I have been reading a lot of critiques of Microsoft’s mobile strategy lately, especially among those who think that breaking compatibility with older versions of Windows Mobile is a bad idea. Some of these opinions are just wrong, showing little knowledge of technical architectures. (If it’s CE based, how come I can’t run my old apps? Sheesh; CE was used in many different mobile devices, none of which could run Windows Mobile apps). For those that are dependent on some Windows Mobile app, Microsoft is wisely keeping the 6.5.x platform around for a while meaning folks can make a smooth transition as they need to.
First, to reiterate my view on the market, Microsoft isn’t doing nearly as badly in mobility as some think. I still think Windows Mobile to be vastly underrated in the market. But that’s not the point. As I’ve talked about over and over, nobody’s platform from last year is going to be good enough for next year. The key to Microsoft’s success in future mobility is exactly their willingness to break from the past and focus on the future. Windows Phone 7 Series devices should not run older applications. Microsoft needs to give developers incentive to get on board with something new, and more importantly to show how developers can leverage their code across multiple platforms, devices and do things they couldn’t do before.
We’ve learnt more about Windows Phone 7 at MIX10 this week, and Microsoft did the right thing kicking off the platform’s launch with some impressive demos showing how a game can be built with 90% shared code working on both an Xbox and a Windows Phone 7 device. That’s huge and something that’s going to appeal to a lot of developers.
Among the most glaring things missing from Microsoft’s consumer strategy was a cohesive message between diverse business units. There needed to be a clearly articulated message that recognizes that mobility features among products are interrelated. That means that Windows 7, Windows Phone, XBox, Xune etc all have to work together. It looks like Microsoft is finally getting that message and taking users to that place. Breaking compatibility with older Windows Mobile devices was a hard decision, but it was the right way how to get where they need to be. Sure, it means older stuff takes a hit but more importantly it means there will much more evangelism and excitement for developers who will be able to leverage Microsoft technologies such as Silverlight and XNA to develop across platforms.
If I were Microsoft, here’s what I would do to really drive Windows Phone 7 forward.
1. Clarify the mobility message but recognize there will be overlap between devices and functionality. Multiple Microsoft devices are good and they work together.
2. Ignore the backward compatibility grumbles (mostly coming from folks who said Windows Mobile wasn’t good anyhow) and focus on getting the new features done right and make them work seamlessly.
3. Maximize the experience of product ownership. If owning a Windows PC is good, a Windows PC and Windows Phone should be better. Add in an Xbox and it should be an even better experience. And so on.
The mobile age is really just starting as we move from the medium of voice communication as the core phone drive to the new age of mobile social context. It’s going to take a lot for Microsoft to get there and a good way to start is breaking with the past.