Daniel Eran Dilger
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Windows Phone Crisis: how Dell can make things even worse for WP7

Daniel Eran Dilger

Microsoft is spending big money promoting Windows Phone 7, but it takes more than an ad budget to prod consumers into buying a sophisticated product. Just ask Vista, or Zune, or Bing, or KIN. On the other hand, its partner Dell is doing something even more terrible to WP7: blindly adopting it wholesale. Oh the humanity.
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While Microsoft has experienced a decade of back-to-back failures, Windows Phone 7 is unique in that a) it is not new (it’s the recycled version of the failed Windows Mobile platform), and b) that it benefits very little from any sort of monopoly tie to either Windows or Office.

Microsoft can’t just blow out ads intended to slow the defection rate, as there’s not really anyone left inside the burning building of Windows Mobile to convince not to flee. But it also can’t advertise reasons why Windows users would want a WP7 phone, or for that matter Office users, for whom WP7 is now more incompatible than ever.

Sometimes your biggest fans are your worst enemies. Before looking at how Dell is causing problems for WP7, consider the Windows Enthusiasts.

Panning for gold nuggets (of corn in poo creek)

Looking for some sort of good news to report about WP7, Ben Lorica of O’Reilly published a comparison of the Windows Phone software market and Apple’s iOS App Store.

The main problem, he discovered too late, was that his data was based on the existing “Windows Marketplace for Mobile,” Microsoft’s abortive software store for Windows Mobile 6.x, not the incompatible new Windows Phone app store, which doesn’t really exist yet.

Software for previous versions of Windows Mobile is mostly written using old Win32 APIs and is pen-based, while WP7 starts over from scratch using Silverlight development, and employing an iPhone-like touch interface. The old app store is completely worthless to WP7 users (and developers, and Microsoft itself, and for pro-WP7 propaganda purposes). How embarrassing.

After discovering his error, Lorica tried to paint his figures as somehow indicative of how the iPhone might stack up against WP7 apps, once they arrive. His key data point, reflected in the title, was that WP7 apps might cost significantly more than App Store apps. “Welcome news for the many developers gearing up to produce apps for Windows Phone 7!” he wrote.

Apparently this would be good news because they might make more money, despite having zero installed base. Of course, that didn’t really work out for Windows Mobile now, did it? The O’Reilly article is kind of like examining the Titanic ruins to describe why transatlantic airline passengers might be convinced to ride a boat instead, the next time they need to travel.

Windows Phone apps are more expensive than iPhone apps – O’Reilly Radar

And then things went bad

If only there was a glimmer of hope for WP7 apps. In reality, there is one App Store, run by Apple. In a distant second place is Google’s Android store, a loose collection of second rate placeholders thrown up by hobbyist developers who program for ideology, not money. Most of these apps are wallpapers and ringtones.

In a very distant third place, reminiscent of the dust cloud that followed around Charles Schulz’s Pig-Pen, is everyone else, including RIM’s attempt to leverage its slipping corporate edge, Symbian’s efforts to play off being the largest platform globally, haphazard efforts by JavaME and BREW, and of course, Microsoft’s most spectacular failure in software ever: WiMo-WP7.

Imagine failure like you never have before

To get an idea of how badly Microsoft is currently positioned, imagine if Apple had completely failed to launch the iPad; pretend that it actually suffered from all those problems the pundits had suggested and nobody bought it because it couldn’t play Flash Farmville, or because it didn’t have a removable battery, or a camera, or wasn’t running a windowing operating system designed for desktop computers.

Imagine the App Store didn’t immediately spawn 30,000 iPad apps, and Apple was forced to rush a replacement product into the market. Let’s pretend the iPad was replaced with the MacBook Air, but that Apple decided to start over from scratch with zero installed base to work from, and so it launched the Air with a crippled OS that couldn’t run Mac apps, couldn’t run iOS apps, and instead ran a proprietary version of Flash that wasn’t even compatible with Flash.

To make up for this clusterfoozle of epic proportions, Apple began advertising that its new Air was better than existing tablet devices because there were no real apps, and therefore you won’t really be sucked into using it very often. It will mostly just sit in your pocket. The punch line might be “What a time saver!”

That’s WP7.

But wait, it gets worse.

The only way things could get worse for WP7 is if people actually began using it with high expectations. No, not consumers. There is a small section of the population that will be happy with anything. Microsoft did actually sell some Zunes, and some people swore they really liked Vista, and there are people who love Tivo and Kindle and Apple TV and who build fan sites for Android. Those minorities are fairly easy to please.

The real problem for Microsoft’s WP7 would be if some major company decided to radically migrate from a capable if simple platform like RIM’s BlackBerry and make a wholesale leap to using the beta version of Microsoft’s WP7. Like, say, Dell.

The problem with Dell moving to WP7 is that Dell is an actual company that needs to perform. Once a build-to-order manufacturing paragon, Dell isn’t doing so well anymore. It does have strong allegiances to Microsoft however, even after the company destroyed the smoldering runs of the Dell Ditty by crushing PlaysForSure under the Zune, or after yanking the rug on Windows Mobile to throw down WP7.

With partners like these, who need competitors?

The worst thing for WP7 right now would be being thrown into the spotlight as an epic failure. Even if the crisis doesn’t become public, it will have an expensive, corrosive effect on Dell, Microsoft’s closest PC partner and only major PC/phone partner. After all, the other major PC maker, HP, has just purchased its own mobile platform from Palm and abandoned WP7.

WP7 might make an acceptable replacement for Samsung’s Bada or a Linux phone or an LG Chocolate, but it’s not a BlackBerry replacement. Companies seeking to replace their RIM infrastructures with iPhones are facing some challenges. Companies trying to roll out Android 2.x are running into very serious flaws in enterprise support (Exchange support, 802.1x WPA2 authentication, Proxy support, Cisco VPNs using certificates, OpenVPN, CalDAV support, managed apps and configurations).

WP7 is a 1.0 effort. It doesn’t support any sort of multitasking model, and lacks even the maturity of Android. It’s completely irresponsible for Dell to decide to switch 24,000 of its existing employees to WP7 and Android just because Dell makes the hardware. This sort of hubris is often referred to as “eating your own dog food,” but in this case, the dog food is still raw chunks of horse. And Dell is making the can, not the dog food itself.

Dell to Ditch 25,000 BlackBerrys in Bid to Promote Own Service – WSJ.com
An example in doing things with a plan

Compare Apple’s use of Windows CE handheld POS devices at its retail stores, a program that began around 2005. Two years later, Apple introduced the iPhone and people began to wonder why the company didn’t switch over immediately. It wasn’t until the last year or two that Apple finally ditched the old EasyPay devices and replaced them with iOS devices running a custom app, and attached to a card reader and barcode scanner.

Apple could have jumped the gun to just show off, but that would have negatively impacted its productivity. New devices require testing and training. In Apple’s case, the devices they had been using were terrible, unreliable and problematic. Additionally, they had few requirements: no enterprise integration and no critical messaging or VPN dependencies. Even so, the transition methodically took a long time to roll out.

In contrast, Dell is already using a mature, functional mobile messaging platform with the BlackBerry. Dell is scrapping this to throw 1.0 hardware and software at its core business development people. The only way Microsoft’s troubled WP7 platform could do worse is if it were given bad publicity by a knee-jerk attempt to put it in a role it is not remotely ready for by Dell.

Meanwhile, Bank of America and Citibank are working on plans to roll out iPhones to replace their BlackBerry-run corporate email. What do banking institutions know that the failing Dell doesn’t?

  • http://backaccessward.blogspot.com beetle
  • gslusher

    The URL in beetle’s message doesn’t work. It needs an “l” on the end (.html rather than .htm):

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/10/11/09/why_apple_axed_xserve_and_how_it_can_reenter_the_sever_market.html

  • PhilipWing

    Wow, the comment wars are getting pretty bad on this one. Well, I already connect to my corporate email via my iPhone (despite their posted instructions being only for WiMo). Now if we can just replace the WiMo apps with native iPhone ones (rather than a rumored web-based product, not particularly useful on phone-sized screens). BTW, any recommendations on WiMo simulators (although the Microsoft Development one is free…).