For those of you who don't know, I started my "official" research career back in 1998 working for IDC in their European IT Services practice. Back then, we often spoke about how hardware and software manufacturers needed to differentiate themselves through the value added services they could provide above and beyond what they could do from a hardware or software sale (with much greater margins).
I just found this interesting article on mocoNews where they got to sit down with Andy Lees, the head of Micrsosoft's Mobile Computing division. It made me think about how the services aspect in mobility is still untapped.
During the interview, Lees was quoted as saying:
"We shifted our strategy a year ago, and now it’s going to be bang, bang, bang. We moved our organization from being focused on business, and now it’s more focused on the consumer….We aren’t thinking about Mobile World Congress as an end point. It’s a longer journey.” He said the timing is right with enough maturity on the handset, the network and services getting to a point where wireless can go to the next level. “We have a lining up of the stars. The focus has been on the device and now it’s shifting to the software on the device.”
I would actually have to challenge his remarks. (I know....BIG surprise) While I applaud Mr. Lees' thought process of moving from a purely business-centric mindset to a more consumer-centric vision, it doesn't and shouldn't end there. I know his remarks were brief (or at least quoted briefly), but you can't look at mobility in a black or white perspective. Like I always say, business users are also consumers and consumers work in businesses. A winning platform must be intuitive, aesthetically pleasing and also be robust for corporate use. We all know this, but how many mobility platforms actually execute on that vision today? I can't think of any that does all these things well.
But let's go back to Mr. Lees' last sentence. I understand where he's coming from that the shift is now on the software stack. There's no question that there will continue to be advances in the physical design of devices, but my suspicion is that revolutionary advances will be less frequent in that sector and that the upside comes from advances on software. But it can't end there...
Mr. Lees also says "[the] services [are] getting to a point where wireless can go to the next level." I'm guessing he's talking more about network/carrier centric services such as LBS and the like. This is where I will challenge Mr. Lees the most. I think the greatest opportunity for growth in mobility - enterprise or consumer - is in the services that can be developed. I'm talking about software based services. I'm talking about SaaS and mobile cloud computing. This in fact, is a place where Microsoft could (if they can execute on this) be very well placed in the future.
Like it or not, Microsoft dominates the desktop market. While Vista has gotten one heck of a bad rap, the forthcoming Windows 7 is getting not only a lot of positive press, but is the first time in recent memory where people are actually excited about a Microsoft OS. It's about time!!! Microsoft also just announced Windows Mobile 6.5, and so far it has gotten mixed press. (I'm in the camp that says it's a good first step). There's already talk of Windows Mobile 7 that will hopefully be announced and available by the end of 2010. By that point, you'll also see more from Microsoft on the Windows Azure front. How cool would it be to be able to have "The Sevens" all out at once? "7 Days a Week"...."Lucky 7s"...."7 Day Weekend" (watch around 1:10)....there are tons of cheezy tag lines I could come up with.
This is the alignment of the stars that Mr. Lees should be talking about. Imagine if Microsoft could deliver a seamless Windows experience on your desktop, on your mobile, or in the cloud. What if there were services that could be leveraged across all three media? The My Phone service is only the first step on this front. But what about cloud based mail services - either for Exchange or your favorite personal email - that can work on all three media? What about personal and professional applications that will provide you On Demand services, content and KNOWLEDGE. This takes managed services to a new level - at least for the mobile space. Some of this already exists in traditional desktop computing, but this has yet to be created for your mobile life.
Now that would be an alignment of stars, wouldn't it?
UPDATE: Here's an article that just came out that speaks to the same vision.