Microsoft’s long awaited announcement of its mobile strategy at the Mobile World Congress this week did not disappoint. There is no shortage of commentary on it but i will reserve my opinion until I see what is announced at MIX10 in a couple of weeks. MIX is one of Microsoft’s development conferences, focused on web and customer experience scenarios. Many of the unanswered questions about Windows Phone 7 will be addressed at MIX. But I do have some observations and expectations:
The biggest positive sign that i saw is that Microsoft is thus far not copying apple. It is making use of the UI from the Zune, which is itself related to and an evolution of Media Center (its PC media hidden jewel) and the Portable Media Center (a long defunct early media player effort the company had before the Zune). The PMC was ahead of its time, delivering video back when Steve Jobs was saying nobody would ever want video on an iPod. Obviously the company did not execute well. The UI of these devices, still recognizable in today’s Zune HD, is excellent.
It also is not following Apple’s model to build and control everything. Rumors of a phone codenamed "Pink" still abound but if and when we see it, I expect it to be a one-off thing, not the main strategy. Microsoft, like Google, will rely on OEMs. However it will try to instill just enough control to avoid fragmentation, without the tight stranglehold of Apple. It worked in PCs and while the mobile world is not exactly the same, there are similarities. (After all, mobile aficionados often touting the devices as handheld computers…) The biggest difference though is the existence of Google and there is no doubt it will be aggressive with the web. Can Microsoft be the ‘just right’ in between too closed and too open?
The other positive sign is the beginning of integration of the capabilities of the device with the company’s other consumer media offerings including the very successful Xbox live and the not as successful but interesting Zune subscription model. further integration with windows live id, office web apps and other cloud services is also likely. so instead of a ‘Zune phone’, they will have Zune, Xbox, etc. on Windows phones.That’s a good thing.
So at MIX, i will be looking for the following, besides the obvious question about what the developer story is for WP7.
- How much focus on the web. How good is the browser, How much will it support leading edge capabilities in HTML5? What version
of IE will it be based on? In a world today focused on native mobile apps, it would be easy to ignore the browser but that would
be very shortsighted as 5 years from now, i expect to see the majority of mobile "apps" be web apps, not native. Not that
native won’t matter, but it won’t be the obsession it is today. Native apps matter a lot in mobile today, but will matter less in the future.
- The role of Silverlight. Most expect that Silverlight will be part of the development story. But there are many different ways in
how this could happen. SL can run in the browser or it could be the basis for a complete set of APIs that are separate from
what can run in the browser, or it could be a very well designed compatible offering that could span both. If Microsoft chooses to
go with a native app dominated strategy without a strong browser and SL/browser story, they will be competing against Apple where Apple is coming from many years’ head start and a strong browser story (You may remember that Apple started the iphone with a web only development strategy that is still a part of the offering although eclipsed by app-mania now). SL could be a great bridge between native and web and even a cross platform play, if done right.
- The desktop play. It’s no secret that Microsoft has been challenged to demonstrate compelling desktop capabilities as the web becomes more and more powerful. The few examples of elegant and powerful apps on the desktop such as the Zune software and media center have potential to become much more than they are today.
- and last but not least, content. Thus far the company has let Apple be the leader in cutting groundbreaking deals with content providers. If Microsoft is serious here, an aggressive content strategy, possibly upending DRM as we know it, would be something very interesting.
I’m not saying that i expect all these things, just that i am looking for them.
What will you be looking for at MIX to fill out the mobile strategy?