Microsoft should abort Windows Phone
I use Apple Maps on my iPhone. Like tens of millions of other users, at least. Despite what you’ve heard, it does not suck. In fact, for me, Apple Maps is far better than previous versions of Google Maps on iPhone. It loads faster, looks better and gives me turn-by-turn navigation (in the US). I suspect that for most people, however, Google Maps on an Android is superior to Apple Maps on an iPhone, for now. The battle between Apple and Google for the future of personal computing is by no means over. Small wonder, then, that the two giant combatants do whatever they can to undermine the other.
Google wants to record and sell all my personal information, even the data captured from Apple’s platform. Android handset makers seem intent to copy everything Apple does. Apple wants to kill off Android, whether by patent wars, copyright or other means. The dogs of war have been unleashed. The smartphone wars are go! Apple and Google are worthy combatants. For Microsoft, however, I think their platform, Windows Phone (8), is destined for a fate similar to Palm – oblivion.
The market has spoken, over and over again, The market wants app phones, not tiles. The market wants iPhone and Android, not Windows Phone, not Lumia. Android is the smartphone market share leader, iPhone is the profit leader. Microsoft remains an also-ran, with a global smartphone install base of approximately 2%, less than Samsung’s own Bada OS. The future is not bright. Even sales of the Windows Phone flagship, Nokia Lumia, have fallen quarter-over-quarter.
While this may be due to buyers holding off on Windows Phone 7 until Windows Phone 8 handsets appear in large numbers, the overwhelming reality suggests that, unlike the PC wars, where one platform – Windows – dominated, the smartphone wars will sustain two separate platforms. Only two, Android and iOS; these are your winners. Microsoft’s alternative platform is simply not needed and almost no one wants it. Indeed, things have gotten so bad for Windows Phone that there is a good chance that Microsoft will offer its own “Surface Phone” using WP8. This, also, will fail.
Microsoft should abort the Windows Phone platform. – now. There is a better path. Microsoft must abandon the very notion of controlling (a) platform. Concentrate instead on making the very best software (and apps) for the dominant personal computing platforms on the market. Make no mistake, smartphones are personal computers and Android and iOS are the dominant platforms. This will continue probably through this decade, at least. Instead of a computer on every desktop, we will have a computer in every hand. Instead of a billion PCs, we will have at least 2 billion smartphones, probably by 2016, maybe sooner. Then three billion, then four billion…
Microsoft still offers the best “office” applications. They still make a solid web browser. They have excellent email and calendaring programs. They build leading software for every business, for very large businesses, for government and for consumers. They could have the leading applications – software – on both iOS and Android.
Focusing on building a new platform, one that cuts across PCs, which are dying, and tablets, a market owned by Apple, and smartphones, which have now solidified around iOS and Android, is a strategy doomed to failure. Microsoft’s future is in user software, not in controlling the underlying operating system. The world went mobile, quickly, and Microsoft simply missed the revolution. Chasing Apple, by building their own devices, offering music and movie services, and constructing copycat stores is a dead end. Hoping they can magically catch up to the massive (and growing) Android install base is a fool’s errand. This will not happen.
For a generation, Microsoft has controlled the personal computer. Their Windows install base rose to just over one billion units. It is a different world now. Android and iOS are already approaching that magical billion install number, perhaps they’ve already surpassed it. We are in the midst of a personal computing revolution. The extant Windows install base has no bearing on the future. Having a Windows PC in no way will help Microsoft sell appreciable numbers of Windows tablets or smartphones, if any.
But software for others, for iOS and Android, is a very real opportunity. Already, several analysts have suggested Microsoft will offer Office for both iOS and Android sometime in 2013. I would like Outlook on my iPhone and the very best Skype experience. With smartphones leading the BYOD revolution at work, the integration of work and consumer applications will be huge. This is Microsoft’s opportunity.
But will this opportunity be big enough?
I think this question misses the point. There simply may be no other realistic future for Microsoft. Apple has already sold about 100 million iPads. Apple offers its integrated iPad iWork suite for $30. For years, Microsoft has been able to charge well over $100 for the PC version, and often much more. They will not have such price making power in the future. Still, they will have the opportunity to make more software and put that on more devices. Instead of 1 billion PCs, we will have billions and billions of smartphones and tablets. Only, instead of Windows – any flavor — almost certainly these will be using iOS or Android.
The platform war, from Microsoft’s perspective, is over. Yes, milk the aging PC base as long as they can. But Microsoft must look to the future. The future simply will not come with devices that are dependent upon Microsoft. That was last century’s war. Microsoft was the personal computing champion of the twentieth century, not the twenty-first. Spending precious time, resources and management focus on futile efforts to re-establish personal computing platform dominance is a non-starter. Microsoft has already lost.
But they can do so much. Who has more software experience in the enterprise, the small business, the household, than Microsoft? Such efforts can also bring focus to the company. Consider Windows, Surface, Windows RT, Windows Phone, Xbox, Windows Media, Xbox Music, Microsoft, Office, Skype, Zune. The company has become lost. Where Steve Ballmer sees cohesion the market senses confusion. All the work to hold onto a dying PC platform and create new platforms has made them ineffectual everywhere. No tablet sales, no smartphone sales to speak of, and Apple’s Mac OS whipping Windows quarter after quarter, year after year, in growth.
Yet imagine Skype on 500 million smartphones. That will not happen unless Microsoft works hard to optimize it for iOS and Android. Same with Office. Same even with Xbox Live, for example. Apple and Google have both shown that if you compete directly with them, with their smartphone platforms, they will do whatever they can to cap you at the knees. Is it possible that Microsoft, once so feared, once the company that stopped others from having a key role on its platform, could soon become the ‘neutral’ provider of the best applications on the best devices? Yes, but not if they continue work on a competing smartphone OS that will – trust me – never amount to anything.
Do not be fooled. Do not think that Microsoft – finally – has all the pieces in place. This is a delusion. Microsoft spent ten years allowing others, primarily Apple and Google, dominate digital media, the cloud, smartphones, tablets. Microsoft will not catch up. But they can change, they can go ‘back to the future’. They can once again become a great software company. PCs will never again be the dominant platform. Microsoft will never again control the primary personal computing OS. Never. But more than ever, the world needs great software.