Today I read that Apple iPhone makes more money than Microsoft does all up, that is to say the phone that Steve Ballmer the CEO of Microsoft used to mock – generates more revenue than his entire company does (who is laughing now).
It got me thinking, let us assume you were inside Microsoft today and you heard this news for the first time, how would you react? How would you adjust your core strategies overall and how do you think this will play out?
Inside Microsoft they have a vision, it centres on the Windows 8 or bust mentality, and that for me is something of a concern given, they really have not done anything new to be openly honest.
Yes, there is Metro which is new, well not really, the initial design execution is new but the concept of taking a minimalist approach to the desktop has been around for quite some time (Adobe really did this well with their CS5 and CS4 product UI’s which you’d be an idiot if you assumed had no influence in design today).
The web has been also doing grid based design for as long as I can remember, so that’s nothing pioneerish going on here either. The idea of some NUI effects and control, sure that’s new I guess but not enough to flip the world into a new way of doing software interaction and development in fact it probably falls down when it comes to data density.
What is new then? The most obvious piece to what is new in this saga is the reality that Microsoft faces around its future. The industry has grabbed Microsoft by the shirt and dragged them into focusing on User Experience first, Technology second and what is so striking about the metro + Microsoft story is that its hinting at some new thinking.
What hasn’t changed though is the technology first approach, Microsoft continues to retreat to its initial bad behaviour, that is to say it thinks in technical terms and not in experience terms. What hasn’t change is that each team is left to interpret the experience strategy and what hasn’t changed is that Product teams make, marketing / evangelism sustain and the divide occurs resulting in both teams looking at one another as if “its your fault we don’t have adoption”.
Allow me to illustrate.
Games make up for about 64% of the current Windows Phone 7 sales, which is a little bad given if you’re an Application developer depending on your category of choice you stand to only tap into around 8% of the audience purchasing power.
That aside, Games are the golden ticket in the Windows Phone 7 way of life. Ok, so let’s build a game? Open up your browser and start typing search terms for Windows Phone 7 game tutorials and XNA or whatever you feel is appropriate.
You should be coming up short on examples that mostly live in a small spread across Microsoft random websites that constantly change context and when you’re done there, you should also be drowning in blog posts that are either extremely detailed or very shallow (not quite in between).
That for me is a problem, if I were in the team I’d be looking at this from a perspective of two things. How can I market the potential of this platform in a game centric device world and secondly assuming that thread is off and running how can I sustain this momentum once the devs have taken the bait.
I’m not saying that the key to Windows Phone 7 overtaking the iPhone is games, there’s probably a thousand or more things that need to occur before you even embark on that discussion, what I am saying is the grass roots fundamentals aren’t in place.
Lets say I click my fingers and the $500million spent on marketing to date actually worked, you have an audience of Windows Phone 7 folks over the next 2 years running hot in potential sales of the device. Congrats, 1 in 5 mobile phones sold today are Windows Phone 7.
How do you sustain that momentum, how do you encourage more and more solutions to be built for the phone and lastly how do you retain control over the entire experience.
This is a huge problem today within Windows itself, there is so much energy spent on promoting the entire vision of WinRT and its future(s) but there is no on ramping to help the solutions delivery for this vision. Instead, it is a lot of wait and see?
Android has had next to no marketing but yet its retaining a steady share and I’d argue that its developer base of java and mono geeks have really taken this bad boy out for a test drive. It’s not a huge learning curve either, in under a week I was mucking around with the Android development and I’d say the community backing for this phone is quite loud despite the randomness of Google.
It’s still just as bad as Windows Phone 7 but that’s fine, reason being this is typical with any Google solution – Microsoft however can be better than that? They can on board people faster and with more energy than their competitors do as they are staffed worldwide better.
If you ask me, the phone itself is one thing but if the experience at the developer to consumer is filled with random noise and less signal around getting solutions to a mature level of quality, then that’s just the first strike and more to come shall follow.
There is a reason why the Windows Phone 7 marketplace is filled with crappy games or apps, some are good but they aren’t as rich as the iPhone (even then iPhone has crap to).
I’d argue that the competitive advantage Microsoft has right now that isn’t being capitalised on is the stark reality that they have a development experience that is quite rich and inviting the downside is once you get past the Powerpoint style development and want to actually build a Minecraft / Voxel Engine on a phone well you come up short.
If Microsoft’s vision is to ramp developers onto C++ then where is the investment on learning C++? DirectX? XNA? OpenGL? Etc. etc.
This phone needs much more than guys dropping the phone in a urinal as way to entice the masses to the cause. It needs to start at the experience level and work its way back to the technical detail(s). Its not just about building yet another Microsoft website that doubles down on Tutorials its more about thinking and engaging developers in ways that they understand or need massive leaps in thinking around. If Windows 8 and its device strategy can’t sustain the developer base and relies heavily on the market to teach the masses, then its yet another failure on the horizon. Same tactics as last time only more glitter.