According to a recent article in Reuters titled Windows Phone? No App for That, developers are “spending their time writing nifty apps for the iPhone, Android phones and BlackBerries, not for Windows phones.” The article’s conclusion is that there may be trouble in paradise for Microsoft: “Developers’ apathy and a fast-falling market share mean that Microsoft’s mobile phone business is in the doldrums. And that in turn may mean trouble for all of Microsoft several years from now.” While I agree that developers are not writing apps for Windows Mobile, Microsoft has an ace up its sleeve called Windows Phone 7 and that hasn’t been released yet. While there are some limitations still to Windows Phone 7–such as the situation with multitasking–the forthcoming mobile OS has large consumer appeal and developers are attracted to the platform with Silverlight and XNA engines.
In the forthcoming commentary, I’ll present my views and answers to some of Reuter’s positions, and I encourage you to also post your views and contribute to this discussion. You can read the entire article at Reuters.
To really answer Reuter’s broad generalization–“Microsoft’s problem is not just that it might not be able to tap into the greatest growth market in computers. Its main business will also be affected. What if Google forges links between its mobile phone Android operating system and its netbook (and possibly PC) Chrome operating system? Will enterprises consider moving at least in part away from Windows and toward Chrome? Will iPhones, iPads and iAnythings make more enterprises consider using Mac OS X? All that is entirely possible. And that’s when Microsoft will really face trouble.”–one can look to MIX10 and GDC where Microsoft demonstrated its compelling three-screen strategy. The strategy is definitely consumer-centric, focusing on games and apps that are playable on the PC, Windows Phone (mobile) and Xbox (TV). Thus far, none of Microsoft’s competitors have matched that strategy of leveraging gaming titles and entertainment franchises across three distinct screens though Apple comes close with its iPhone/iPad strategy.
And although “the company’s market share of mobile subscribers has also taken a deep plunge,” Microsoft does care and know that “mobile devices of all kinds are the future, and they are where massive growth is,” contrary to what Reuters is insinuating. The company’s strategy of delivering an ecosystem that melds hardware and software design together will fuel growth for the future while at the same avoid fragmentation like with Windows Mobile and Android. Right now, I think Microsoft is making the right sacrifices–allowing Windows Mobile development to stagnate while working furiously on Windows Phone 7. Those sacrifices and unified effort by Microsoft has leveraged some underdog technologies–Silverlight as compared to Adobe Flash and Windows Mobile as compared to the iPhone or Android OS–and should make them winners when coupled together with other Microsoft assets such as Xbox, Zune, Bing, and others on Windows Phone 7. Before Windows Phone 7, interest in Silverlight wasn’t as strong as in Flash, but that may change and while Adobe Flash may get burned by HTML5, Microsoft will still be able to keep its underdog Silverlight technology relevant through interest in Windows Phone 7. There’s a lot to Microsoft’s technology, and there’s a lot that Microsoft is doing right that reaches far beyond Windows Phone 7.
I do believe that Microsoft was complacent with its progress after it defeated Palm OS for dominant market share in the US, but the long wait for Windows Phone 7 to be released may be a hard but winning lesson for Redmond. In order to grow and not become stagnant, a company may have to tear itself down and re-evaluate its position in the market, and that’s precisely what Microsoft is doing with mobile as it shifts from the Windows Mobile moniker to Windows Phone branding. The company is targeting the platform at a broader consumer base–which will attract developers as they have a larger pool of app buyers–rather than a niche audience; Microsoft’s strategy with KIN–the newest Windows Phone family member–is to attract a younger audience and keep them in the Microsoft ecosystem; and as they get older and more sophisticated, they can migrate to Windows Phone, Xbox, Zune HD, Windows, and netbooks. The company is reinventing its mobile strategy from one that encompasses power to one that provides the best user experience for the broadest audience.
While I recognize the serious needs for apps for Windows Mobile, Reuters also needs to understand that Microsoft needs time to reinvent, grow, and build. Why would developers develop apps right now for Windows Mobile, especially if they are not forward compatible on Windows Phone? I think the market right now is quiet from the Microsoft camp, but that may change with Windows Phone 7 in about half a year’s time? From the turnout and reception that Microsoft received at GDC and from developers at MIX10, developers seem receptive to the forthcoming platform, which is a positive sign for Windows Phone 7. Microsoft does have details to iron out, but the Reuters report makes the situation more bleak than it needs to be. I think we can all admit–even Microsoft knows this–that WIndows Mobile failed to attract developers because it failed to fulfill what most consumers need from a mobile OS; what’s relevant now is if Microsoft can deliver what users want–and Windows Phone 7 is hedging its bet that users want a terrific user experience–and I think Windows Phone 7 stands a fighting chance.