What Steve Ballmer needs to do to save Microsoft's mobile bacon

A wasted decade on Windows Mobile threatens Microsoft's relevance in the future of computing

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We all know what those core expectations are today, so if Windows Phone 7's multithreading doesn't deliver the experience users typically associate with multitasking, don't pretend it does and ship it anyhow. If Zune is locked into Windows PCs, don't include it; media management needs to be universal. The UI paradigm can't change because the app does its own thing; the gesture language needs to be universal, and human interface guidelines need to be rigorously enforced. You get the idea.

3. Decide who you are
A major challenge is to figure out what Microsoft mobile is all about -- that is, what kind of mobile platform you are. The Windows Phone 7 demos thus far focus on a social networking metaphor. Palm had a similar marketing pitch but didn't really make it the organizing primciple of its WebOS.

I get the attraction: 20-somethings spend much more time texting and tweeting and Facebooking than they do emailing or making voice calls. If you believe that behavior will carry over into their 30s, you want adopt their behavior to become their preferred platform and displace Apple and Google as the young generation ages.

If that's the case, be explicit about it. If owning the 20-somethings is your strategy but you pretend to be all things to all people, you'll peeve a lot of users, including most in business. You can't afford that lack of trust. Better to say who you are aimed at so that the rest of us don't feel misled.

Conversely, if you want the new mobile platform to be multigenerational and appealing to both personal and business uses -- which your Windows Mobile 7 team has suggested -- you'd better stop the social networking fixation as your operating system's organizing principle. It won't work for most of us.

Instead, make great social networking apps that you provide with the OS, but don't impose the social betworking style of constant interruption and fractional, reactive thinking on the operating system as a whole. Likewise, don't market it as a social networking device but really deliver a multipurpose device; you'll tee off the 20-somethings that way, perhaps forever.

In other words, figure out what kind of OS you are and deliver -- no apologies, no fudges.

4. Drop the Windows name
You should not call the operating system "Windows" anything. It's not Windows. That advice doesn't mean that Windows is bad; it means that the mobile OS is not a version of Windows but is instead its own thing. There's a reason Apple doesn't call the iPhone "mobile Mac OS X," even though it's based on Mac OS X. Along the same lines, Google was smart enough not to rename the Android OS it acquired to Chrome OS, the name of its forthcoming Web-device OS. Be as smart as they are.

While you're at it, drop any Windows dependencies. That's hard for Microsoft, given its historic desire to make Windows the basis of everything, but it's a mistake. If Apple can learn to embrace Windows for its broad services like iTunes and MobileMe, and actively support Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync email protocol, so can you make Zune and Studio platform-neutral. After all, you want everyone to embrace your mobile platform, right? The Windows/Mac wars are history, as far as mobile users are concerned. Stop fighting that old battle in this new realm.

5. Kill the Kin
The Kin was a really stupid idea. When everyone is wondering if Microsoft can even take part in the mobile game, you come onto the field ready to play Twister when everyone else is limbering up for the baseball championship.

Even more stupid was calling it a Windows Phone -- that's sure to confuse its grab bag of an operating system with the forthcoming Windows Phone 7 OS that is supposed to be your reset moment. The Kin has some interesting ideas around social networking and, with the Kin Studio, social memory, but reviewers agree the Kin device and the OS are dogs.

I can't believe you think it's a successful product in the eyes of the market. You're repeating your Vista blindness here. You need to put those dogs down, so when the real Microsoft mobile OS ships, the Kin is long forgotten. Pull the Kin from the market today, and recommend its team look for jobs at a competitor, where they might do you more food (maybe Nokia?).

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