Of USPs and ecosystem lock-ins

Manan Kakkar just blogged about how some of Microsoft’s iOS apps are a bad thing for Microsoft, and how the SkyDrive app for WP7 is useless to him. I’d like to use this blog post as a response to some of his remarks, criticisms and rants.

Kinectimals for iOS leaves no USP for the Microsoft ecosystem in the living room

I agree with Manan that there was an implicit promise of Windows Phone working very closely with Xbox and Windows in a way that iOS and Android could not and would not. At the same time, you have to remember – Microsoft is clearly pitching Xbox as a platform. If they want the Xbox to become a platform, they will need many more consoles out in homes. At the same time, the reality is that most Xbox users are most likely users of iOS devices of some shape or form.

Giving a taste of how a mobile device can work tightly with the Xbox gives Microsoft several wins:

  1. Exposes a Microsoft Studio game (in this case) to iOS users. If they don’t have an Xbox and they like the game, they may start thinking about it.
  2. Shows how Microsoft can integrate the mobile phone into its console. “With Windows Phone, the experience would be even tighter” could be the carrot.
  3. If the iOS user already has an Xbox, they may be tempted to look at other add-ons for the game, perhaps other games, other content, etc. In other words, fueling the increased use of the console, leading to potential increase in revenues related to Xbox content.

All of these create the vicious circle of creating a bigger market for the console as well as selling more content off the console. For a platform company, is there a better recipe?

Microsoft is at a very interesting stage in its history. For the first time since it became the most dominant company in the world, it is facing a world where its operating system (note: not “software”) may not be the most popular system. The world is moving towards smaller, lighter computing devices where so far, we have not seen Windows at all. Until we see Windows 8 succeed, we will continue with the argument that Microsoft is not a player in this new world where PCs will be outsold by smart devices which do not run Windows.

Why should I own a Windows Phone and not an iPhone, if the Xbox integration is going to be so tight with the iPhone?

First, I don’t think every game is going to be made available on iOS. Kinectimals is one of those games Microsoft may be toying with, to see if there is any sense in pursuing that market.

So from a user perspective, you can be assured that Windows Phone will continue to have Xbox LIVE games which won’t be on any other platforms, it will be the only platform with Xbox Achievements, and if there are games which get on iOS, Windows Phone will get them first for sure. It may not be a convincing argument, but frankly, if it were a convinving argument, Windows Phone would have sold way more than it has already.

Clearly, users don’t really care much about Xbox on their phones enough to keep it a strict exclusive.

You bring one game, you have to bring all

I am not sure why they should be forced to bring every game with such tight integration. They chose this game just like EA Games or Pop Cap Games chose to bring one or two games to Windows Phone. I don’t see any logical reason to bring every single title to iOS necessarily.

WP7 SkyDrive app is useless

This one confused me. Not because there is no basis for Manan’s point. WP7 after all has an extremely efficient concept of Hubs which in fact avoid the need to have separate apps for each service. In that regard, my SkyDrive pics/vids can, and are available in the Pictures Hub. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote can, and are available in the Office Hub. So I’d call the new SkyDrive app redundant in some ways, but not useless.

  • SkyDrive app provides a single place to see “your personal cloud”. What about generic files on SkyDrive you may have uploaded, like for example, an AutoCAD file? Where would you find that file on the current WP7? Nowhere, actually.
  • SkyDrive app allows creation/modification of folders and deletion of files. Given that Microsoft is pitching SkyDrive against the likes of Dropbox and box.net, having a “drive” to access in one place would be better than spreading it all over the place.
  • SkyDrive app allows you to selectively share files/folders via links for read and read/write scenarios. Again, tying this back to using SkyDrive as a cloud storage option, it is easier to have all the stuff in one place.

Hubs are meant to make it easy to see and share stuff that you care about like Pictures, Music, Office docs, etc. The purpose of the SkyDrive app is not to just let you browse the stuff, but also allow it to be selectively shared with others.

Finally, I believe Manan has concluded that the app is useless because it does not serve two of his wishes (more than being really useless) – being able to save an attachment to SkyDrive, and being able to see files on other PCs and devices from SkyDrive. The former is a missing feature of the Mail application and perhaps of the OS itself (not exposing the file system) and the latter is a missing feature of SkyDrive the service. Neither is a shortcoming of the SkyDrive app.

By having an app, Microsoft can also rev it faster than the OS updates, much like Google’s apps on Android which are now de-coupled from the OS itself.

I feel bad having the need to write a long response but twitter’s 140 characters were just not enough to make my point.

Manan, cheers 🙂

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