Now that the Microsoft Kin smartphones have been discontinued after less than two months of availability, the company’s mobile strategy is being called into question. From the beginning, most tech pundits could predict that the Kin devices didn’t have what it would take to last in today’s tech market. Not only did the phones focus on social networking-mistake No. 1-but they also delivered an experience that most consumers didn’t understand. They were simply a mess from the beginning.
But the Kin smartphones are just one small piece of Microsoft’s mobile strategy troubles. The company is undoubtedly a major player in the mobile market. But due to problems it has been experiencing with Windows Mobile, the delay of Windows Phone 7 and the fact that it has been totally incapable of stopping Apple, some might wonder exactly how Microsoft will turn things around in the increasingly hostile mobile market.
Microsoft has major issues to deal with right now, and until the company starts addressing them, its chances of competing effectively in the mobile market will be slim. Read on to find out why Microsoft’s mobile strategy is such a mess.
1. Windows Mobile
Any discussion of Microsoft’s mobile strategy must start with Windows Mobile. The software has been available for far too long. Even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that his company missed an opportunity by holding onto Windows Mobile and dragging its feet on the release of Windows Phone 7. Windows Mobile has been disastrous for Microsoft. The software is a hobbled alternative to the iPhone operating system, and isn’t doing its part to attract vendors the way Google’s Android OS has. Luckily, Windows Mobile will be replaced later in 2010 by Windows Phone 7, but until that happens, Microsoft’s mobile market share will continue to decline. And it can do nothing to stop it.
2. Where are all the smartphones?
By definition, Windows Mobile devices are smartphones. They allow users to do more than just place calls and send text messages. But let’s be honest. Just about every Windows Mobile 6.5 product on the market isn’t a smartphone at all. These phones lack a viable App Store, don’t deliver solid e-mail functions for most users, lack touch screens and are running outdated software. Today, the smartphone, thanks to Apple and Google, is a much different device than it was just a few years ago. In the average customer’s mind, today’s smartphones have elements that Windows Mobile devices just don’t. And until Windows Phone 7 comes out, that difference will only hurt Microsoft.
3. Apps are a major issue
Mobile applications continue to be a major question mark for Microsoft. According to the company, its applications store will feature tens of thousands of apps when Windows Phone 7 launches. There is just one problem: Will developers have a real desire to build apps for the platform? And will the apps be good enough that those who decide to buy a Windows Phone 7 device will actually want to use them? Applications have become a key success factor in the mobile marketplace. So far, Microsoft has said little about how its store will compete with the Apple and Google stores. But the longer it takes for Microsoft’s app store to match the competition’s, the worse it will be for Microsoft.
4. The Kin? Really?
It’s impossible not to bring up the death of the Kin One and Kin Two in a discussion about Microsoft’s awful mobile strategy. The smartphones were marketed to people who wanted a device dedicated to social networking. But as Microsoft found out six weeks too late, consumers aren’t looking for that. Several smartphones in the space feature third-party social networking applications that extend the functionality of devices that can do so much more than the Kin One and Kin Two. Why would users opt for Microsoft’s smartphones? If nothing else, Microsoft’s decision to even release the two Kin smartphones highlights how poor its mobile strategy really is.
Microsoft Gropes in Dark for Successful Mobile Strategy
5. The enterprise is important, Microsoft
Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand what it needs to do in order to be successful in today’s mobile marketplace. If this were 2005, Microsoft would be doing just fine. But in 2010, when it still has Windows Mobile on store shelves, and its upcoming smartphone operating system is focused on consumers, it seems clear that Microsoft is lost. Microsoft should remember that its enterprise customers made it rich and powerful. It needs to stick with its roots and target Windows Phone 7 to corporate customers that aren’t satisfied with the consumer focus of the iPhone. Plus, Research In Motion, the company that is dominating the corporate market right now, offers phones that are more similar to Windows Mobile devices than to iPhones, making RIM an easy target. But Microsoft doesn’t see that. With Windows Phone 7, it’s focusing on consumers. And it’s setting itself up for disappointment once again.
6. It fails to understand consumers
Furthermore, Microsoft has failed to understand consumers for years now. When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, Microsoft should have been prepared with a competing product in 2008. Three years later, it’s still trying to get that competitor to the market. Even the Kin smartphones show how far off it is with its consumer-focused strategies. Microsoft has no idea what consumers are really looking for and it proves that time and again. If it really knew, Windows Phone 7 would be out by now and Microsoft would have a clear vision.
7. Where is the monetization?
Success in the mobile marketplace goes beyond licensing a mobile operating system to vendors. As Google has shown with Android, mobile advertising could be the key to the future for providers of mobile software. That’s precisely why Google acquired AdMob and Apple has launched its iAd platform. All the while, Microsoft has done nothing. In fact, the company wasn’t even in the running to acquire AdMob when Google finally landed it. That’s a real problem. And it once again shows that Microsoft has no idea what it’s doing. Advertising’s future is in the mobile space. Apple and Google realize that. When will Microsoft finally come around?
8. Social networking and gaming aren’t everything
Exactly what Microsoft was thinking when it decided that social networking could be a key component in mobile software is anyone’s guess. The point of an app store is to allow customers to download the applications they really want. Microsoft’s job, then, is to offer the operating system and the applications people want to use on well-designed smartphones. Yet, Microsoft is throwing everything it can at consumers with Windows Phone 7. There will be a social element; they will have access to Xbox Live; and much more. It’s too much, too soon. Smartphone owners want to decide what they will use, not have programs forced upon them. It seems Microsoft has yet to realize that.
9. Its partners seem lost
Where are all the Windows Phone 7 devices that have been promised? Yes, Microsoft has said time and again it has several partners, but few of those partners have even committed to developing a smartphone running Microsoft’s mobile platform. Worst of all for Microsoft, the success of Android has caused some companies to start investing heavily in Google’s mobile operating system. That could limit their desire to develop Windows Phone 7 devices. Remember, when a company is only offering a mobile operating system, getting that software on as many products as possible is integral to the success of the OS. If Microsoft can’t attract vendors, it’s dead in the water.
10. New ideas aren’t always better ideas
In a show of innovation, Microsoft has produced an entirely new design idea for Windows Phone 7. Rather than use the familiar, gridlike format employed by Android-based devices or Apple’s iPhone, Microsoft has instead decided to make its software platform more fluid in nature. The result is a software package that breaks from convention and tries something new. But that could be a major problem. Once again, Microsoft has chosen the wrong spot to make a push. With the past four generations of devices, customers have grown accustomed to a gridlike software design on touch screens. For Microsoft, the company that has yet to break into the touch space, to change things up is a questionable move. As the company trailing the leaders, Microsoft should follow the leaders, not try to trump them with a product that will have difficulty competing.