If you are a Windows mobile/phone/whatever 7 or 8 Product Manager, life cannot be easy.
– Android announced 3.7m activations over the Christmas weekend of 24th and 25th December 2011
– Apple are estimated to have activated 4.58m iOS devices on Christmas Day alone
… and Windows Phone 7 … no data yet, but it is a world away from these figures
Fact: Windows phone is getting a kicking.
These figures cover not just phones but tablets as well, but that doesn’t really matter, because the core fact is that millions of dollars and billions of data points are heading to Apple, Google and the Android ecosystem, not to Microsoft. Yes, I know that Microsoft makes some money from IP licensing fees, but that is missing the point. The mobile platform machine is in full swing, generating cash AND data for Microsoft’s competition. This is not just a problem for today, but also for the future as Google and Apple leverage the platform insights and the data to improve services and create walls around their platforms.
But Microsoft seems unable to halt these two juggernauts in mobile.
These sales figures are all the more amazing given that Microsoft had a head start of several years on both of these companies and at one time had a 20% share in certain markets with Windows Mobile.
But in a year that has seen RIM and Nokia face collapsing market shares and rock bottom investor confidence, Microsoft has a major challenge ahead in mobile.
An article by Jay Yarow from Business Insider summarises the problem very simply – It’s That The Phones Aren’t That Great. Spot on Jay.
What Microsoft has done has allowed itself to lose the low end of the market (to Android), whilst the user experience, platform and ecosystem simply isn’t good enough to win the high end and effectively compete with Apple. Microsoft may think it can compete. It can’t. Not yet.
Where Microsoft is now is the one place that Harvard Professor Michael Porter famously described as being, ‘the one place you don’t want to be’. The reason is that you can make good products, have good service, and a competitive price, but fail spectacularly. You fail to lead on any area, have no distinguishing innovation and throw money into marketing and development and see absolutely no effect.
Jay offers some ideas, but the challenge facing the Product Teams is deeper than the product features. It needs to define a proposition for Windows Phone in the eyes of customers. Microsoft is not competing against a static competitor, it is competing against a whole industry of providers in Android and the leader in consumer electronics in Apple. The fact today is that Microsoft, it simply isn’t a serious option for buyers, or developers.
For anyone working in Microsoft this is more frustrating that you can imagine. This is because Microsoft is not short of great innovations, ideas or smart people in mobile. Many of the features you seen in Android, in Apple phones and in a range of other mobile solutions were in Microsoft labs years ago. Microsoft labs are full of innovation. Microsoft as a company is innovative. Internally it really is. Not that you would know it as a customer.
The core problem is getting this innovation out of the lab and into products … QUICKLY. A Microsoft release cycle can (and does) take years. This delay means that career Product Managers can avoid taking responsibility for abject failures in the market by moving around and changing roles. By the time a feature has been released it is either already in the market, or has been normalised to the point of banal (read irrelevant) in an effort to avoid offending any other Product Group inside Microsoft (or more accurately any senior Exec from any other group). Lets be clear though, I am not blaming the Product Managers, I am blaming the Executive. The Exec takes the responsibility for the culture inside the company. Product Managers have my sympathy, but this is a two way street. You cannot expect support when lacklustre products fail to sell.
So, the market is dominated by two players (lets ignore RIM because everyone else is for now). It is challenging innovative, well funded agile and successful platform players.
So how do you compete in this environment?
One option is to look at one of the few consumer successes Microsoft has had … Xbox, and more recently Xbox Kinect and see if there are lessons to be learned from this.
Yes, Xbox has had significant problems with early production quality, but it handled this well and has shown with Kinect that it can introduce game-changer products and reinvigorate older platforms. What Microsoft did with Kinect is put innovation at the top of the list and deliver on this. It needs to do the same in mobile. STOP following in the tyre tracks of the competition. STOP allowing them to define the market, and start to drive YOUR innovation into your products. If you need to, commit to production. If you can partner, great, but don’t wait for partners to catch-up. Focus on winning mindshare and market-share before you worry about complete Windows system integration – you can fix this later in software updates. You need integration, but get the consumer proposition right first.
More than anything, answer this question:
The reason I should buy a Windows phone is???
Today I don’t know the answer, and neither do your potential customers. If you don’t believe me, then ask people. I did. I asked friends, and they didn’t know. I can tell you the answer for Apple and Android. I can even tell you the one for RIM. I cannot tell you the Windows Phone answer.
So how can you fix this?
Start looking at this less as a technical problem and more as a customer satisfaction opportunity.
Sell products by making things that do stuff that people want. It isn’t any more complex than that. Ok, it is, but the core point is correct. Start with the user. Live, eat, breathe, their world. And make it better. Solve their problems. Help with with their lives. And do this better than the competition. This is absolutely possible.
5 ways to fix Microsoft mobile:
- GET CREATIVE – Employ some designers and start buying up some top talent in the mobile space. Don’t let career old-timer PdMs prioritise features. Leverage their experience, then dump it if it isn’t working. Have some young talent challenge the old guard. Once you have a building, stop corporate Microsoft decorating it. Once you don’t it will be professional, boring, functional, dull and utterly useless as a creative space. Give budgets to managers and delegate. Build cool spaces. This is not about money, but about ownership of creativity.
- STAY FOCUSED – Keep the group away both physically and structurally from the rest of Microsoft as you can (I was tempted to say if Ballmer thinks it is a good idea, do the opposite). Seriously, any team needs to stay away from the rest of Microsoft as much as it can. Microsoft is a mature, fiscally disciplined and predictable well managed company. It is everything that a startup group needs to eventually be, but not at the start. Not if the cost of this is a lack of innovation and a delay in delivery (which it is).
- BE AGILE – Set aggressive timescales (by Microsoft standards), then halve them. Beat the competition. Simple. Be quicker. You cannot do this following a traditional Microsoft clock. Get a faster one.
- INNOVATE – Define metrics that reward innovation and game-changing (there is no point defining metrics that you will miss by a mile such as market share … please). Don’t focus on the product alone, innovate across the ecosystem. CHANGE THE GAME. Normal = waste of time. Look at the work by Doblin to understand this better, but don’t just make a better phone, this is not enough.
- TEST – Get the value propositions tested early, and keep testing them and refining them. Write the sales material (not word documents, but living demos and mockups) before you seriously commit to building anything, and test this. And test again. If no one cares or is excited, rip it up and start again. Seriously, test this. Ask yourself why would FastCompany, Wired, NYT, and a million websites want to talk about what you are doing? If you cannot answer this, no one cares. Seriously, they don’t. The most important test yet … test with kids aged 9-19. If they don’t get it, change it.
Microsoft is not out of the mobile game … yet, but cannot wait forever to start to get serious about addressing this.
If you need a reminder … try this: Last weekend, 7m prospective customers committed their cash and credit card details and all future revenues to your competition. How much longer before you become a viable competitor?
The clock is running.