I was watching the other morning the announcement by Microsoft of its new update to Windows Phone 7 called , “Mango”. On air was Windows Phone Czar, Andy Lee’s. As I listened to him fumble through a series of questions about what makes “Mango” so cool it took me back to my early years in the industry. I was listening to a program manager talk about the exciting new release of C/C++ 7.0 (put your pants back on I can tell you are getting excited already). He equated a C/C++ presentation to “watching paint dry”. I think I have made my point regarding Andy’s oratory skills. Phone’s are a sexy device so if you are going to talk about a new phone update with over 500 new features it had better have some sizzle. Why not have some dancers? Give the public some entertainment value. Make them think they are having fun! With my pontificating coming to a close, there were good things that came from this weeks announcement and a lot of things that made me worried for the future.
If you are going to pre-announce a new phone that will not be available for 6 months it had best generate some excitement, because what you are trying to do is tell the market place is, “hey wait…be patient because in 6 months we are going to have something for you that is really cool”. I don’t think that was accomplished. For starters this announcement did not have much of a whisper campaign leading up to it. I first started hearing rumblings about a week ago. In Microsoft’s defense it’s different when they leak to the press and Apple leaks to the press about a new iPhone, the market dictates and right now in terms of market share Apple is grossly superior. There was a time in Windows 95 days that Microsoft was the king of the whisper campaign. But to generate such a campaign there needs to be something in the new product to get people excited. I heard a lot of feature discussions but nothing I would deem break through. Maybe it’s just me but I do like the name”Mango”.
Second competing on features is a zero sum game. There are so many mobile apps available in the market place today and your phone form factors are pretty well-defined, that there is not a lot of wiggle room to create the game changing feature that will change how people use their mobile phones. The real game changer these days is to change the user experience, which Mango sounds like it is trying to do (or at least market), but it will not happen until the release in fall, just in time for the holidays. The end users will decide. However between now and then a whole host of new features will be provided across multiple devices. Thus cluttering the market place even more.
Partnerships can be a blessing and a burden. The partnership with Nokia has a lot of great potential. Nokia has invested heavily in emerging markets such as China and India. Two countries with huge upside. The downside is the company recently received an internal memo from CEO Stephen Elop that Nokia is a “burning platform”. Not the kind of motivational speech I am sure Nokia employees were hoping for. A huge part of Mango’s success or failure will hinge on Nokia. A company that is desperate and making its last stand. That is not the ideal place to be if you are trying to recapture past glory, but due to a series of missteps Nokia and Microsoft find themselves on the same boat trying to plug the same hole before the ship slips below the surface seeking the depths of the abyss.
Microsoft, despite all the brain drain that has occurred, still have a lot of people who care deeply about the ability of the Windows Phone business to succeed. Despite Andy Lee’s monotone delivery style he has a brilliant and successful track record at Microsoft, he is not a dumb guy by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes a legacy of success can lead you down a road of false belief. The Microsoft mobile group was on a path to success and just got side swiped by Apple, who had a grander vision for mobility. But maybe that’s the point..it’s about mobility and not the phone. As long as the game is about developing the next great phone, than an opportunity is lost as easily as it is gained.
Now it’s about sustainment for the next 6 months as Microsoft will need to keep the name “Mango” on people’s lips. There will be significant hurdles as between now and then there will be updates from Android, called “Honeycomb” and the release of the iPbone 5. It will be imperative to continue to re-iterate the new features coming in “Mango” and get people to wait. But Microsoft is a big company with a lot of different big initiatives and what is hot one day and considered a company directive is gone the next as XBOX, Bing, Office, Windows all vie for the publics attention and affection. That to me is the big question over the coming months leading up the official launch. Can Microsoft maintain the initial momentum garnered from this weeks big press release in New York, can a whisper campaign be sustained end elevated. Whispers can grow to a Lions roar, causing excitement, angst, a multitude of emotions or they can just blow away silently with the wind, all but forgotten.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 26, 2011