Ozzie Misses the Point, says Apps Don’t Matter

windows mobile

Speaking yesterday at the Professional Developer’s Conference, Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie explained what’s really important when it comes to the smartphone business, and it’s apparently nothing at all to do with the number of apps available on any one platform.

All the apps that count will be ported to every one of them. It’s a completely different situation from the PC market, where software’s built to run on a Windows or a Mac. Mobile apps require very little development, so it’s much easier to bring them onto every platform.

Yeah. That’s why there are more than 100,000 apps in the iTunes Store and, what, five in the Windows Marketplace? And that’s why quality apps like Facebook or Tweetie 2.0 have been ported, feature-complete, from the iPhone to Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Palm OS? Oh, wait…

The point here is that Microsoft’s senior execs apparently continue to misunderstand what’s going on in todays smartphone market. Microsoft seems to view the iPhone not as a serious competitor but more as a toy, something to disregard because grown-ups (grey-suited corporate drones) aren’t interested in all that flashy functionality and rich media. They’re not interested in the astonishing range of software available for the iPhone. They just want Mobile Powerpoint and Excel, plus a few other ageing Office apps. That’s all that really matters, right?

Wrong. We need look no further than JD Power’s recently published results of a satisfaction survey they conducted of business smartphone customers around the world. Apple came in at number one, RIM finished second.

WIRED’s Gadget Lab published an article yesterday examining some of the mistakes Microsoft has made with Windows Mobile. NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin told WIRED:

Microsoft’s mobile OS history is rooted in personal digital assistants, which were marketed toward enterprise audiences. Today, the smartphone has shifted into the mainstream as a consumer device, and yet Windows Mobile is still largely focused on enterprise features.

Perhaps Microsoft has a significant change planned for the release of Windows Mobile 7, WIRED’s Brian Chen asked Redmond HQ. They declined to discuss Windows 7 directly, but did have this to say about their mobile OS business;

The company’s mobility strategy has not changed; it is and has always been to provide a software platform for the industry. The company works closely with many mobile operators and device makers around the world because people want different experiences on a variety of phones.

Well, it’s certainly a different experience alright. A lousy one. That’s one reason Microsoft’s global smartphone market share has dropped from 11 percent in 2008 to 7.9 percent today. In the meantime, Apple and RIM have seen their market shares swell to 17.1 and 20.8 percent, respectively.

Microsoft’s Mobile strategy is out of touch. Ever-increasing numbers of enterprise customers who once used Windows phones are today carrying Blackberrys or iPhones and have entirely different expectations of their cellular devices. Mobile Outlook just won’t cut it any more.

Hopping Mad

Driving the point home is a timely article published this week by the Wall Street Journal, about the disparity between old, primitive tech used in the office, and the far more capable and empowering technology found at home. According to the WSJ’s Nick Wingfield, execs at Kraft Foods noticed the difference.

Executives began to worry that the company’s technology policies were preventing employees from staying in step with trends. Kraft was a consumer company, they figured, so workers needed to be more familiar with the technologies that consumers were using, whether the iPhone or YouTube.

So, the IT department stopped blocking access to consumer Web sites, and the company started a stipend program for smart phones: Workers get an allowance every 18 months to buy a phone of their choosing. (Over 60% picked iPhones.)

With all the above in mind, I can’t see how Microsoft’s Mobile strategy could be considered sound business. If I were a Microsoft shareholder, I’d be hopping mad at the company’s apparent inability to understand — and adapt to — the demands of today’s smartphone consumers.

It’s paradoxical, really. Microsoft has always highlighted how customer choice is of paramount importance, indeed, a key component in its success with Windows. In the quote above, Microsoft’s own spokesperson stresses how Microsoft works with mobile operators and OEM’s to provide choice. But at the PDC yesterday, Ozzie seemed to be saying that an impressive selection of apps (ie. choice) is unimportant. He mentions “apps that count” but doesn’t say what those apps are; in any case, that’s a short-sighted assertion. Apps that matter to me, may not matter so much to you. That’s precisely why an iPhone owner’s home screen is so fascinating to other iPhone owners.

The iPhone’s greatest strength is the tens of thousands of software titles available in the App Store, usually at a knock-down price. There is, literally, something for everyone, no matter how discerning ones’ taste in Games, Productivity tools, or fart apps.

I give Windows Mobile another year, max. If it can’t build its app marketplace into a substantial repository of quality titles at (very) low prices, it won’t matter how closely Microsoft works with its technology partners. Because, at that point, Windows Mobile will be reduced to a Wikipedia entry as an “also ran” in the history of the smartphone.

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