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The Symmetry of Google and Microsoft in Mobile

The question of Android viability goes deeper than the app ecosystem. In fact the ecosystem is itself dependent on the network effect of the platform. That effect is weak because the platform is not “tight” and is prone to fragmentation and its value cannot be communicated to end users. That is due to the lack of integration and consistency of purpose.

Bottom line, the problem with Android was always that it was a reaction to Windows Mobile. It was symmetric in its approach to the market with the added value of being free. In that sense it’s very successful. It might even gain all the share that WinMo used to have (about 14% of smartphones at its peak). But it will never rise above the nicheness of WinMo.

I’m always amazed at the technocrati babbling classes’ inability to spot causes. They go on and on about execution and never understand that execution is a resource not a strategy. Resources are fungible.

I for one do not “hope that Android succeeds”. It’s a foregone conclusion that it will not. It’s not a matter of hoping.


Serving the Needs of IT

An interesting note in the latest Canalys Smartphone quarterly summary (http://www.canalys.com/pr/2009/r2009112.htm):

“…in our October study of 600 European decision makers in medium and large enterprises, more than 20% said they expect the iPhone to be the dominant smart phone platform for running business applications in their organisation within the next 3 to 5 years. In France, the iPhone was ahead of Windows Mobile and RIM in this regard – a remarkable result.”

This short quote brought back to mind the recently formed partnership between Nokia and Microsoft to deal with RIM. One fruit of this relationship is a recent job posting atcareers.microsoft.com which seeks Symbian developers to work for Microsoft:

Job Category: Software Engineering: Development
Location: India, Hyderabad
Job ID: 702365
Division: Microsoft Business Division

The Office team is looking for a self-motivated and highly passionate Developers to contribute in building a new team and drive discipline excellence in the delivery of Office Mobile and Communication experiences for Nokia’s Symbian smartphones.

Microsoft and Nokia have formed a global alliance to design, develop and market mobile productivity, communications and collaboration solutions.

Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies will begin collaborating immediately on the design, development and marketing of productivity solutions for the mobile professional, bringing Microsoft Office Mobile and Microsoft business communications, collaboration and device management software to Nokia’s Symbian devices. These solutions will be available for a broad range of Nokia smartphones starting with the company’s business optimized range, Nokia Eseries. The two companies will also market these solutions to businesses, carriers and individuals.

This project builds on the existing relationship with Nokia who is optimizing access to email and other personal information with Exchange Activesync. Next year, Nokia intends to start shipping Microsoft Office Communicator Mobile on their smartphones, followed by other Office applications and related software and services in the future.

(related job description)

While the iPhone wins hearts and minds in IT through sheer brilliance Nokia tries to become a supplier to IT departments through a strategy deeply rooted in the 1980s: the manipulation and exertion of control over file formats. As IT has diminished in importance (to the point of ceasing to matter to some) it’s hard to understand this misplaced alliance with Microsoft over something so inconsequential.


Pink Cheeks

The decision process regarding mobility at Microsoft from 2005 has been a classic example of paralysis by analysis. Trapped by their processes and resources into doing horizontal solutions for a world that buys vertical integration, Microsoft was bound to fall into a trap. Like a wounded beast, it is not dying predictably but with spasms. Rather than concluding that Pink and Zune are part of a fucked up process or evolution, they should be seen as terminal convulsions of WinMo.

Credit to Dilger for going further than anyone in tying Pink, WinMo and Zune.

If I may summarize, the problems Microsoft faces are:

  • A reliance on a horizontal business model at a time when modular product “turns” are not fast enough vs. integrated/vertical models. Just look at Dilger’s mobile OS history graph and measure the “cycle time” of each product rev for the competitors.
  • An economic model that implies there is value in a mobile OS (something PalmSource and Symbian figured out to be dead ends long ago, not to mention OpenWave, SavaJe and a few others long forgotten.) Microsoft, a company that grew by disruption at the low end (vis. Lotus, Novell, IBM, etc.,) is unable or uncaring enough to sense when it’s being disrupted the same way.
  • Competitors that combine into a pincer movement from above (Apple) and below (Google) with a fortified alternative incumbent (Nokia, Microsoft’s original target) still standing. Unlike previous single competitors in each category Microsoft conquered, the mobile world presented a more diverse (and perhaps wiser) front.

I won’t get into Microsoft’s dysfunctional culture as that’s been covered brilliantly by others.


Windows Immobile

John Herrman reviews the new Windows Mobile 6.5 for Gizmodo:

To put it another way, handset manufacturers have done more in the last two years to improve Windows Mobile than Microsoft has, which borders on pathetic. In the time since Windows Mobile 6.0 came out in February of 2007, Apple has released the iPhone — three times. Palm has created the Pre, with its totally new webOS. Android has come into being, and grown into something wonderful. RIM has created a touch phone and a revamped BlackBerry OS. For these companies, the world has changed.

And Microsoft? They eked out some performance enhancements and a new homescreen in 6.1, and executed a gaudy facelift for 6.5. This is what they’ve done to Windows Mobile.

The review from Gizmodo concludes:

I’d like to think that 6.5’s stunning failure to innovate is a symptom of a neglected project—maybe Microsoft just needed something, anything to hold people over until the mythical Windows Mobile 7 comes out, whatever it is. But as Steve Ballmer himself has plainly admitted, it’s worse: Microsoft has simply lumbered in the wrong direction for two years, letting everyone, save maybe Nokia, fly right past them.

John Gruber adds:

Microsoft’s irrelevance in today’s mobile space is nothing short of a spectacular failure. Worse than the mere fact that Windows Mobile 6.5 is a total turd is that no one is surprised, and no one cares.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Microsoft will take 4 to 6 years to respond to the iPhone. Nearly 3 years have already passed and indications are that Windows 7 will ship in devices by end of 2010. I expect another 2 years hence will be needed to polish it.

Nokia will take at least as long, though probably longer.

Neither response will be sufficient or effective. Curiously perhaps, throughout this time both Nokia and Microsoft will use each other as benchmarks of competitiveness.