The One Sentence Ballmer Keeps Saying that Might Be the Difference between Windows Phone 8 Success and Failure
As always, let’s start with a short story. Yesterday, I spent the entire day at Microsoft events. The morning hours were spent at the largest tech event I have ever attended in Israel. The Windows 8 launch, for which Ballmer flew out, making Israel the first country outside of the US in which Ballmer launched the new platform.
The afternoon was spent at an event thrown my Microsoft R&D in which local startups displayed their innovation, as well as another keynote speech by Ballmer.
Clearly, the man had a lot to say about Windows 8 but to be quite honest, most of it was marketing mumbo jumbo. “A revolutionary new platform”, “Our biggest move as a business since Windows 95”, and “The most elegant mobile UI on the market”. Great.
Except, in my opinion, this launch is different (Yes, I know many claimed Windows Phone 7 was different too, but this is really different.)
There was one sentence Ballmer repeated many times throughout the day that got me thinking, I won’t leave you in suspense any longer (although, the temptation is there). That sentence was “We are all in on Windows 8”.
That is the difference, in my opinion, that will help Windows 8 achieve what Windows Phone 7 before it, and Windows Mobile before that, did not achieve in the mobile space.
If you have been paying attention to Microsoft and its recent mobile shenanigans, you might have noticed a pattern. Yes, Windows Phone 7 was a whole lot nicer than its predecessor Windows Mobile, there is absolutely no doubt about that. But was Windows Phone 7 ever really expected to achieve success and go head to head with iOS and Android? Not a freakin chance. It was half baked at launch and remained that way till its death (I am calling the fact that Windows Phone 7 devices are not getting updated to Windows Phone 8, the death of the Windows Phone 7 fantasy.)
Putting aside the fact that Microsoft and its partner Nokia did not invest the money or effort for Windows Phone 7 to reach mass market, the OS itself was always half baked. The ecosystem was non existent, and most importantly, putting aside a new design, there was nothing fundamentally different about Windows Phone 7. It was just another pretty mobile platform.
Windows 8, which Windows Phone 8 is now a part of, on the other hand, is a clear shift in Microsoft’s direction. No longer just a computer software company. In fact, no longer just a software company. Windows 8 and its core principles can be summed up in two words: “Deep integration.” Phone, tablet, PC? Doesn’t matter. Xbox, Office, Skydrive? It’s all there.
If Ballmer is telling the truth, Microsoft is looking at Windows 8 as the ultimate fight to the death. There is no half way with Windows 8. Microsoft is all in on Windows 8 because it knows quite well that it has to be.
This will be the first finished product the company has produced in the mobile space since, well forever.
The point is, it’s true that the Surface reviews, at least many of them, claim that the device is indeed a tablet and a laptop, but that it is mediocre at both, instead of excelling at one. That sounds a whole lot like previous mobile products from Microsoft.
But then you see how much Microsoft is investing in Windows 8 marketing ($1.5 billion) and hear Ballmer say things like “we are all in” and you begin to understand that Microsoft itself views previous attempts at the mobile space as stepping stones and Windows 8 as the finale.
I personally held over 20 of the most beautiful computing devices I have seen in a very long time and they were all running Windows 8. Whether it is the surface by Microsoft itself, some hybrid tablets by Samsung or Asus, or some highly competitive mobile phones like the HTC 8x or the Lumia 920.
After spending some one on one time with these computing beasts, the conclusion is pretty clear. Microsoft is not going after some loyal fanboys that daydream about Excel scripts. They are, as Ballmer kept saying, going all in and using all the ammunition they built up over the years.
That includes their partnerships in the hardware world, their know-how in the software development world, and yes, the icing on the cake, Microsoft is definitely pulling out all the stops in getting developers on board of this new platform.
So while right now, no geek in their right mind would use a platform without Instagram and a decent Twitter app, I would be willing to bet that Microsoft has the ecosystem, led by apps, as their top priority right now.
At least, I hope that is the case because if it’s not, Microsoft surely understands that the market today is way too competitive to give them another chance.
The bottom line is this. If Microsoft is indeed all in, Windows 8, combined with the company’s tremendous developer ecosystem, and deep integration with their suite of services has the potential (I say potential because a lot has to happen first.) to not only compete with iOS and Android but actually surpass them in the coming years.