Five Ways Microsoft can Defeat iPhone and Android

It wasn’t long ago that bashing Microsoft was as cool as Hootie and the Blowfish and Blossom.  There was no shortage of material – mangled pasting in Office, hideous mobile apps, and spooky Windows error messages that made you build a panic room. Even governments got in on it.  The EU forced Microsoft to remove anti-competitive features from Windows. I think they even made Bill Gates perform The Nutcracker at a Belgian waffle house.  Things have changed.  Google and Apple now make Microsoft seem downright cuddly and lovable. Rather than send CEO Steve Ballmer a teddy bear to celebrate this budding bromance, I thought I’d give him something far more practical – an iPhone. I’m joking. I’d like to propose a way to revive Windows Phone 7, the company’s creative, but struggling new mobile operating system. Sadly, these advanced phones are already sharing a discount rack with rotary dial Nokias and the Motorola RAZR MC Hammer Edition.

Hits and misses

In the last 10 years, Apple and Google developed cultish followings, who rumble bloodlessly on gadget blogs and online forums. Both companies earned that passion by acting with clarity and vision, while  Microsoft layered on bureaucracy. Even its best products muster the fanaticism of an efficient clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And there have been successes – XBox, Windows 7, and Outlook. But too many misfires like Kin, Vista, Live, and Windows Mobile.  Often, the company seems like it’s on American Idol – always singing someone else’s song. Open source (Firefox, OpenOffice), cloud services (Netflix, Google Docs), and mobile (iPad, Android) point to a future without Microsoft.  But like a retired Don Corleone, I still feel it has a few hits left. I know some very bright people at Microsoft (sadly, no Godfathers). I’d love to see them bring some needed competition to Google and Apple. Since this battle will likely be fought in mobile, I’ll focus on Windows Phone 7 (WP7, for you gangsta rappers).

You’re not from Jersey…

When it came out last year, WP7 was a pleasant surprise, like a plump raisins in your oatmeal. After the patchwork that was Windows Mobile, reviewers expected a Snooki, but found a Natalie Portman instead. (See demo video below.)

Tardy to the party?

Sadly for Microsoft, it arrived long after geeks, novices, and Kardashians had already picked sides.  Is it too late to change their mind? Here’s a peek at their competition and who their customers are:

Competitor
About the platform 
Who are the customers
iPhone
kim-jong-il-phoneshot-v3[1]
The iPhone is a closed ecosystem inspired by Kim Jong Il. Everything from hardware to software to media (via iTunes) goes through Apple. If you want to get an application on iPhone, you pay Apple 30% – and it better not contain enriched uranium.
  • Half see it as an object of desire.  They crave it with their heart and loins.
  • The other half just like a fluid,simple experience. It’s a phone that looks cool, others admire, and wouldn’t scare your mom, like a boyfriend with tattoos on his neck.
Android
androidf6o[1]
Android is open source, but developed by Google.  Despite having lots of apps (120K+ to Apple’s 300K+), the experience can be clunky and technical.

The secret to its success is that it’s given away license-free to phone manufacturers. In exchange, Google knows where you are, what you’re doing, and can blow up your phone, if you misbehave.

Android is also evolving quickly. Because of its voice command and intimate knowledge of you, it’s now legal to marry your Android in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Osaka.

The customer group is divided in three:
  • Techies who love complex, powerful, open systems they can tinker with.
  • Young and smartphone savvy customers who wish they had an iPhone, but couldn’t stand AT&T;, so they picked the consolation prize.
  • Mass consumers who didn’t know what they were getting into.  They wanted a smartphone but ended up with a smartphone kit. They are over-matched by the power and clunkiness of the phone.
Blackberry
Blackberry is also a closed system. With its share shrinking, Blackberry is fighting to hold on.  It has a shaky foothold with corporations and its consumer phones are unimpressive. They are underpowered and lack the apps and hardware prowess of Android or iPhone.
Again, two main groups:

  • Those who need it for work, but openly envy the speed, apps, and big screens of Androids and iPhones.
  • Crackberry addicts who love the hardware keyboard, email, and messenger functionality.
Windows Phone 7 (WP7)

 
Microsoft charges manufacturers a licensing fee, just like Windows for computers.  The hardware looks like Android’s because it’s made by the same manufacturers. (Like the Chanel bag…and the fake Chanel bag in Chinatown.) While the experience is good, the phone has few apps, no buzz, and some basic features missing, like copy and paste.
We haven’t met them yet.  A million were shipped, but sales were not disclosed. Since WP7 is not backward compatible, even old Windows Mobile customers, like me, have likely embraced the little robot, or worse, married it.

Who’s left at the dance?

Microsoft could end up incinerating boatloads of shareholder cash (and unsold handsets) trying to be all things to all people.  There are already phones doing a great job in the mass market.  Still, three attractive segments are left at this dance. But it’s just a matter of time before some doughy, pale geek from Mountain View pushes them, anemically, into his Prius.  These segments  are:

  1. Gamers - there are games on iPhone and Android, but none that make gamers salivate, especially younger ones. Coincidentally, X-Box does.  More on that below.
  2. Businesses - ever try to edit a document on a Blackberry?  Exactly.  Ever try to work with attachments or run business software?  Corporations would love to make their employees more productive (…subservient?) on the road. Employees would love to have bigger screens and a better experience than Blackberries, for some well-earned slacking off, and “business” videos. Since many companies have already moved from Notes to Outlook or webmail, the Blackberry isn’t mandatory.
  3. Non-Apple Multimedia (especially video) – Let’s face it, Apple does a great job with media, but it does have an Achilles’ heal – it’s anchored to iTunes, which is bloated and clunky, especially on the PC.  Android isn’t, but its the Martha Stewart of multimedia – if you want it, you have to stitch it together yourself. All kinds of pay and non-pay channels and programs are scattered among Netflix, youtube, Hulu, ABC, NBC, BBC, etc.  If only someone could bring them all together in an elegant way…


What should Microsoft do?

The mass-market is crowded. Android and iPhone will be hard to beat with the current strategy. The better approach, I think, is to create 3 optimized WP7 flavors:

1. The XPhone (or Kinected phone) 

  • Use the company’s super successful developer relationships for XBox to port some of the top titles – exclusively – to the XPhone. Hell, mandate it in their contracts.  Microsoft is the Wal-Mart of gaming – it controls distribution.
  • Device specs (controls, speed, processor, battery life, certified add-ons, etc.) should be optimized and certified for serious gaming.  The company has the relationships and the expertise to make this a reality.
  • Create meaningful ways to link XBox and XPhone, like creating your characters on the phone and playing them on the XBox.
  • Wouldn’t it be interesting to also partner with Nintendo to run current Wii games?  Hmmm….
  • Negotiate cheaper data and family plans with networks to target younger gamers.
  • How about all you can play unlimited gaming plans…included in your bill.

2. WP7 Executive Edition – This flavor will be made for getting things done, with a little fun on the side (like a mullet – all business in the front, and a party in the back).13-business-apps-busy-entrepreneurs[1]

  • This phone must be compatible with all things business – including non-Microsoft services like Zoho, Google Docs, WordPress, SAP, Oracle, Adobe, Quickbooks, Carbonite, etc.  Anything and everything office should be doable on this. Any business desktop or web app should have a WP7 equivalent.
  • I’d also make sure it had a docking capability like the awesome Motorola Atrix to replace travel laptops.

3. Zune Multimedia Monster – Did you just snicker?  Sure, the Zune never caught fire, but the multimedia experience is intuitive.  Zune is the basis for most of WP7…and the new Zune theme park in Wasilla, Alaska.

  • The killer app here will be getting all the providers under one roof – ABC, NBC, CBS, podcasts, Audible, etc. One roof. A little company called Kinoma can help.  They’ve been performing miracles and resurrections on Windows phones for years.
  • With in-app payments and a common interface, this can be the media junkie’s dream – plus a compelling revenue source as Microsoft takes a cut of all the content.
  • Give hardware suppliers a cut of the revenues and eliminate licensing fees as an extra incentive.
  • Dockability‘ to TVs, PC (and Macs) will be key to this. Also, use as a streaming device from your home media collection would be a huge plus.
  • Create an API with revenue sharing so multimedia producers and other sites can plug their content right into your ecosystem and profit from it.

4. Partner (exclusively with Nokia, Sony, LG and Nintendo):

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  • Nokia is either at an inflection point or it’s Finnished.  It has a huge, international base of dumbphone customers and developers, but its Symbian OS and Meego are going nowhere fast.  Plus, an ex-Microsoft exec just took over the company.  WP& plus Nokia’s distribution and developer network could change the fortunes of both companies.  I bet if Microsoft doesn’t get to Nokia, HP and WebOS will (or should)….please don’t make me write another blog about that!
  • Yes, Nintendo. Nintendo has no phone partnerships and its standalone handhelds have a questionable future when every phone has games.  Microsoft should be able to run every existing Nintendo title. It gets Nintendo in the mobile game, Microsoft a cache of recognizable, must-have titles, and hook for mobile domination…or at least, competitiveness.  …Atari, anyone?
  • Sony Ericsson has some decent phones, but no clear OS strategy.  They should partner, and possibly look to put PS2 and PS3 games on Microsoft’s platform. Interesting, right? Coopetition, frenemies…you decide how to spell them.
  • Get another Asian manufacturer like LG to go exclusive and you might have something great here.  Maybe each specializes in a different flavor or they compete by market.  OK, this is a blog, not therapy…they can figure it out.
5. Create a WP7 Wrapper for Blackberry and Android: Create an app for Android, Blackberry and iPhone (if Steve Jobs allows, unlikely) that can run all of the content, apps, and games available on native WP7 devices, if the devices are WP7 certified.  Microsoft would make money from sale of content, subscriptions, and games through the store, as well as from any approved accessories that carry its compatibility logo. (For the geeks – maybe unlock overclocking with this app.)

6. Tablets – This one I’ll save for another time…

Finally, I do have one confession to make – I still use a Windows Mobile phone!  I know…  Until I find that perfect thin and light Android with a keyboard, Microsoft has its last chance to win me over. That window is closing…’window’…closing…who writes this stuff?

That’s it. Microsoft, you know where to find me if you have questions.

by Steve Faktor. Read more of my magical, life-affirming blog posts at ideafaktory.com.

 

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12 Comments

  1. coridefe February 4, 2011

    Steve, great aticle and very entertaining too!
    If I were MS I would be already knocking at your door!
    Super!

  2. Steve Faktor February 4, 2011

    Thanks @coridete! I'm expecting a big basket of Edible Arrangements from Steve Ballmer. Haha.

    Steve

  3. Anonymous February 7, 2011

    Steve. Great article and I agree with you.

    1. Gaming phone, Microsoft has a great platform, Xbox, they also are the kings in games. Its like people saying, buy Linux, but if you want games you will need a PC. So for developers, its a dream come true, phone, computer, console. The phones also have the hardware requirements to be a gaming phone. Im not a gamer, but I think gamers will like that.

    2. Business phone. Here you got me. There isnt really a business phone. Blackberry is considered today a business phone, its gets straight to the work, fast, nothing fancy. But Microsoft is missing here a huge market. They have office, and they are not making it to mobile. WP7 should be a office phone 100% and there you got 100% of business that needs a phone and be more productive on the road. Windows Mobiles was terrible, still I had to use it because of emails and productive apps. I only see games as apps in WP7, where are those business and productive apps coming? I dont want WP7 to be just another iPhone that looks cool. I want to make something with a 500$ phone.

    3. Zune Multimedia phone, im not sure about this point, every other smartphone is already a multimedia phone. I guess regardless of what WP7 does it will be a phone for multimedia as well. Still how many people actually will buy a 500$ phone for looking movies? All phones can play music and videos this days. I would ratter focus on apps. Allot of them!!!

    I read Nokia is probably adopting WP7. I think if they do, they are going to crush competition honestly.

    Nokia is the most sold phone in the world, but has a lousy OS. WP7 is a beautiful OS and backed up by the major OS company in the world, so you got the most widely used phone brand in the phone with Microsoft and you are invincible. Google will have a hard time if this happens…

    Microsoft needs the market Nokia can bring them, even if they give their OS for free, they will still earn with their ecosystem like apps.

    Nokia needs to have a smartphone or they will be history in 10 years.
    Nokia cannot invest as much $$$ as Microsoft can in a OS, they need to focus on phones. They can be sure Microsoft is not going to let WP7 fail so they will burn cash and resources to what it needs. So I think its a safe bet for both. They both will earn from such a relationship.

    Also, Nokia doesnt have any other choice. They will never be able to market and invest as much as Microsoft on a mobile OS and what options do they have? Android. Not in a millions years, because every other company outhere, even those Chinese phones run Android. They will kill the Nokia brand if they start to be just another cheap OS. They need to be different. And also, putting Android on Nokia is just feeding the company that will leave you out eventually. Why? Because has the money to buy phone factories if they want. In in the future Google can and probably will start to manufacture their own devices.

  4. JOHN February 10, 2011

    I don't know if I'd fragment the phones into three categories but I'd consider two and use the zune marketplace for media sales on both platforms. Many gamers like to listen to music while they play and many business travelers would love to listen to music or watch shows they recorded from window's media center on the phone as well. They can market it as work and play, with work also relaxing to zune when work is done.

    On the gaming phone I agree wholeheartedly about having the phones meet a minimum hardware requirement to be marketed as such. I think this is why windows have had a lot of problems in the past for being called a bloated OS or slow, they simply allowed OEMs to sell sub par machines using it. I think they need to avoid this experience in the mobile market, I've heard people say this about certain android models and sure enough the hardware it's on dictates why a person gets this experience. I think ms can also benefit from this by making this a requirement for tablet makers too who wants to port this os over to it.

    On the business phone, since most out of town business will be done with an overnight stay at a hotel and many companies may want to reduce the cost of operation while internationally roaming the phone should support both an hdmi out to use the hotel's provided hdtv as a monitor and also calling over wifi like tmobile's uma feature on some of their wifi phones. The business phone should also have an accessory mini keyboard/mouse/laser pointer for presentations as well when it's hooked up by hdmi to a projector/hdtv or even wirelessly by network.

    As far as nokia is concerned, they simply need to follow the fads more and bring their systems to market sooner. Nokia also needs to adopt better and higher hardware standards. Even if nokia continues to use their own OS part of marketing is also pointing out useless marketing drivel about the hardware specs that seem to make certain geeks lust wildly for it even though it really comes down to how fast and smooth an OS is at what it does. I know in the past nokia smartphones hardware specs were dwarfed by the other smartphones out there even if their OS still ran smoother, there are some who'll only think about what they're getting and not what they're experiencing.

  5. Anonymous March 23, 2011

    Interesting article !! What cms do you use on your site ?

  6. ideafaktory September 25, 2011

    I use Blogger, but it doesn't look like it. I skinned and customized it a lot.

  7. Author
    ideafaktory September 26, 2011

    I use Blogger, but it doesn’t look like it. I skinned and customized it a lot.

  8. Matt Sharper November 15, 2011

    are you insane?

    partner with Nintendo?!?!

    you do realise they are competitors right?

  9. ideafaktory November 15, 2011

    Matt, there is a long history of competitors partnering or featuring each others products on competing platforms.  Android competes with iOS, but Google still develops loads of apps for iPhone – maps, Voice, google+, youtube, etc.  Putting Nintendo games on Microsoft's OS is absolutely no different.  Other examples – Time Warner owns HBO and all the Turner networks, but all of them are broadcast on DISH and DirectTV, platforms that compete directly with their cable business.  Citi and BoA issue cards on the Amex network, even though they compete with Amex. I can go on and on.  It's not so unusual, believe me.

  10. Matt Sharper November 15, 2011

    are you insane?

    partner with Nintendo?!?!

    you do realise they are competitors right?

    • Author
      ideafaktory November 15, 2011

      Matt, there is a long history of competitors partnering or featuring each others products on competing platforms.  Android competes with iOS, but Google still develops loads of apps for iPhone – maps, Voice, google+, youtube, etc.  Putting Nintendo games on Microsoft’s OS is absolutely no different.  Other examples – Time Warner owns HBO and all the Turner networks, but all of them are broadcast on DISH and DirectTV, platforms that compete directly with their cable business.  Citi and BoA issue cards on the Amex network, even though they compete with Amex. I can go on and on.  It’s not so unusual, believe me.

  11. Matt Sharper January 24, 2012

    yes sorry now you put it like that it makes sense still would strike me as weird to see a Nintendo game on a windows phone( i am a avid gamer) but i do get your point now…. )

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