If you’re searching for something that embodies the difference in how Microsoft and Apple view product secrecy, look no further than this engaging piece from CNET which goes behind the scenes with the Windows Phone 7 development team to assess the progress of their efforts to reclaim a glimmer of relevancy in the smartphone market are going.
Leading the development charge is Terry Myerson, and as dedicated as he and his team might be, describing Microsoft’s task at hand as an uphill battle would be an understatement.
The launch of the new phones is critical for Microsoft, which is trying to play catch-up with Apple and Google. Despite having been in the phone business far longer than either of those two rivals, complacency, lack of focus, and bad bets have left Microsoft an afterthought in the cell phone business. It now has just a single-digit percentage market share among smartphone operating systems, trailing Symbian, RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, and Google’s Android, according to Gartner. Windows Phone 7 is the big bet to reverse years of decline, assuming it’s not too late.
Myerson took on his role as the head of Windows Phone 7 development back in October 2008, and he has no illusions about the challenges facing Microsoft. To his credit, he views the upcoming Windows Phone 7 launch as the beginning of an entirely new product, and that catching up to Apple and Google, if possible, will be a multi-year effort. Anyone hoping for a quick and magical fix is bound to be disappointed, but Myersons remains confident that Microsoft’s efforts will be appreciated. “We’ve got a good product,” Myerson says, ” I actually do believe that. I think we are going to actually have a lot of happy customers.”
In an about face for Microsoft, Myerson and his team aren’t loading up on a laundry list of features as previous Windows Mobile teams chose to do. Rather, Myerson is borrowing a page from Apple’s playbook and is focusing on doing certain tasks really well instead of releasing a product that’s just okay at doing everything. For example, cut and paste is one feature that Windows Phone 7 won’t support immediately upon release because there are more important and pressing features Microsoft has to address.
Sounds good, but then things take a weird and unexpected turn.
At least this day no one was stuck in a Bozo costume. After one reporter wrote an article saying that Microsoft should just hire Bozo the clown to run Windows Mobile, Myerson took to wearing a clown costume to meetings. For a while, the mobile group had a running joke: Screw up, and you have to put on the Bozo suit.
“We’ve had a few clown suit wearings,” Myerson said. At various times, Myerson has donned a Braveheart costume, brought in cheerleaders, and ridden around on a horse. Fortunately, these days, the clown suit hangs on the wall…
Say what?! I guess we can chalk that up to working hella long hours.
In any event, while you have to respect the hardwork and dedication put in by Microsoft’s team, we just get a feeling that they simply don’t “get it.” To wit, here are the features Microsoft is banking on in Windows Phone 7.
Despite its long and winding road to fruition, Windows Phone 7 has a chance, Myerson says with a quiet conviction that sounds more like an engineer sure of his work than a salesman looking to close the deal. Myerson is convinced that Microsoft can get back in the game if Windows Phone 7 really nails the set of things that it does tackle–merging personal and work contacts, integrating Xbox Live games and Zune music and video, including mobile versions of Office and aiming to bring together photos from various social networks.
And therein lies the problem. Microsoft is trying to leverage its success from other mediums into its next-gen mobile OS, but that seems like an ill-conceived solution. Xbox Live integration? Mobile versions of Office? Those aren’t reasons why the masses purchase smartphones, and while Zune music and video is nice, it’s really nothing to write home about. Merging contact info and photos across various social networks? That might be cool, but again, it’s sort of a B- feature when Microsoft really needs an A+ homerun.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. The question, come this holiday season, is if Microsoft can stand back up.