Given that Microsoft is having the first significant layoffs in its history – with a reported 5,000 people in total getting the pink slip – it is interesting to hear that the new strategy for the company could be to look to mobile. The company is reportedly working on Windows Mobile 7.0, but delays have resulted in the interim Windows Mobile 6.5 having to do for now.
The question of course is why mobile? It could be that Apple is starting to become a major player in that arena, much the way that the Steve Jobs-headed company took over the portable music space with the iPod in late 2001. Prior to Apple’s arrival, the Mp3 player market, as well as other portable music players, was dominated by Creative Labs… and Microsoft barely noted it.
Of course Microsoft did try its hand a few years back when it introduced the Zune, but by that time the iPod was already almost as generic a term as Kleenex. More importantly, while the iPod became the dominant player, Apple also launched the dominant music store with iTunes. It is also worth noting that Microsoft confused the market by having its own music service, and supporting the “Plays for Sure” standard with various music players that used the WMA (Music Media Audio) format, only to offer yet more competition by making the Zune incompatible with those other devices. Instead of following the open standards of Windows, Microsoft actually used the closed model of Apple. Go figure!
So what does Microsoft’s move to mobile mean? Well, on the surface nothing immediately. As the name suggests Windows Mobile 7.0 isn’t going to be a completely new operating system. The Windows Mobile OS has been going strong for a while.
And more importantly, should Microsoft enter with a phone of its own, the company is familiar with starting with minimal marketshare and growing it. Remember when Internet Explorer was the upstart and Netscape was the dominant browser? And look at the gaming world: Microsoft is leading in this hardware cycle with its Xbox 360, even outselling the Sony PlayStation 3 in Japan. In Japan! A year ago this was just one of many things that seemed unlikely.
But what also seemed unlikely was that Microsoft would layoff 5,000 workers. Among those getting laid off it is worth noting that many of the minds working on the Games for Windows titles are among them. A couple of years ago Microsoft tried to rebrand the PC (with Vista) as a solid gaming platform, and it tanked. No surprise given that Windows Vista took off like a lead zeppelin as they say. Yet no one would have predicted that this would see the fatal crash of the Flight Simulator brand. This is a small side note of course, but this was the first “gaming” brand ever introduced by the Redwood giant, and after more than a quarter century the team responsible is being shown the door.
So it will be interesting to see if Microsoft can reinvent itself by going mobile. But I have to ask, did Flight Simulator need to get killed in the process!