competitor shares.
The thing is, nobody uses BlackBerry OS on their desktop. As of October of last year, 81% of us use Windows on our desktop. Here’s where Microsoft can learn from Apple: If Microsoft was to create a more tightly-knit ecosystem, there is a huge opportunity to exploit that enormous market share it has on the desktop. Integrate services such as SkyDrive and other Windows Live applications, keep Outlook and the rest of the Office suite on Windows Phone 7 in perfect sync with the desktop, and you make it almost imperative for business users to adopt Windows Phone as their device of choice. It’s simply a case of doing everything a BlackBerry can do, but better, and something that neither Android nor iOS can do out of the box.
Both iOS and Android rely almost entirely on the developer support from third parties to keep them competitive. What would an iPhone be without the 250,000 apps? Not a lot that’s great, that’s for sure, and Android is going the same way, though to a lesser extent admittedly. By keeping Windows Phone 7 and Windows so inherently distant from one another, Microsoft has created no incentive for developers of Windows applications, of which there are so many, to make the transition to Windows Phone 7.
Where’s The True Integration Of Microsoft Services?
It appears more the case that despite using Windows on the desktop, more and more devs are turning to Android as their platform of choice in the mobile arena. And as discussed earlier, Apple’s ecoystem of devices almost prevents developers from leaving the platform, considering iOS as well as OS X uses its own variation of C, Objective-C, as the sole programming language, which inevitably means there is a stable community of developers, which will continue to expand, rather than dwindle in numbers. This not only causes the problem of a lack of decent apps on Windows Phone 7, that in turn means there is less incentive to buy into the platform, and subsequently it falls into a vicious circle causing fewer users and fewer developers to adopt the platform.
So before Microsoft starts implying the success of the platform is based on sheer quantity of third-party apps, it needs to perfect the core functions of the platform, and the integration with its other quality products such as Microsoft Office on the desktop. It can then boost the number of users in the office space, in which lies its fundamental strengths, whilst they might not be glamorous, and turn over RIM and the BlackBerry range before it comes close to competing with iOS and Android.
It’s not just office work though, that Microsoft is doing so well with. There is the small matter of the Xbox 360, and Xbox Live integration. It exists in a small form on the mobile platform, as does Office, but there is no incentive for a user to own both, as there is with a Mac and iPad and an iPhone, or some combination of the three. I happily use Xbox Live games on my Windows Phone 7, but I own a PS3, and I can’t see that as yet, trading that for an Xbox 360 would have any impact at all on how I use my phone.
It’s these core functions that work right out of the box, which could potentially make a unique, unbreakable ecosystem of devices for Microsoft. The Windows PC, the Xbox, the Windows Phone. Simply by integrating them more with one another, it could become imperative that someone who owns one, should own all three, or at least one more depending on their own interests.
What Microsoft Needs To Do With Windows Phone 7
In both Office and Xbox Live, Microsoft has two traits unique in the mobile arena, which at the moment it is failing to exploit. But at the moment, Windows Phone 7 has very little in common with either iOS or Android, and in attempting to compete in that market, it is being jeered at and rejected out of hand by thousands of potential buyers. If Microsoft was to pit its office strengths against RIM more directly, and make Xbox 360 gamers think twice before accepting the addictive indie games found on iOS and Android as the best a mobile device can get, then it has a far stronger grounding to begin growing its user base in both the business space, and with gaming adolescents, of which there are millions.
To achieve this, though, on a final note, Microsoft has to be more flexible with the hardware, and in doing so be more relenting on the pricing of the devices. Windows Phones start at £30 per month on a contract, which immediately sets it alongside the best of the iPhones and Androids, as BlackBerry’s come a lot cheaper. Shipping cheaper devices would certainly increase the user base, something of the utmost importance to Microsoft right now, surely. Perhaps this might be the case once we start seeing the Windows Phone 7 based Nokia handsets appearing?
If you have any thoughts or questions on Windows Phone and how it stacks up, or should stack up against the competition, then don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.