Thursday, March 12, 2009

Way to Compete, Guys…

Microsoft’s app store … sure, why not? But that’s not the bit they need to take on Apple.

Microsoft and the smartphone is really a funny/ironic/sad story depending on who you are.

They had a true next-generation mobile OS starting back in ‘01 … It was really easy to code for – like GUI-builder, point-and-click web services, run-your-regular-.Net-code easy. And they were outselling pretty much everyone in total device count a couple of years later. By ‘06 they even had consumer friendly devices, in the Moto Q series and then the Samsung Blackjack. They were poised to challenge RIM for the big shiny belt.

And then Apple came along and wiped the smirk off everyone’s faces. What’s surprising is that no ‘softie seems to have circulated an “Internet Tidal Wave” memo about mobile. Or, if they did, no one paid any attention.

In the last two years, we’ve seen a continuing proliferation of Windows Mobile devices, but no fundamental change – or even speed-up – on platform evolution. If anything, we’ve seen a slowdown, as Mobile 7 devices seem to be at least a year away, and the “app store” is going to launch on Mobile 6.5

In case anyone didn’t already notice, v 6.5 is a great OS if it’s 2005, but a non-entity in the iPhone era. An app store? well, maybe … but a store by itself has never been the magic sauce in mobile (remember Verizon’s “vending machine”).

And with a “logo validation” scheme for each app? Developers violating the logo cert guidelines is not the problem. The problem is that there are too many different form factors for Win Mo devices. Used to be, practically anything could run the OS. Around the 5.0 era, they reduced the number of supported screen configurations, and a few other things.

But there appears to be little escape from the compromise Microsoft made to be successful on the enterprise side: it’s really easy to code a simple utility/productivity/line-of-business app that will run great on almost any Windows Mobile device. And it’s equally hard to write anything really cutting edge, because there is simply too much variation in device capability and performance, and that genie's not going back in the bottle.

Perhaps Microsoft’s best chance lies in forking a “consumer” mobile OS, with stricter controls over the handsets. On the other hand, Apple is clawing into the enterprise, so an artificial separation of consumer vs. enterprise offerings may be hopeless at this point.

1 comment:

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