Monday, July 05, 2010

Microsoft: a mobile story

When I started Funambol, Microsoft was the dominant force in IT. I was early, as usual, and everyone told me: "Wait until Microsoft gets in. They will wipe out this market as they have done with every other market". I had my doubts, the big one linked to open source in mobile. I was convinced it was the only way to go, and - if that was going to happen - Microsoft in mobile would be screwed.

Fast forward to today. Microsoft launched the Kin devices and killed them after 48 days. A world record. An astonishing acceptance of failure. Nonetheless, a huge failure.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying that the reason is Verizon charging too much for the data plan. I agree. I put it in writing the day they launched the Kin: "it is not going to make it, the data plan is too expensive. If you are targeting rich kids, they will get an iPhone instead". I was right. You were right. However, there is more.

It has to do with Microsoft and their story in mobile. Let's compare them with Google.

Google bought a potentially great company called Android in 2005 (for little money, I believe). The founder, Andy Rubin, was previously a founder and CEO of Danger. Google turned Android to open source and they are the fastest growing OS in mobile, a force to be reckon with. And not only on mobile devices, we are talking connected devices here, the future of information technology (tablets, pads, cars, TVs, alarm clocks, picture frames, microwaves...). They have a chance to dominate this space, one Apple will never be able to conquer (although they will still make a ton of money with their vertical solutions).

Microsoft bought a great company called Danger in 2008 for $500M (ehm, yes, the same company). A company that had a very good product in the Sidekick and demonstrated its success. They were early in the market but had a very loyal fan base. A little jewel of a company, full of smart people. It led to the Kin... No changes, no open source, same old Microsoft story. The Kin is now dead, making the entire investment worth zero (they are folding the former Danger into Windows Mobile -> good luck with that ;-)

See the difference? Yep, me too.

It is not all open source, obviously. There is more to that. But I am convinced of a couple of things: if you want other companies to manufacture devices with your OS (the Windows mobile vs. the Apple model) today you need:
  1. to charge zero dollars for your OS
  2. to make your OS open source and allow your ODMs some freedom to differentiate
  3. to have a cool OS
Microsoft is not doing #1 (although they could and should, in my opinion) and are ages away from #2 (although everyone else, including Nokia and Intel with Meego, are doing it). They are focusing on #3 and I believe they could make it there (actually, they did it: the Kin had a cool OS :-)

Bottom line: if you keep hitting your head against the wall, maybe you will understand it just hurts, eventually. I do not think the Kin failure is hurting them enough. I do not think the Windows Mobile 1-6 hurt them enough. I guess we will need the Windows Mobile 7 failure to convince them. But the risk is that it will be too late.