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BrustBlog Pontifications on Microsoft and the Tech Industry

The tech influencers’ Twitter streams have been all aflutter this weekend, with talk of the Motorola Droid.  Verizon Wireless launched its version this phone on Friday, and the techies are swooning.  They love the screen, the Google Maps-based turn-by-turn navigation and the thinness of the phone, which still manages to sport a physical, slide-out keyboard.  Most of all they love the Verizon network, which offers resilient service and ubiquitous 3G coverage.

There seems to be something else though.  There’s something that people either like about the Droid, or are at least willing to tolerate: the fact that the handset manufacturer (Motorola) and the phone OS vendor (Google) are separate entities.  People seem intrigued by the idea that unlike Apple, which makes both the iPhone and iPhone OS, and which controls the entire software channel for the device, that the Droid’s platform is decentralized, and the Android Market is open to all developers willing to pay the $25 registration fee.

What’s ironic about the market’s new-found love for an open platform, that OEMs can customize and anyone can develop for?  It’s the exact same concept that Windows Mobile/Windows Phone has used for more than six years. 

I thought (up until now) that the iPhone succeeded because it dispensed with that model.  Apple decided to (1) own the platform, (2) design and manufacture the devices, (3) market the product and (4) bully their exclusive US carrier to the degree that they almost control their device’s network, too.  Microsoft, on the other hand, saw companies like HTC, Samsung and Motorola make most of their phones and let the various carriers market the devices as they saw fit.  I thought that lack of uniformity and control was a huge part of why Microsoft lost so much share and momentum to Apple. 

But I think the Droid may prove me wrong.  Google’s got a similar model to Microsoft’s, many of the same OEM’s, the same approach to carriers and the same democratic approach to developers.  Meanwhile, people mistakenly believe Google invented this model, and the Droid seems poised to take off in a way that Windows Mobile never has.

I’m going to write another post one day about Microsoft’s victory in the mobile space.  But it will be a look back.  The win was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Microsoft built the PocketPC, and used it to beat Palm and its eponymous PDAs.  The problem is that Microsoft rested on that victory, using a little-evolved version of that same device in the phone market and thus leaving themselves wide open for the drubbing they got.  First from Apple and their different approach.  And now from Google with an almost identical one. 

It’s ironic, and it’s sad.  But it’s hopeful too, because Google’s success will be, in some measure, a validation of Microsoft’s original approach.  And, hopefully, it will also be a lesson in how to make better devices and strive for superior execution.


Posted on Sunday, November 8, 2009 10:57 PM | Back to top

Comments on this post: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”

# re: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”
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It should be interesting to say the least
Left by TriBuck on Nov 09, 2009 12:58 PM

# re: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”
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You got it wrong. Most users don't even care about the concept. Sure, Apple's got that "cool and creative" image, and Google has the Open Source coolness of Linux about.

But the main thing is: People want a usable device. Not cumbersome start menus that become program managers after the first level, an SMS interface that looks like Outlook 10 years ago, phones that crash when a call arrives, a home screen with (mostly) useless default plugins, close buttons that don't close, and all that stuff WM users got used to - or not.

It's similar for programmers. Yes, Android is almost as open as WM. But while WM offers the same old stupid APIs as Windows does since about 20 years, Android has spend some thought about how to offer APIs that cover common problems with the variety of handheld devices. While you can spend months of development time to get a simple dialog looking at least OK on every display from 240x240 to 480x800, you just write a simple XML for Android within an hour. And that's just the beginning, I won't even start about database integration or 3D APIs...
Left by Mort on Nov 09, 2009 1:43 PM

# re: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”
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Mort - Your points make a grat deal of sense to me. And I myself was stating that Droid may prove wrong my theory of Apple's success due to its integrated platform.
Left by Andrew Brust on Nov 09, 2009 11:15 PM

# re: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”
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I believe that users like the variety that the Droid provides. The iphone has been behind on a lot of things such as turn by turn navigation system and the ability to copy and paste only just came out!
Left by Apex Professionals LLC on Nov 10, 2009 1:36 PM

# re: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”
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You're right but what the author's saying is simply that, those technologies of MS we superb 10 years back then and I wouldn't buy a palm OS device cos it's worse of compared to WinMo, but MS did nothing more to improve. Technologies eveolve ok? All these iPhone swipe and pinch will be old in 20 years time and people will ask, oh, what are these ugly looking stuff and how difficult they are to use compared to what will come out then. Even appple or google need to work and not rest, else they'll fall into same MS shoes.
Left by Isaac on Nov 11, 2009 3:49 AM

# re: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”
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Even if the aproach now used by Google with Android looks similar to that used by Microsoft a decade ago, I think that there are some important differences between the two.

the first is the timming. Microsoft tried to put a personal computer in your hand when processing was not yet up to the task, when data transfer was not yet a reality, when realtime was not the trend.

An HandHeld was not (and still isn't) a personal full featured computer, and what Microsoft offered was Word, Excel, etc on the Go.

The main success of today SmartPhones is SocialMedia, is Realtime social information, is Geo-positioning, GSM, maps. It's not, at least yet, Office-on-the-Go.

And that's why microsoft is getting back even more as days go by. It's easier to sell a shitty not that smart phone that let you update your twitter, facebook or myspace account than it is to sell one that have all the features of Word, Excel and Powerpoint - That market is being fullfilled by sub-notebooks (or netbooks if you prefer). It take a bigger screen and a bigger keyboard to write big things.

Even RIM was more about Email and communication than about productivity.

Now it's all about information, real-time information. And WinMo is not so friendly to programmers as iPhone or Android are.

And iPhone and Android have two different incentives that WinMo don't have... the first (iPhone) have the Apple hype, that make almost any product from apple an instant success. The second have the Google hype and the Open Source advantage. Any Open Source developper that consider the Mobile market will consider Android (and even iPhone), but not WinMo, because Microsoft had in History (until this day, and I'm sure it will continue) an agressive atitude toward the open source community and open source software.

I would prefer a traditional mobile phone to one with WinMo, but now I consider iPhone and Android Phone as options (Will probably get an HTC Hero, as Motorola Droid is not yet available in Portugal).
Left by theMage on Nov 11, 2009 7:05 AM

# re: Windows Phone: “Hey, That Was My Idea”
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Problem with windows mobile phones is that the OS is slow and you need to get through too many clicks to get to something.
I dont like the Iphone... i returned it. but
Iphone is eye candy and responsive at that.
The apps have nice integration with the system like mapping finds things and people near you and helps you find travel directions. then the application platform and delivery mechanism.

I think google/droid took the same approach in terms of lets make the OS simple for the user, responsive, and put the next gen of the killer mapping and directions app ontop of it. and also bring the application and delivery mechanism apple has but probably easier to develop against.

I think windows 7 will come with something better than the iphone and it will be Droid vs Win7 vs. Blackberry.

I remember i worked for a MS Gold Partner about a few years back. I lost my blackberry. So I asked some guy in the "phone provisioning department" what phone I should i get. Thinking he would lead me in the right direction i took his advice to switch to Windows Mobile basically because i wanted to watch webcasts while on the move. Horrible Horrible decision.

The Blackberry was simple and fast. Boatloads of information about calls and emails without alot of clicks. It was and still is a swiss army knife of mobile communication.

People have evolved to need mapping and location based software.
An OS for a computer is different than an OS for a phone. I think Microsoft tried to lay the groundwork for making the phone a mobile mini computer. But that wasnt the right play. The best play turns out to be mapping as a good part of the platform itself + simple OS features like file etc.. as an app foundation and blackberry type swiss army knife messaging capabilities.

Does Microsoft ever succeed when they attack a market first?
Platform people like Microsoft probably succeed better when they are able to take successful innovations, "fix them" and then bring them together into a platform that developers can code against.

There is a dark horse in this.. and that is how will Microsoft integrate its cloud platform, particularly the .Net Services piece into phone usage. Could there be a compelling new way of doing things that droid/AppEngine cant match?

What about live Mesh. How will this play into all of this?

Left by Juan Suero on Nov 12, 2009 7:27 AM

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