Dear Windows Phone team, what's happening out there?
It’s a new year and I didn’t think I’d be writing this article so soon, I mean the beginning of the year! However it’s a great time to write this article now so the corrective actions can be explored and the problem addressed.
If you’ve been reading about the recent decision of Chris Fields to halt development of Mehdoh, the twitter client for Windows Phone and then LazyWorms announcing that their YouTube app is not available any more and Chevron Labs running out of tokens and contemplating whether or not to renew the contract with Microsoft.
With all of that news hitting us, it seems 2012 just begun on a tumultuous note for Redmond and while some of it might not be their fault, for some they need to take the blame. Blame isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is the best constructive criticism you can get for your work and a also give you a chance to improve.
Let’s look at Mehdoh first. This twitter app was was seeing some decent traction and with Windows expected to become a major platform, it would have meant that Chris Fields would have seen a lot of numbers come by him. While the real reasons for withdrawing from developing not known. It was quite disheartening to see that he chose to halt work on an app which showed promise.
Whether or not the boys at Redmond made an effort to remedy the situation or not, I don’t know. However I am hoping that Microsoft tried their best to assist him in resolving any issues that he may been facing in order to make him stay and develop the app further.
While I’m not going to lecture Microsoft on how business should be done and how an app developer leaving the eco-system is bad for a platform. I will however definitely point out that Microsoft needs to regularly engage in conversation with their developers. Take a leaf out of Nokia’s approach to development. Nokia and RIM even have an excellent developer program and Microsoft needs to go that extra mile to make things accessible and smooth for the community it so much needs for the platform to thrive and grow.
This brings me to point out that the $99 per year fee for being a developer… While I understand that Microsoft wants good apps coming to its platform, charging such a steep fee makes it more of a financial decision. It would make a lot more sense if MS were to have a one time fee rather than a yearly fee. US $99 is a put off for many developers who might be looking at providing their apps for free. In fact it’s a major deal breaker. If Microsoft truly wants to see increased adoption of the platform, it will have to submit to the free apps side of the business. It’s the free apps that will increase adoption or bring in the sales of the phones. More phone means more screens, meaning more opportunity to market paid apps… I don’t really need to be describing this to you or MS.
Microsoft really needs to review this part of the ecosystem and I mean it. This approach will lead to a demise even before reaching prime. Addressing it too late will exacerbate the issue. Right now is the right time to fix it. There are various models available to explore…
A tiered approach, something that RIM has in place would be a great reference point. Nokia’s own approach is equally good… There are many models to look at and it would help Microsoft to explore a better format than what it has currently.
LazyWorm’s announcement was probably another blow for the new Windows Phone eco-system. Is Microsoft to be blamed for this? Well, it seems that MS isn’t the one at fault here. Google’s decision to not play nice with Redmond is well known and well documented in a post by Brad Smith - Senior Vice President & General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation.
With Google playing bad boy and restricting Windows and by extension consumers from exercising their rights, of providing an alternative (Microsoft) and of exercising the right to consume content hosted on YouTube using another app (consumers) on another platform. This approach by Google is counter productive to their image and their business. Microsoft should seek legal recourse, not only in the EU but in all the places.
In a day and age where Google talks about being ‘open’ and ‘free’; this sort of action on its part is downright dirty politics and unethical. There is no good to be derived by restricting a particular platform, simply because if MS proves that it is right, it will not only be able to claim damages but also earn a big brownie point and this verdict could open the flood gates against an ‘anti-Google’ tirade.
The Windows Phone team should have been more proactive about this and should have highlighted this issue in the public domain. LazyWorm’s admission in such a format is quite disturbing. The message sent by them will hurt MS equally. What would have been good is if Microsoft had also made a small press statement and or a blog post. When a major app is discontinued for such reasons, the platform creator needs to take up the cudgels and make it known. This, had it been done, would have made the platform and the team behind it seem like heroes and the one with the correct motive.
Windows needs to compete against the iOS and Android, both formidable concepts from equally big corporations like Microsoft, and by not being more transparent and forthcoming, it will again get into a spot with this latest endevour – Windows Phone.
Chevron WP7 – The cheapest and the best way to unlock Windows Phone and do tons of things on it and in the real sense explore the limits of the phone. With Chevron running out of tokens and not having any ‘plans’ to renew their contract with Windows Phone team, the best and most unique offering of Windows comes to a close (for now).
I’m sure both of them were aware that they’d run out of it some day and I’m surprised that Microsoft and Chevron didn’t sat down for a talk. Microsoft not calling them over and having a talk about how to take this idea further seems odd. Here’s something that showed great promise and allowed for the community to push the platform and innovate and then it gets unplugged like this.
Microsoft should have pushed for an extension and insisted that they stay. If not them, then at least someone equally competent or themselves. The platform currently is missing quite a bit of things and the community was doing a lot of stuff, it is this kind of work that will open the eyes of other consumers and it is this kind of things that will generate buzz over the interwebs and ultimately leads to more interest and ultimately the all important decision – purchase.
While Microsoft can create a new platform, the innovation along with how the platform gets perceived and developed cannot be controlled completely by it. A little bit of chaos and some amount of ‘modding’ needs to be cultivated within each platform. It is this region that is the most unsatisfied with status quo and desirous of doing something different. It is this community that adds to the ‘cool’ quotient of a platform. Whether or not Microsoft likes it, they are as much a constituent of the eco-system as the humble developer. They are as much responsible for development of the platform as the engineer paid by Microsoft. These unpaid engineers are the digital artists of today. I wonder if during the Renaissance, the painters and sculptors’ ideas were governed by something like ‘ A Committee of Colours’ or an ‘Association of Stone Quarries’, directing what and how a colour could be used or which stone was to be used for what.
Even with Chevron WP7, limiting it to just side loading of up to 9 apps seems harsh. You need to allow for unfettered access. Have a clear policy on breaking the OS on the phone, but allow the tinkering, you never know how it may just reward you.
Microsoft needs to desperately shake off the PC mentality within itself and look at things from a new perspective, each new visual iteration is an opportunity to do that. How many companies get the chance to change their philosophy towards what they work, so many times?
I’m not trying to point fingers at Microsoft here and say that they are wrong, far from it. I see a lot of potential in what they are creating and it’s capable of being bigger than what it is. However a narrow minded approach will only harm it more. Certain features and attributes that consumers are used to or accustomed to need to exist and be available to him. Not equipping your product with it and asking for the consumers to accept it as an even better alternative is a recipe for disaster.
Dear MS, it’s good to be unique and you’ve got a good thing going on, however being hesitant in embracing the expectations of people who you call consumers will only lead you to failure and take away the thunder from you.
Why would a user choose your dish over the rest, if you can’t provide the key flavours he’s looking for.
Thanks to Daniel Rubino for posting this post, which goaded me to pen down my article…
UPDATE: Within a while of my article, Rafael Rivera one of the founding members of Chevron WP7 Labs put up this post on Within Windows - ChevronWP7 Labs and the misinterpreted tweet.
In light of this clarity, the last part of my post (Chevron WP7 Labs) pretty much sounds like a ‘rant’. So its best to just ‘cancel’ it out but not omit it completely.