by Martin Veitch

Microsoft to tighten grip on Windows smartphone designs

Feb 08, 2010
IT Leadership

Microsoft plans include limiting handset makers to core specifications and designs as the firm seeks to stage a comeback in smartphones. The firm is expected to announce more plans at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.

“We’ll come back pretty hard on the phone side,” said John Mangelaars, EMEA vice president of consumer and online in an interview with CIO UK last week.

“We’ll say [to hardware partners] ‘if you want to build Windows phones these are the terms’ so you [the consumer] have a very clean experience,” he added, stating that three core styles of device will be prescribed: a touchscreen model, a slide-out keyboard product and a device with integrated keyboard.

The move will add credibility to the argument that Apple has had a big advantage over rivals by being able to tightly knit hardware, software and functionality on devices such as the iPod and iPhone whereas Microsoft has been prone to the various directions of hardware partners.

Mangelaars, a Microsoft veteran who is now based in the UK after spells in the US and Holland, conceded that the company has made errors:

“We know what the industry told us and we know what the users are saying. We didn’t realise the phones were moving into the emotional space rather than the business space. We didn’t realise people care so little about privacy on the internet. We could do better. [We’ve been] too slow. We haven’t seen the transition coming. We were still building business phones when businesses were using consumer phones.”

Without specifying what the move will be, Mangelaars suggested that Microsoft recognises the need for a game-changing manoeuvre in order to distinguish itself from competitors and samey designs. He also believes that competitive pricing and integration with the Windows/Office stack won’t be enough on their own to win over businesses.

“We need to change the paradigm,” he said, noting the identikit nature of many designs but refuting the suggestion that any change will be purely cosmetic.

“It’s a functionality and design thing. Products today are bought more on emotion than technology. I’ve seen people buying netbooks based on the colour. They become very emotional and vote with their feet. It’s like cars. Twenty years ago Japanese cars had the features but were rusty so you bought the German car, but now there’s no rust anymore. The bar has been raised.”

However, what is not on the cards, according to Mangellars, is the notion that Microsoft could shift away from a partnering model and release its own self-branded device a la Apple or Google.

He also rejected the idea that Apple has built a lead with application developers that will make it difficult to catch (“The real strength is the AppStore but when you break down the real apps there are, one, front-ends to websites, two, games and, three, mobile apps that are pretty easy to port.”) and says that Microsoft must capitalise on its breadth of offerings:

“That’s our birthright. When you compare us to Google and Apple where we have strength is that we can work across the browser, PC, phone, TV, XBox…  Nobody has the consumers or minutes we have.”