CyberTech Rambler

January 9, 2012

Windows Phone again …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:10 pm

Happy New Year to all

Brian Proffitt’s blog post on ‘Windows reaps what it sows’. Basically, it is Proffitt’s excellent comment on   Navneet Alang’s article on Toronto Standard that seek to analyze ex-Windows Phone GM Charlie Kindel’s blog post about why Windows Phone failed to capture the market.

I agree with Proffitt that Windows Phone looks to be in the position that Linux used to occupy in the early to mid 2000s.

I want to add that from the User Interface viewpoint, Windows Phone is in a much better state that Linux’s user interface in that time period: It is feature complete and contain some innovative stuff. (Note: Innovative stuff does not necessarily equate to good feature that you and I want to use. It is just an acknowledgement that they put the effort in to differentiate themselvves from the competition). You don’t have to resort to command line on Windows Phone to do the basic functions do you? You do with Linux in that time period.

And Windows Phone today have another important advantage over Linux of yesterdays: It has a big corporate sponsor that is prepared to spend a lot of money promoting it. For Linux, while IBM might be behind it, IBM’s contribution is limited to the geeky stuff such as program development. The money on promotion, including IBM advertisements, are pittance compared to what Microsoft had and is willing to spend on promoting Windows Phone.

Still, … Windows Phone is the Cinderella of today’s mobile phone industry like Linux used to be (and probably still is) in the desktop market. Both, unlike the real Cinderella,  might not go to the Ball at all.

As for Kindel’s own analysis of why Windows Phone failed to get the market excited? Take it with a pinch of salt. He said we, the product team, did a good job. Windows Phone is superior to Android I hear him say. Blame the marketing. They position the product wrongly, i.e., alienating the two important “customers”: carriers and device manufacturers. The result is Windows Phone did not get to see the light, a.k.a., the end users. This sounds like he is trying passing the buck to Steve B for the failure and indirectly blaming Carriers and Device Manufacturers for the luke warm take up.

Frankly, the positioning of Windows Phone is not without merit. Apple’s total control over iPhones’ hardware and software alienate Carriers and Device Manufacturers. The former is worried that their current position, i.e. more or less dependent on what device manufacturer choose to make will get worse if Apple become their device manufacturer. The latter is already pushed to the side line by Apple and need something to bounce back from the sideline. Android offers them a lifeline and they quickly grab it. However, both Carriers and Device Manufacturers, if they have not learned the lesson from what had befallen the desktop, they would had learned with their experience on the iPhones and not to bet their company on Android. Throw them another phone operating system and surely they will be glad to be able to not put their eggs in one basket. A company like Microsoft is the perfect candidate to partner with, if only to counter Android’s potential dominant power. The question for Microsoft is where else to position itself. The two extreme ends have been taken. Microsoft does not have the expertise to throw Apple off its throne. Fighting with Android at the other end is not a good proposition. If it wins, it will always be looked down as the cheap end of the market. There is no  guarantee of winning either. Unlike PCs people don’t go into the shop and ask for Windows. They take whatever operating system that comes with the phone. This means the manufacturer has more control over what goes in the phone than its PC counterpart. It is skilled engineers that decide which operating systems to use and quite frankly, they are as good on Android or Windows Phone or if the day ever comes, iOS. Finally, at the really cheap end of the market, however low the licensing fee for Windows Phone is, they are still going to lose to Android as it is free. This market, although offering slimmer margins,  is getting bigger as more people from poorer country joins the mobile evolution and is significant enough that manufacturers cannot ignore. This is a barrier to entry for Microsoft to some market because companies, especially carriers in poorer countries might not want to maintain two operating system lines.  So, one of the better position for  Windows Phone is along the line of Windows Desktop, i.e., the middle  ground where you sacrifices some control over the device specification in return for not having to spend the money to develop the operating system is a good line of attack. Worry that history will repeat itself with Windows dominating the mobile phone market in the future? Let’s just say that the worry with Android dominating the market is the real threat that one have to worry about. Window’s is tomorrows’ theoretical problem. If you don’t survive today, you don’t have a tomorrow.

Unfortunately, finding the correct balance that  give device manufacturers and carrier  to be comfortable to surrender control over the hardware specification in return for Windows Phone is difficult. This, according to Kindel, is why Windows Phone failed to date. I am sure there is a lot of  truth in this. Is that the only reason? No.

There are, at least at present, serious mistakes in the innovations Windows Phone choose to incorporate.  The tile interface. While serving basically like icons in iPhones and Android, is visually too different from the icons in the other two devices to make users accustom to use it. To make things worse, the tiles don’t look intuitive enough for the user to want to click them.  Imagine being inside a shop. Would you buy a phone where the sales person has to teach you or have to demostrate  to you how to use it before you can use it? Early Windows Phone promotional literature like to imagine a large canvas-like ribbon with all your stuff on one aspect of your digital life laid out on it and with the phone displaying only one small part of the ribbon (because it is a small screen and incapable of showing the whole ribbon). You then move the display to the right/left by flicking to emulate moving to the left/right of the ribbon. Nice PR stunt. However, to joe user it still feels like navigating one page to the left and right. Even with the appropriate animation one is still moving pages, not along a ribbon. Finally, do I need multiple ribbons for different aspect of my digital life? I don’t most of the time.

Second, it is a bit too early to introduce always-on features like automatically update your Twitter display. Another way to see it is the always-on features is not properly back-up by a good mobile phone data plan. More precisely, leaving the mobile phone data plan to the carrier is suicidal. We all see the horror stories about someone being charged hundred of dollars because they forgotten to switch off their iPhone auto update feature when they go overseas. Having a phone that auto update twitter bring up  these scary images. To help alleviate the fear a good mobile data plan is needed.

I do not think, however, Windows Phone fails on licensing fee issue. Carriers and Manufacturers today can expect huge discount from Microsoft at any time but especially true today. In the smart phone market the rumour of 15 dollars per handset is not a deal breaker. As for engineering and integrating Windows Phone software into the device, it is not an impediment either as we are talking about skilled engineers and technicians here. Moreover, Microsoft has a lot of experience in building engineering kits which it had brought to bear on Windows Phone.

With such a radical change in user interface, Microsoft could not bring its Windows integration in as an advantage over rivals. The fact that Android and Apple did a good job with integration with Windows’ desktop kill this as a marketing strategy. However, I had always thought that integration with Office software is a big selling point. Looks like I am wrong, since we haven’t seen any big corporate take up of Windows Phone or even see Windows Phone users demo this as the reason they bought a phone (if you can find a Windows Phone user that is)


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