One of the great unanswered questions of the 21st century has to be how the great software pioneer Microsoft ended up being afflicted with the reverse Midas Touch. Like the middle aged divorced man who figures that a toupee, a gold chain necklace and a red convertible is going to appeal to all the “hot chicks,” Microsoft has been engaging in a losing battle for relevance to the young consumer to quicker, hipper companies like Google and Apple. It seems that no matter what they try to do to break into that sizzling market segment, they end up coming up a day late and a dollar short. Windows Phone is only the latest in a long line (Zune, Kin, et al.) of products that should have been competitive but turned out to be little more than gloomy fizzles.
Go Your Own Way
Windows Phone decided at the outset to take a page from Fleetwood Mac and “Go Your Own Way,” but unfortunately it was a direction that proved to be highly unpopular. Many critics regard Windows Phone 7.5 as a superior user experience than competing Android offerings, but the policies that the Redmond giant has implemented with carriers and manufacturers has made the mobile operating system as popular with them as Obama posters at Newt Gingrich’s campaign headquarters.
Few Enthusiastic Industry Partners
With Google positioning Android as the enthusiastic hub of an open source type of app and development free for all and Apple taking the opposite tack and obsessively controlling every silicon molecule in their smartphones and tablets, Microsoft’s lukewarm middle-of-the-road strategy has proved to appeal to precious few of the critical industry partners required to drive the massive marketing and retail networks required in today’s hypercompetitive mobile device world.
Past Debacles Might Be Repeated
Microsoft continues to prove itself as stubbornly inflexible with Windows Phone 7.5, sticking with a conventional (albeit outdated) 800 x 480 pixel resolution, which starts to look like the aerial view of an onion field on the larger smartphone display screens. Its leaked roadmaps show the company planning to appeal to the low-end segment, which traditionally allows for greater volumes but razor thin profit margins. With no high end approaches that would enable the company to parry on an equal footing with Droid and iPhones, Microsoft could find itself repeating the debacles of the past. There is little if any shareholder value in cranking out huge numbers of products if you’re only making a few cents on each!
Apple & Google Manufacture. Microsoft Doesn’t
One of the few lights shining through the Windows Phone gloom is the enthusiastic participation of Finnish smartphone leviathan Nokia, but not all is happyhappyjoyjoy in Espoo. The manufacturer has yet to launch a Windows Phone device in the US, and in Europe, where they are currently on sale, they haven’t exactly racked up record shattering sales levels. Apple has built its own hardware since the days of cassette boards that featured a blazing 1500 bits per second data transfer rates and, with an absorbed Motorola, Google is well on its way to controlling its own manufacturing as well. Microsoft is caught in a maze of manufacturer relationships that obviate its commanding the creation of hardware any time in the foreseeable future.
Much of Microsoft’s future in the mobile sphere is riding on a widespread adoption of the Windows 8 Metro interface, a competent OS but one that may disenchant many users due to the innate GUI quirks. Many desktop and laptop users may long cling to Windows 7 as previous users did to XP. The interface of Windows 8 is too alien to the conventional computer user: Unless you are equipped with a touch screen and are willing to keep your hand uncomfortably raised as you smear your monitor all day, Windows 8 is far too clunky, swishy and swoopy for mouse users. Microsoft continues to leave marketing observers scratching their heads as they embrace policies that shouldn’t work – and usually don’t. It’s a good lesson to online marketers everywhere to let the market lead your campaigns, not your executive office.