Virulent Word of Mouse

October 6, 2009

Two also-rans in wireless platform wars are on the same page

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Capturing and creating value,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 11:23 pm

OK. I read a lot of blogs. But usually not until after I have been through the newspaper.

I was scanning blogs earlier today and nobody in the technology world seems to read newspapers anymore. Or perhaps they do not read the New York Times. Or perhaps they read it and just did not notice a weird coincidence.

So I will point out this coincidence and pour on the acid. There were two stories about wireless operating system also-rans, and they appeared on the same page on the same day. It is as if the editors ran out of interesting news stories, so they decided to give us two of these on the same day!

(Yes, yes, yes, I meant what I said. I still read a newspaper with my morning coffee. Yes, it is odd for a tech-geek to do that, but I am a professor, so I am allowed some degree of eccentricity. In fact I read two papers, the Times for national news, and the other for local sports. I do not usually go online until I wake up. The newspaper is not going to die nearly as fast as many forecast. But I digress. )

Anyway, the Times ran two stories. One was about Palm — good ole’ pathetic Palm — and how they are trying to build a developer network for apps on their device. The other was about Windows for mobile devices, and how they are trying to reposition the operating system. Nobody ever felt sorry for Microsoft, but this article also made them look human.

purefront-cardview-closed_with-screen-heroes_sprintFirst, let’s start with Palm. The article led with a whopper. So far Palm has only one hundred apps (That is not a misprint — only a pathetic one hundred!). The article describes how Palm is trying to build a developer network.

I just wanted to slap somebody for goofy incompetence. The article did not just come out and say the obvious. The game is already lost. Palm actually made some nice little devices this time, and these would have been good enough in a past era. But not in this era. It just was not enough to get any developers excited enough to spend the time/energy/money to make an app.

If this is the sort of start Palm had, well, um — how do I say this? — it is too late for a turn-around. It was like reading an obit on the business page, though the product was not officially dead yet.

The other article was about Windows for the mobile space, and all the various efforts Microsoft is putting into making Windows more fun to use. Microsoft is now imitating the iPhone and making their stuff “finger-friendly”, and making it seamless with other Window’s products. They also hired a new outsider executive to run the division, so they could have put up a sign “Under new Management.”

That was all part of a standard Microsoft story, but then the article goes on to discuss efforts to strongly brand the Windows for Mobile space. That discussion on branding Windows….ah, there is the company I know so well. Nobody outside of Microsoft in their right mind would suggest such a strategy, but apparently there are plenty of people inside Redmond who think this is a good idea.htc_p3470_front

Look, Windows is functional, not sexy, not fun, and certainly not friendly. It works, and that is good enough for the office.

The world is divided into fun and reliable. Brands simply cannot mix both attributes. For example, my parents are reliable, but I would not party with them. I read this and thought: this strategy is supposed to generate talk about killer applications? Who are we kidding?

Windows is what it is. It is a very effective platform for developers and for much of its existence it has been a mediocre experience for users. But it got started at a time when nobody else knew how to operate an effective developer network. Now it is so big it is too hard for anyone to recreate a better user experience and a first rate developer network. So Windows survives, making a lot of money on very large sales.

Let me say it another way: I just do not know any user who loves Windows. Administrators like it, and so do CIOs. That is not an extensive fan base.

More to the point, that is NOT the image this product needs in the mobile space. How in the world is that brand reputation going to transfer to the cell phone with any positive consequences? The article claims that Microsoft is trying to appeal to the business buyer who values Windows and wants the same experience in their mobile device. Huh?

The article stresses that mobile is under new management, a hot executive who came over from Staples. I am sorry, Steve Ballmer, but can you bring back the old management of this division? It was not a disaster, albeit not an enormous hit either. However, it used to make sense.

Oh, I also felt like yelling at somebody. Google and Apple — not to mention Linux — now know how to run effective developer networks. So Windows Mobile needs an effective developer network, as Microsoft competently does, AND it needs a great user experience. Without both it is not going to get anywhere. Rebranding should not be the key priority.

Of course, Windows Mobile will not die as fast as Palm. There is a lot more stockholder wealth at Microsoft to waste first.

Do not misinterpret me. I would like nothing more to be wrong in this case. Both of these firms have tons of talent, and if either of them offers a competitive handset it would be a welcome competitive alternative to this market.

However, until I see more positive evidence, my conclusion is this: two also-rans in the wireless platform wars are on the same page. Both are still clueless.


  1. Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

    Comment by Polprav — October 16, 2009 @ 10:16 am | Reply

  2. Hello Professor,

    I guess Microsoft’s choices to building a Mobile brand are: start with something with some brand value and tranfer it to another product category or start with a completely new brand and build from the ground up. In the latter case, they have not always been very successful (in creating very strong brands) – Zune, Bing, Vista, People Ready, Live, etc. There are some exceptions, of course – Xbox, Halo, maybe .NET – when these brands have backed great products. With a mobile OS lagging badly behind the competition (and delayed!), a fresh new brand may not give the OS the lift it badly needs. In short, their alternative to reusing the Windows brand is probably no better..

    Comment by Riad — October 21, 2009 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  3. Interesting article you got here. I’d like to read something more about that matter.

    Comment by Steave — October 28, 2009 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

  4. Ah!!! at last I found what I was looking for. Somtimes it takes so much effort to find even tiny useful piece of information.
    Nice post. Thanks

    Comment by Auto Insurance Guy — November 7, 2009 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  5. Nice article you got here. It would be great to read more about that matter.

    Comment by Marcus — November 9, 2009 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

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