Monday, November 12, 2012

Windows Phone 8: A Dire Prediction

Windows Phone 8 just isn't going to be enough.  Paul Thurrott is starting to see it and so am I.  In a recent article, Paul said he had a "nagging feeling" that Window Phone OS was just not going to take off.  He's right about that and I'll explain why.

First, let me explain that while this is just my opinion, I think it is a very well informed opinion.  I am a geek, nerd, and self-proclaimed mobile-phone enthusiast.  Over the past 3 years I've carried a Samsung Focus, IPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S2 (with about a dozen roms installed) and recently a Lumia 920.  I've benchmarked them, tested them, setup use cases for them, and written about them.  I read dozens of mobile blogs.  I'm not a fan boy of any single platform although I do want WP8 to succeed just for competitions sake.

I realized that WP8 was in trouble yesterday when I went to my local Best Buy store.  I strolled through the mobile phone center where there were dozens of people looking at phones, standing in line, and upgrading their lines.  I heard several people utter the words "GS3"  or "iphone".  I then went by the AT&T cabinet only to find that the Lumia 920 was not on display at all.  They had some in the drawer but the 900 was on display.  No Windows Phone signage at all.  None.  There were big displays advertising the GS3 that was released over 6 months ago but not a single sign for the 920 released just the day before.

I showed my wife the 920 and she liked the look and how photos were well integrated.  Overall she was impressed and I seemed to be well on the way to making her a convert.  Then I mentioned the lack of apps. No instagram, no pinterest, no bingo bash, no redbox, no mint, no pandora (yet).  Her response was swift.  Oh, that will never work.  So it looks like she might be getting a GS3 on black friday.  And I might be with her.

Windows Phone is a very creative attempt at a new OS so Microsoft deserves credit for that but Microsoft is fighting a battle I don't think it can win.  Phone sales are made in only two ways: by brand or by price/availability.  Apple has the brand people sewed up.  That leaves the price/availability crowd and Android has a strangle hold on them.  Walk into a Walmart, Best Buy, or Radio Shack and check it out.  All Android.  There will be a single IPhone display (they don't need any more than that) and may be a single Windows phone display or Blackberry display but the rest will be Android.  And many of those devices will be free or $1 or $.01.  These are the phones that people buy because they are cheap and because they come in all shapes and sizes: physical keyboards, small screens, large screens, on screen buttons, hardware buttons, etc.  The only way to get a large group of these buyers is to be on the shelves.

The only way for Microsoft to get significant shelf space is to (1) make it more expensive for OEMs to use Android and (2) give OEMs the ability to really customize WP8 at the software level.  They are working on number 1 with their patents.  Some Android makers already pay Microsoft a royalty on every device sold.  But I'm not sure about number 2.

Microsoft, in their attempt to control the experience and preserve battery life, has so limited what is possible on their handset that I can't see OEMs being interested long term. This would have been ok several years ago when our expectations were lower but we've seen the other side and we don't want to go back.

Just look at some of the customizations that Samsung was able to create for the Galaxy S3.  Voice control of camera, music app, and more all without some special keyword.  Just say  louder and the music app gets louder.  Just say snooze and the alarm will snooze.  I don't think that's even possible on WP8 today.  What about a geo-reminder service?  Not possible in all cases as WP8 only allows a single location tracking app at a time.  What about turning the phone over to mute it?  Possible?  I doubt it.  What about scheduling an app to run at a specific time?  Don't think it's possible either.  This is not to praise the GS3 or Android.  I am just pointing out that for Microsoft to succeed they need to target Android and to do that successfully they really needed to open up WP8 and make it possible to develop very cool experiences.  Sadly, they haven't done that.

They will get some big time apps ported to WP8. I suspect Microsoft is paying for much of this in the same way that Nokia is paying for free versions of Words with Friends and Draw Something.  Meanwhile Android continues to improve its UI, Google Now is already better than Siri in many ways and getting better with every iteration, and as more and more apps moves to GCM, the battery life story on Android will get better and better.

It's a real shame because I like Windows Phone 8 and want it to succeed but on it's current trajectory, I just don't see that happening.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What WP8 Needs To Do

I recently read a good post from Phil Lozen on why Windows Phone really should be targeting Android and not the iPhone.   You can find that article here.  I basically agree with the assessment but it's so important to outline the areas where Windows Phone 8 really needs to improve to succeed.

Distribution of Inexpensive Phones

Any trip to your local Best Buy, Radio Shack, or Wal-Mart will show you a long line of inexpensive Android phones.  On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I saw 8 phones ranging in price from free to $149.  No Windows Phone devices at all.  Discerning buyers have already voted with their dollars but there is "another billion" users out there who are still using "feature" phones.  These customers don't really care about a nit or two of screen brightness or a ghz here or there in cpu speed.  They want a phone that will work, have decent battery life, and is *cheap*.  Nokia and HTC are off to a good start with preorders of their new devices coming in at $149 and $99 respectively.

However Microsoft has to find a way to get shelf space.  They can't supplant Android through online ordering.  Sow how do they do that?  Well, Phil outlined a strategy of tightly connecting WP8 devices to your home computer running Windows 7 or 8.  This should be combined with building excitement with young people through new game experiences and XBox 360 integration.

Take Market Share From RIM

RIM is dying.  Everyone knows that the Blackberry was the traditional business phone but it is going the way of the dodo and it's market share is up for grabs.  So how does Microsoft take that market share?  First, make sure WP8 is the very best messaging platform.  Communication is the core tool for mobile professionals.  Email and SMS have to be rock solid.  Can you say auto loading of HTML messages, in-line replies, and better quoting?  Second, VPN has to be available in WP8.  Professionals simply have to be able to connect to their remote workplace.  And, finally, the battery life on these devices needs to be acceptable.  Of course, if some salesperson is watching movies on the plane then she will need to charge but under normal usage such as Office document editing, emailing, and phone calls, the phone needs to comfortably last the whole day.

Be A Platform

Android and iOS provide two opposite extremes when it comes to mobile experiences.  Android is basically the wild west where almost anything is possible but apps and experiences are connected so loosely that you have a hard time having that cohesive feeling.  The iPhone and iPad are very tightly controlled and provide a nice sandboxed environment for their users but many find it too confining.  Even iOS diehards will admit that having an iPhone means you live the Apple lifestyle.  You do it "the Apple way".

Microsoft should find  way to chart through this gap.  Users want, and need, a more tightly controlled environment to insure quality in their experience but what is the harm in allowing alternative browsers or alternative SMS apps on the platform?  I should be able to install a custom Emoji keyboard and have Emoji characters throughout the system.  In short, MS should be able to provide me some controls and barriers to protect my sandbox while still allowing developers to customize the experience through alternate applications.

They should not define the experience completely but instead define the framework for the experience. They are doing some of this through the new contracts in WP8 but we'll have to see how far that goes.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Setting It Straight

I've been pondering why this election is so divisive and filled with so much hatred.  And the more I think about it the more I think Steve Forbes had it right.  More and more people are either looking at Obama as their "savior" or as their "provider".   Some look at him as the savior of personal rights such as a woman's right to an abortion.  Other's look at him as their provider.  I actually heard one caller into a call in show say that they "were not rich but there were going to be because they had Obama".  To them Romney represents the rich white guy who for so many years was the embodiment of all that was wrong with this country.

These two candidates, as most candidates these days, are very similar in execution but very different in ideology and who you vote for is really based on what ideology to which you subscribe. Yes, they are both politicians and both have lied and will continue to lie when it suits their purpose.  To use a stupid example, how many people have started out on the TV show Survivor saying they were going to finish the game not lying to anyone?  What happened to those people?  They were stabbed in the back and voted off.  Every single time.  The one who wins is the one who lies and crafts the best support system.  It's sad but it's the way it works.

I truly believe both of these men are good men and normally would not lie to you in normal course however they are playing the game the way the game is played these days.  It's hard to blame them for actually trying to win.

Again, it comes down to what you view as the proper involvement of government in your life.

If you think government should play a large role in your life then you should vote for Obama.  If you think that America is not truly exceptional and is "just another country" then you should vote for Obama.  If you think that all good things flow from government, that we should move even more responsibilities away from the states and to the fed (even though this is unconstitutional) then you should vote for Obama.  If you think jobs are created by government or by the middle class then you should vote for Obama. If you think $8 gas (you do know his Sec of Energy called for this right?) would help the middle class, then you should vote for Obama.  If you think the fed has to be involved in some way to things done (I really like the comments on twitter about Romney wanting to do away with culture because he wants to end the PBS subsidy) then you should vote for Obama.  If you believe that we need to keep talking about racial divides and racial inequality then you need to vote for Obama.  If you think there is no problem continuing to borrow money to run our country then you should vote for Obama.

If, on the other hand, you think, like our founding fathers, that while some level of government is necessary, it is a necessary evil and that our government at all levels needs to work very, very hard to get out of the way, then you should vote for Romney.  If you believe that more of your tax money should go to your state and local governments instead of to the fed then you should vote for Romney.  If you believe that fair and free open markets will always produce better products then you should vote for Romney.  If you believe that while we have not always agreed, Israel is one of our strongest allies and that we need to have their back in the middle East then you need to vote for Romney.  If you think the president is elected to meet with state leaders and not  parade around on The View or Letterman, then you should vote for Romney.  If you think that a regulated and properly controlled capitalistic society is superior (I know China does!) to communism, fascism, and statism then you should vote for Romney.  If you think that the best way to show racial equality is to stop acting like there is racial inequality and just treat everyone equally (no affirmative action, no quotas) then you should vote for Romney.  If you think that we really do need to start getting serious about balancing the federal budget (Clinton thought it was important!) then you should vote for Romney.

In any case, please vote this November.  It is your duty and it looks like both candidates will need all the votes they can get.