Monday, September 28, 2009

Microsoft will build a smartphone

I have been thinking about Microsoft in mobile for a few days, trying to guess what I would do, if I were Ballmer.

Quick look at the state of Microsoft in mobile: first, they have the Zune, an mp3 player of dubious success (because I am in a good mood); second, they have Windows Mobile, an operating system of lagging success (see, I am in a good mood!).

Now, any news on Windows Mobile lately? Lots. First of all, Palm dropped support for it in favor of WebOS (not a surprise). Then Motorola did the same in favor of Android (well, not a surprise to me, but it must be sad for Microsoft). HTC, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson all said they will have Android devices. It does not mean they are gone, but they are close.

To put it in a different way: everyone is abandoning the ship.

Any good news? The Nokia new netbook runs Windows 7 (which is still not Windows Mobile...). That took me by surprise. It is good news, but not in the smartphone business, where the growth is. And I am ready to bet that Nokia is doing just a test, ready to jump to a different platform (Maemo) as soon as it is ready for prime time on the netbooks as well (it is ready for smartphones today).

Ok, you can bet your house on Windows 7 (the "good one"), but would it be sufficient to turn the boat around? Will all the device manufacturers change their mind and rush back to Microsoft. And why?

No, I mean, why? The open source OSs out there are free. Microsoft charges $$ for it. The other OSs support the Office docs and have ActiveSync for Exchange. Why does a device manufacturer need to go back to Windows? Why?

Exactly: they won't.

So, what are the options, if you are Ballmer:
  1. open source Windows 7 (yeah, right)
  2. build your own smartphone
I just do not see #1 happening soon, although it might one day (I am an optimist). Even if they do it today, they are late. Therefore, I am left with #2.

Microsoft will build a smartphone. A Zune smartphone. Definitely with a different brand, because Zune does not score too high with consumers... They are a HW company, whatever you think. They have been successful - at least - with the XBox. And they must have bought Danger for something... Once again, the device(s) will be designed in Silicon Valley, which is now the center of mobile (as odd as it seems for those that have lived here for a few years).

Will they succeed? Windows 7 better be really good, because they are way behind. Honestly, looking at their history in mobile and the market development, I would not bet on them. But what do I know? I am an open source guy and Ballmer once said Linux was a cancer ;-)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The world keeps diverging

Tomorrow is the day Apple will not introduce the iPad (or so I believe). They will reshuffle the iPod lineup adding a bunch of cameras here and there, and probably killing the iPod Classic forever, in exchange for an additional focus on the iPod Touch (which sold well, and it was a surprise for many). Apple has an advantage on pushing the Touch because it uses the App Store, which attracts developers: I even heard one say "we have to keep our app on version 2 of the iPhone OS because many Touch users do not upgrade the OS"...

So... tomorrow won't be the day of even more divergence. We'll have to wait a few more months. But it will happen. Apple will come out with an ebook reader one day, adding one more device in my pocket.

If you read this blog, you know I am not a fan of convergence. I never believed in the ├╝berdevice that does everything for me. I believe in many specialized devices that do one thing and one thing well. Not one that does many things and all badly.

For me, it goes down to usability. It is a science of no compromises. If you have to compromise, your user experience will suck.

If you force me to watch a movie on a small screen, I will do it in an emergency. At the end of the emergency, I will sit on my couch and watch something else happily on a big screen (ever noticed the TV screen size is getting bigger and bigger and the quality higher and higher? How do you match it on a small screen??).

If you force me to type a long document on a touch screen without a keyboard, I will try to do it in an emergency. However, I will probably give up before the emergency is over, put the ideas on a piece of paper and type them back later on a keyboard...

Input and output are key. If the screen is small, many things do not make sense. If there is no keyboard or I need a pen, many things do not make sense.

I want a special device in my car for navigation. My phone won't do it (sorry N├╝vifone). Yes, it might work, but the screen is small (I just came back from South Korea, where they have huge car navigator screens). And it is multipurpose. And the GPS is not that good. And ... and ... and.

Bottom line: give me one good device for what I need. Make it cheap. Make it interact with the others: this is key, few have made it happen. I want my data to be unique and be synced on all devices freely. Do not lock me, make me shake my iPhone when I get in the office to pass the call to my landline phone. Or to the TV when I am close and watching a movie on the device, so I can sit on the couch and watch it on a big screen. Make all this transparent and you got me.

There is one joke I always tell about convergence. I carry two devices in my pocket every day: my wallet and my keys. They haven't converged yet. There is a reason.

Hey, that does not mean they won't converge. A world without cash is nice, and maybe with NFC (near field communication) my mobile phone will eventually substitute my credit card. And my door will open just waving my phone. So I will be down to one device. It makes sense, because the input and output will change, and there is no need for a big screen or a big keyboard. See, I am all for convergence, when it makes sense.

Another complaint I hear all the time: "I do not want ANOTHER device. I cannot carry one more. I already have my phone and my laptop with me, there is no room for an eBook reader!". I say BS (pardon my French). Look in my bag when I leave for a flight. You find my mobile phone, my laptop, two books and a newspaper. The two books weigh way more than one eBook. And the newspaper takes a lot of room and spreads its dirty ink around. If you can carry a book in your bag, you have room for an eBook reader. And if you want to read your book on your phone, be my guest ;-)

I love divergence. One device for all (things I do).