There’s a Turkish proverb that says – “No matter how far you have gone down the wrong road – turn back!”
That’s Microsoft for you in the mobile device business. For several years, I have voiced my frustrations to my friends in Redmond (disclaimer – I spend quite a bit of time with Microsoft on marketing capability development) about how Windows Mobile was trying to be “Windows on a mobile device” and failing miserably at it. For a simple reason. A mobile device is NOT a smaller computer that you carry around. It is a very different user experience and so it logically demands a very different user interface. I vowed that, as long as Microsoft kept the “Start” button and the menu bars that went with it on WinMo, I would never use a Windows Mobile device. You can keep putting lipstick on a pig, but it will remain a pig. The concept of seamless integration with your desktop and enterprise (Outlook, Office, etc.) was a great idea and a good differentiator for Microsoft, but that does not mean that you need to make your mobile device look like, act like and feel like your desktop! Windows Mobile was annoying, klutzy and slow. But most importantly for me, it was just the wrong user interface because it was trying to carry the legacy of Windows on to a mobile device. This legacy was like a ball and chain attached to a ballet dancer’s foot.
And we have seen this before. I teach a classic case on the Apple Powerbook dating back to 1994. In that case, Apple was just coming off the failure of the Portable project. The Apple Portable was designed to be a “no compromise” smaller desktop – it had an 8-hour battery life, active matrix display, powerful processor and a big hard drive. The only problem – it weighed 17 lbs! Apple had fallen into the trap of extrapolating ther “mental model” it developed about the ideal user experience from the Macintosh to the Portable. The problem -laptops are NOT smaller desktops. They are used in a variety of different scenarios and the user experience you create has to be quite different from a desktop. Microsoft (in my opinion) was also carrying around the mental model of “make Windows mobile” as opposed to “make a delightful mobile device experience”. Success can be a lousy teacher and legacy can stifle your creativity and shackle you.
So I am pleasantly surprised to see that Microsoft has finally broken free from its chains and has started from scratch to build Windows Phone 7 Series (to my friends at Microsoft – please also break free from the lousy brand naming legacy and call this thing something less verbose!!). Finally, it is a user experience that is built ground up with the user in mind as opposed to the Windows legacy in mind. The Tiles, the gorgeous graphics, the seamless music and video integration and the social networking features all make this a truly worthy competitor to the granddaddy of user experience – the iPhone. And what I like most is that Windows Phone 7 does not try to copy Apple. It goes in a different direction and it goes beyond in many ways. And like Apple, Microsoft is finally taking more responsibility for the end-to-end user experience, by being a lot more presriptive to the ODMs and OEMs about the “reference specs” that will guarantee a minimum quality of user experience. For too long, Microsoft has taken a cop-out by saying that “we don’t control the end-to-end experience like Apple does”. But in fact, it DOES have the power to dictate the user experience to its partners. I’m glad to see this happen, at least from the early indications.
There’s still many unknowns here. Will it all work as promised? Will the apps be anywhere close to the Apple iPhone ecosystem? What will the devices look like and how many OEMs/ODMs will sign on? How will carriers respond? Is it too late for Microsoft in this game?
But I do give a lot of credit to the folks behind this new version for admitting that they were on the wrong road, and that sunk costs are just that – sunk. This is a fresh start for Microsoft. The mobile device game just got more interesting and more competitive. The only certain winner – you and I. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these. Anybody in the Mobile business listening?
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A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote speech to the global marketing team at Cisco Systems. In my talk, I made a provocative observation. I noted that Cisco has acquired several B2C (business-to-consumer) companies including Linksys and Pure Digital (makers of the elegant Flip camcorder). Further, Cisco has other interesting products like Internet phones that are relevant for consumers. Finally, John Chambers has identified the home market as the “next big frontier” for Cisco. But my contention was that Cisco still doesn’t “get” the consumer market. If they did, they would offer a simple universal home connectivity and storage solution that would store my media, route my video and voice traffic, run my telephones and videoconferencing in the home. And it would be available from Best Buy and installed “out of the box”. That’s not likely to happen soon. It will probably take a genetic mutation for Cisco to truly embrace the consumer market. For that matter, Apple is never going to become a big player in business markets either. They have “consumer DNA”, not “B2B DNA”.
As Geoffrey Moore has observed, there are two types of technology companies – companies that make “complex systems” and companies that make “high volume” products. IBM, Cisco, SAP and Oracle are in the first category while Apple, Sony, Intuit and Nokia are in the latter category. And never the twain shall meet. Efforts to transform B2B companies into B2C companies are almost never successful. Yes, there are some exceptions – HP and Microsoft possibly come to mind. But in general, you are either fish or fowl.
There is another dimension to the same problem. There are “product” companies and “services” companies. Product companies sell things while services companies offer services and solutions. For instance, IBM is a (primarily) services company while Motorola is a product company. Product companies that try to “cross the line” face serious challenges. Consider the Google NexusOne phone. Google is quickly finding out that selling a product is quite different from offering an online service. When people pay $529, they expect personal service. Knowledgebases don’t cut it. And when Intel got into the services business with Intel Online Services, it was a disaster as Intel wasn’t very good at the 7x24x365 mindset that services demand.
So why can’t leopards change their spots? It turns out that B2B markets don’t only differ from B2C markets in terms of products. They differ in the entire business system that is needed to design, develop, market, sell and support the products. The development process is different. The figures of merit in product development are different. The price points and margins are very different. The importance of target costing and price-volume analysis is different. The sales & distribution channels are different. The partner ecosystems are different. The branding approach is different. The differences are systemic – they are embedded in every aspect of how companies think, how they are organized, how they operate and who they hire. And even if the “consumer division” is held at arm’s length (as Cisco has done with Linksys and Microsoft has done with Xbox and Zune), there is a “dominant logic” in every company, and everyone knows who the real Brahmins are.
Why should leopards change their spots? They need to. A secular trend I observe is the consumerization of technology. The consumer market is becoming more important than ever before as technology products reach beyond the rarified atmosphere of enterprises and seep into the mass consciousness. Consider mobile devices. Time was that cellular phones and wireless email devices were predominantly used by businesses and professionals. Now, even the staid RIM is coming up with sexy consumer models like the Pearl and the Storm. And of course, Apple has completely changed the game with the iPhone. Other markets will follow the same logic – unified communications, networking, cloud services, to name a few. So the writing on the wall is clear. If you are a B2B company, you have to figure out how to “scale down” your offerings, first to the mid-market and Small Business segment and eventually to the consumer market.
But how? I think companies will be well-advised to study the few success stories – HP seems to pull it off well. So does Microsoft, to some extent. And Adobe. How they did it and what they do differently is the subject of another post someday. Meanwhile, B2B marketers, consider yourselves warned!
I am disturbed by evanescence.
I am disquieted by ephemerality.
I am disconcerted by expediency.
I am bewildered by instability
I am befuddled by inconsistency
I am bemused by infidelity