Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems – #3: Where the Heck is Microsoft?

In the Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #1 and Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #2 we’ve been talking about why Ecosystems and mobile devices. The big question that many of you are probably asking is, “Ok… so what’s the big deal? Why do I care about this? We’ve been through Amazon and Google pretty thoroughly.

The one remaining player, Microsoft, has been pretty much out of pocket on all of this. Let’s briefly talk about why.

Bringing it all Together – Where the Heck is Microsoft?
Over the past few years, Microsoft has really struggled with mobility. Quite frankly, it doesn’t know its own butt from a mobile hole in the ground. Its pathetically sad, really. They had this market sown up and they let it slip away from them. Ballmer is a huge part of this problematic equation for Microsoft. He just doesn’t get mobile computing.

When Microsoft introduced Exchange ActiveSync with Exchange Server 2003, as a directed salvo aimed directly at RIM and Blackberry Information Server and Blackberry Enterprise Server, it did more than just hit RIM where it counted the most (in their wallet), it actually won the ecosystem war, really before it started, and didn’t know it.

Exchange ActiveSync (the PIM synching FOUNDATION of the ecosystem) did what BIS/BES did for Blackberry, it did it for all Windows Mobile based devices, and it did it for free, totally undercutting RIM’s revenue model. Today, RIM finds itself nearly unable to recover from this 8 year old wound. To add salt to it, Microsoft has licensed the basics of Exchange ActiveSync to both Apple and Google, bringing push to the iPhone and to every Android device, literally, everywhere.

As for the rest of the ecosystem – music, multimedia, ebooks, pictures etc. – Microsoft sorta had that in place with the Zune and the Zune Marketplace, but killed the Zune a couple years ago. The Zune Marketplace has struggled for any kind of identity since. Microsoft hasn’t cultivated new or tended any existing content distribution agreements that I’m aware of.

Further, Microsoft also killed Windows Mobile in favor of Windows Phone. The platform may be superior to its predecessors from a developer’s point of view, but Windows Phone has failed to gain any real traction with consumers since its introduction. While Microsoft and Nokia have partnered to introduce new hardware on MS’ updated Mango release of the platform, its largely seen as a last ditch effort to save both companies.

As far as a tablet is concerned, Microsoft just can’t seem to get past the, “put the whole OS on a mobile device” stance. No one wants a full blown version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 with its strange metro UI on a tablet. Consumers are telling manufacturers they truly want a companion device, not one device to rule them all, and Microsoft simply isn’t listening.

The best thing that Microsoft can do for itself is:

  • Ditch Windows 7/8 on a tablet and pull together a version of Windows Phone that will work on a tablet styled/sized device
  • Breathe some life into the Zune Marketplace for music, movies and TV shows. Insure that multimedia store apps are tightly integrated into Windows Phone and Windows Tablet (a working name, for lack of any other)
  • Adopt an ereader app and format as its designated platform and go with it. It doesn’t matter what format they choose, but they need to pick on and promote the hell out of it. Please don’t reinvent the wheel or try to bring back Microsoft Reader. It died a long time ago and we don’t need to splinter the ebook market any further
  • Develop Windows Live Essentials components for Windows Phone and Windows Tablet. They also need to update Windows Live Essentials for desktop Windows to include the sync support for WLE.
  • Give the sh…, uh, I mean stuff… Give the stuff away. Off branded Android tablets are doing well because they’re part of the Android ecosystem; but they’re cheap. The HP Touchpad sold well in the Fire Sale because it will make a GREAT Android tablet and again, they were cheap. Microsoft doesn’t have the luxury of brand or eliteism like Apple does. It doesn’t have the install base like Google’s Android does. It needs to get into the market and saturate it – Buy a Windows Phone, get a Windows Tablet, and vice-versa. That kind of thing. If it doesn’t do this, it may as well not even try. All they’re going to do is create a huge charge and/or write off for the company and their stockholders

Based on all of this, what should you get your loved ones for the Holidays? Come back next time, and we’ll start talking about that.

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