When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced May 25 that his company was losing two executives, it sent shockwaves through the tech business. For years, J Allard and Robbie Bach have spearheaded Microsoft’s entertainment division. And they have been instrumental in making the company’s Xbox platform the success it is today.
At the same time, Bach presided over the failure of Windows Mobile. Over the past decade, he has watched as Windows Mobile has lost market share in the face of more compelling and feature-packed alternatives.
Perhaps that’s why Ballmer decided to break apart the company’s gaming and smartphone operations and make Andrew Lees, Microsoft’s chief of Mobile Communications, report directly to Ballmer.
For once, it gives Lees the ability to control the destiny of Microsoft’s smartphone operation. It also means that there is no one else at the top (aside from Ballmer) who will be able to decide what happens to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 software.
Here are some things that Lees should be doing as he prepares to take Microsoft’s mobile division into the next decade:
1. Focus on Windows Phone 7
Windows Mobile is the operating system that Microsoft would like everyone to forget. Although it did well years ago, it’s a shadow of its former self. It no longer receives the kind of respect and admiration it once did. Simply put, it’s dead. Microsoft needs to remember that. As with Windows Vista, Microsoft needs to pretend that Windows Mobile never existed. It also needs to focus all of its efforts on ensuring that consumers and enterprise customers see the value of running Windows Phone 7. There are no more “do-overs” for Microsoft. It needs to attract customers to its new mobile operating system as soon as possible.
2. Monitor Kin smartphones
Microsoft’s decision to release Kin smartphones may not have been a good move. Although the company has done its research and found that most consumers are using their smartphones to access social networks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want a device dedicated to that functionality. In fact, they might prefer a device, like the iPhone, that offers social-networking capabilities as well as everything else that they need. Realizing that, Microsoft needs to keep a watchful eye on its Kin smartphones. If they’re not selling well or they make Windows Phone 7 look bad in any way, they need to be discontinued promptly. It’s as simple as that.
3. Partner with developers-quickly
Microsoft has already said it’s planning on working with developers to bring as many applications to its app store as possible. That’s a good thing. But it needs to focus quite a bit of its efforts specifically on that endeavor. Apple currently has more than 200,000 applications in its App Store. Google, arguably Microsoft’s biggest competitor in the market, has more than 50,000 apps available. If consumers and enterprise customers find out that Windows Phone 7 only supports a few thousand apps by the time it hits store shelves, it will be real trouble for Microsoft. The more apps that showcase the value of Windows Phone 7, the greater Microsoft’s chances are of staying afloat in the mobile business.
4. Attract more vendors
When Microsoft offered up its partial list of the vendors that would be running Windows Phone 7, it was a list of the usual suspects. The same partners it has had for years will be working with its new operating system. But that doesn’t mean the company should be complacent. If Google has proven anything over the past year, it’s that having more partners typically translates into greater market share. It also means more revenue for the company offering the software. The iPhone is undoubtedly a successful device, but it comes from only one company. Microsoft can trump Apple’s device by getting its operating system running on multiple phones.
Microsoft Should Keep Its Eye on the Enterprise
5. Forget about the iPhone
Speaking of the iPhone, Microsoft needs to forget about it. Although Apple gets most of the attention and the iPhone is one of the most coveted products in the market, that should mean little to Microsoft. Microsoft’s real competitor in today’s marketplace is Google. And it’s followed by Research In Motion, thanks to that company’s strong presence in the enterprise. As in the desktop space, Microsoft needs to remember that Apple is a single provider of an operating system. It’s not following the same business model as Microsoft. Microsoft should be focusing on Google and RIM, not Apple.
6. Stay true to the enterprise
The vast majority of Microsoft’s success throughout the years can be attributed to the enterprise. By making Windows a corporate-friendly operating system that developers liked working with, the software giant ensured that it would lead the way in the enterprise for the foreseeable future. And given Microsoft’s success in that market, it makes perfect sense for the company to try and coax enterprise customers to Windows Phone 7. It might be difficult, given how entrenched RIM is in that market. However, Microsoft has the single Trojan horse that might be able to trump the BlackBerry: Windows. The enterprise is key to Microsoft’s mobile success. And it can’t forget that.
7. Remember the user above all else
Although Apple might not be Microsoft’s biggest competitor, there are still several lessons Microsoft can learn from it. For one, Apple has proven that ease of use and customer appeal are extremely important in the mobile industry. Windows Phone 7 must be an operating system that makes it easy for users to move from one application to the next. Users should also be able to easily perform tasks. If Windows Phone 7 fails in that area, Microsoft can pretty much say goodbye to its mobile division. Apple has set a new standard for software design, and Microsoft must meet or exceed that standard.
8. Be Microsoft
To some, Microsoft being Microsoft is a problem. Those folks reason that the software giant tries too often to be dominant and take control over every aspect of a market. But when it comes to business, Microsoft should be Microsoft. The company has proven time and again that it can use its size and influence to carve out significant portions of a market. In the mobile business, that could be a good thing. Microsoft should do whatever it can to stay true to what it is as a company and ensure that as time goes on, all stakeholders realize that it’s in the mobile market to win-not to take second place.
9. Get to work on frequent, meaningful updates
Microsoft is behind the curve in the mobile market. It’s now years behind Apple and Google. That means the company must get to work on several meaningful updates to Windows Phone 7 once it hits store shelves later in 2010. Out of the box, the software might come with most of the features being offered in the iPhone or Android. But until it trumps both operating systems and starts attracting customers, the company’s work just isn’t done. Microsoft is way behind right now. It can’t afford to be complacent or take a wait-and-see approach.
10. Remember that the clock is ticking
Time is not on Microsoft’s side. As Apple prepares to release the fourth generation of the iPhone and Google starts taking over the mobile business, the pressure is on Microsoft to change that. But that won’t happen unless the company has a sense of urgency. Apple and Google already know what works in today’s mobile market, and they’re doing everything they can to be successful. Microsoft isn’t. And the longer it waits to release Windows Phone 7, the worse it will be. Get to work on delivering the new mobile operating system, Microsoft. Time is running out.