As you might have seen, I haven't posted anything to the::unwired this week but if you follow me on Twitter, you've seen that I was travelling. As a matter of fact I was again in Seattle for this year's Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Global Summit, the largest customer event each year on Microsoft's main campus in Redmond. As every year, it was a jam-packed week and in addition to some open, non-NDA sessions like "Windows without Walls" where Microsoft showed how the Windows ecosystem from the desktop to the Xbox 360 to mobile devices to the services plays to each other, there was a keynote by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO and for sure 1.5 days of deep-dive sessions with the Windows Phone product team which were - as you can imagine - under NDA.
Since the meaning of a non discloser agreement is that nothing should be disclosed, I can't talk about anything presented or discussed by Microsoft. However, I want to express some personal feelings.
I'm working with Microsoft since late 1999 in the mobile space, which was the time when the first Pocket PC PDAs were close to be released, and during these 11 years, I've visited Microsoft quite often - up to three times a year. However, since the early days of Pocket PCs, a lot has changed. While in the beginning, the PDA business was driven by a small group of people, today the mobile business is one of Microsoft's main focuses since it connects and unwires the PC, the server and the services. Beside the cloud, the mobile business might be one of the hot topics for Microsoft and therefore it had to change its mind and behavior how it treats its mobile business. But one thing is for sure: Microsoft takes its mobile business as serious as never before and it better has to do so since it's part of the company's future.
So what does it mean for the customers? It means that they will see many enhancements during the upcoming weeks, months and years. Microsoft has a clear vision how to develop Windows Phone into a direction to lead the market. While the company is well aware that Windows Phone 7 is yet not perfect, it has developed a roadmap how to catch-up with the competition while at the same time leading and differentiating itself from the competition. In my humble opinion, the time is gone where a single system will dominate a whole technology space and the mobile space isn't anything different. We have great other OS's and ecosystems available, namely iOS, Android and webOS and Windows Phone is just another. Nevertheless, the market is huge enough for at least 3, maybe 4 systems but the companies behind the OS's and ecosystems have to prove this every day again. Customers have so many great choices today, they will hardly tolerate faults and therefore every single step has to be well planned.
What I've seen this week in Redmond shows that Microsoft is clearly aware of it. Windows Phone is the latest OS to a party where other operating systems have already found their fans. However, the recent Nokia / Microsoft announcement also shows that Microsoft knows that it have to catch-up by working with strong partners. As I initially mentioned, I can't go any further here as well as Microsoft is in some parts not able to wider open the doors to its MVPs since the market landscape has dramatically changed. Was it 5 MVPs in the early Pocket PC days only, we are now over 70 and while we hadn't had blogs, Twitter and Facebook in the early days, today it's technically even possible to stream NDA sessions to the Internet without carrying an equipment worth of several thousand US$ but by simply using a mobile phone. Nevertheless, Microsoft provided a sneak-peek in the future and this looks promising enough to make me thinking that Windows Phone will be surely one of the OS which survives and maybe even lead the mobile space - at least in some areas.
Quite useful were the discussions with the product teams about current features and upcoming enhancements. For instance the product teams explained why some decisions were made this way and not the other way around and while I not agree with all of them, I at least value and understand Microsoft's point. However, Microsoft also admitted that the one or the other design decision was a bad or at least not perfect one and that it works on improving the user experience in several areas. The product team is far away from being self-satisfied but knows that last year's Windows Phone 7 launch was just the beginning. And thanks to Windows Phone's new update mechanism, Microsoft is able to roll-out firmware updates faster. However, what we shouldn't expect to see is a kind of "monthly patch day" as users experience on Windows PCs but it's also clear that updates as well as upgrades have to be released way faster and more often then ever before. New services appear, uses cases change and therefore Microsoft will take the benefit of being in the driver seat for updates. Was it perfect with the pre-Nodo release? Far from it and Microsoft knows it. Will it be better in the future? At least I got the word but we will see.
Another thing which was a hot topic on the Microsoft campus was the future of Tablet PCs. For sure, Steve Ballmer was asked during his keynote what the company plans are (as well as Microsoft was already asked the same question during the recent Mobile World Congress) but neither Microsoft nor Steve Ballmer has given an answer yet. As Achim Berg said during the Windows Phone 7 press conference in Hamburg last fall, Windows Phone 7 is yet not an option which makes me kind of clueless. I understand that Microsoft comes from the PC business and therefore it might want to feature its PC OS (whichever it will be in the future) but in my humble opinion Windows Phone 7 would be the perfect tablet OS for today. It's light, fast, comes with a touch optimized user interface as well as it features a whole ecosystem of apps and services. The iPad is a great example that customers wants something between its mobile / smartphone and the PC. The Netbook already proved it before, while the UMPC concept unfortunately failed to prove it, but Microsoft hasn't detailed any upcoming Tablet PC plans at all. Again, I would vote for Windows Phone 7 for Tablet but it's not up to me anyway. However, in my humble opinion Microsoft misses another opportunity if it's not jumping the tablet bandwagon today, or it has to come around the corner later with something much better which will attract the customer in a way tablets do today already. Also I wasn't the only one on the campus who thought that Windows Phone 7 would be the perfect OS (but I've also heard different voices) for a tablet but hey - it's Microsoft's business and money and customers will be able to vote when the product hits the stores.
Ok, this was a fairly long blog posting without saying or disclosing anything but then again, I just wanted to express my feelings that I think Microsoft is on the right track with Windows Phone 7 and that I'm really confident that the whole product group is working hard in the background to make it an even better mobile OS.
Cheers ~ Arne