What Microsoft Still Misses About Mobile

With the impressive launch of Windows Phone 7 today, Microsoft made it clear that after several years of fading from the back of the pack, the company is back in the race. The question is whether it is the right race.

The new Windows phone at least gives Microsoft a chance to run with Apple, Android, and BlackBerry. but while the phone has some very nice features, such as Office integrations for business users and Xbox integration for consumers, it’s not clear that these will be sufficiently compelling to give the Windows Phone a real edge over its entrenched competition. The stringed thing is that Microsoft is still declining to compete in tablets, the emerging mobile market where it could make a differen
I caught up with Windows Phone Group Product Manager Greg Sullivan at he Microsoft launch event in New York and asked about the use of the phone software in larger devices. The answer was the same unequivocal one that I have been hearing from Microsoft for many months: Windows Phone 7 is for handsets, Windows 7 is for tablets.

This Is a mistake, maybe a catastrophic one. Although the rest of the Industry has given Apple an enormous head start, the field is wide open. Magical though it may be, the iPad has large flaws. I am writing this post on an iPad using the WordPress app, a setup that makes me acutely aware of its major limitations as a content-creation device.

Apple has proved two important things with the iPad. One is that the market for mid-sized devices, especially tablets, is real. The other is that these devices work much better with software scaled up from handsets than scaled down from desktops.

Windows 7 will never be satisfactory on a slate-type device. Hewlett-Packard gave qit it’s best shot and failed to produce a viable consumers slate (Disclosure: I consulted on the project.) The lack of deep support for for a touch user interface in Windows 7 is fatal, as is the operating system’s sheer bulk–do you really want a tablet with the Windows Registry?–and its dependence on the power hungry x86 processor.

The weird thing is that Windows Phone 7 seems to have great potential as tablet operating system. Office integration, including support for the SharePoint collaboration system, could give a WP7 tablet great appeal in the enterprise. A larger display could make Xbox Live gaming even more attractive.

But for reasons that I cannot fathom, A Windows Phone tablet apparently is not to be. This is a loss to the market and an even bigger losqs for Microsoft, which seems to be dealing itself out of the most dynamic and fasteSt growing market around.

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5 Responses to “What Microsoft Still Misses About Mobile”

  1. coastcontact Says:

    As a non-tech person (I am a user), it is apparent to me that Microsoft has been left behind in the consumer world. The company focused on office uses. Now that MS Office is a mature product, Microsoft has been resting on its laurels. Relying on their basic OS and office products means they will be less consequential in the future.

  2. Dave Lindhout Says:

    You’re the first I’ve read to point out the potential consequences of Microsoft’s decision to push Windows to the tablets devices. Microsoft could lose the mobile battle in an effort to preserve the Windows desktop. If the future is mobile, that puts Microsoft way behind.

    Microsoft’s first mistake was to use two different operating systems for mobile and the desktop. Apple took the core of OS X and developed the basis for iOS. It then created a multi-touch user interface to replace the mouse and keyboard. There are now rumors that the multi-touch will move to OS X in the future. Apple has synergy while Microsoft waits for Intel to develop a less power hungry x86 processor.

    • swildstrom Says:

      Actually, Microsoft’s original approach was very similar to Apple’s. The idea of Windows CE, the predecessor to Windows Mobile, was to port a subset of the Windows API to a lightweight, modular OS written for ARM processors. Apple took a subset of the OS X APIs, ported them to ARM, and created what it now calls iOS. Microsoft, unfortunately, let Windows CE/Windows Mobile grow stale. The two big failings were retaining the windows desktop metaphors for far too long (if they were ever appropriate in the first place) and failing to recognize the importance of capacitive multi-touch. Apple, by contrast, came up with the brilliant Cocoa Touch interface built from the ground up for touch.

  3. Rich Repplier Says:

    Steve,

    Two things. One is that I’m sure the iPad is intended for content consumption and not content creation. Its huge success in the marketplace seems to be pretty definite confirmation that it was targeted accurately.

    The second is that as you’ve suggested in the past, the Windows desktop group at Microsoft may be able to tell Ballmer and the board that the desktop products are Microsoft’s primary revenue generator, and that the company’s focus should therefore be on them, and not on an unproven market such as mobile. I can imagine that it would be difficult for Ballmer to oppose this.

  4. Mike Bauer Says:

    I can’t beat what John Gruber said on Daring Fireball

    “Microsoft’s Language Problem ★

    Microsoft announces Windows Phone 7, in a press release headlined “Windows Phone 7: A Fresh Start for the Smartphone: The Phone Delivers a New User Experience by Integrating the Things Users Really Want to Do, Creating a Balance Between Getting Work Done and Having Fun”:

    The goal for Microsoft’s latest smartphone is an ambitious one: to deliver a phone that truly integrates the things people really want to do, puts those things right in front of them, and either lets them get finished quickly or immerses them in the experience they were seeking.

    Who talks like this? This bureaucrat-ese is intended, I suppose, to sound serious. But it just sounds like bullshit.

    Here’s how Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007:

    Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And here it is.

    And here’s Apple’s PR announcing it, headlined simply “Apple Reinvents the Phone with iPhone”. You can accuse Apple of hyperbole, but not opaqueness.”

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