When discussing the mobile landscape many people I talk with dismiss Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7 as too late. They are definitely late, but not out. Given a large enough market Microsoft knows how to execute (see gaming and enterprise software). Additionally, the strong number two player in the market – Google – is leaving the door open for them.
Fragmented User Experiences
Each Android device OEM (HTC, Motorala, Samsung, etc.) has created their own user experience layer on top of the out-of-the-box Android UI. None of them have done a particularly good job. Beyond the poor execution these fragmented user experiences create two problems for Android. First, it creates a learning curve as user upgrade their devices. Users abhor relearning basic functions (ever wonder why Mapquest still has significant traffic in the face of far superior products). If you are running the HTC Sense UI for Android and one day consider upgrading to a Motorola device running Motoblur these UI differences will appear daunting. HTC is perfectly fine with this kind of reaction as they are trying to build lock-in to HTC devices. But what happens when the user says to themselves well as long as I will need to relearn a user experience why don’t I try an iPhone or Windows Phone. The second and perhaps more serious risk to Google from these fragmented user experience is the user never carves away a piece of their mind for Android. To the consumer Android means ten different things based upon what kind of marketing the carrier did for the device, which UI layer you were running. In fact many people have no idea that they are even running Android as there is nothing unique about the user experience that says I am running Android.
Google sees this as a serious liability and future versions of Android are focused almost exclusively on improving the out of the box user experience to avoid this experience fragmentation.
Yes, everybody pre-installs applications – even the iPhone. While the iPhone does pre-install maps, weather, finance. Carriers selling Android devices are going much further. They are pre-installing niche products like the Nascar and Football apps – Wired provides the gory details here. For example, my Droid Incredible from Verizon pre-installs City ID (a zip code lookup application), Footprint (local guides), Teeter (a game). It is bad enough to pre-install niche apps, they prohibit you from removing these applications. With that kind of experience it’s not surprising that 80% of Android owners will not buy another one.
Mess of a Marketplace
The Android Marketplace is a living example of a philosophy taken to its extreme with negative consequences. Android believes in a laissez-faire market. Let all the apps in and allow the use to decide what is best. The Android narrative goes something like this. Apple is the North Korea of the smartphone market and we (Android) are the open enlightened western country – where would you rather live? This positioning may work for a small subset of developers but for users who actually simply want to find and install the latest app it is really not so simple. Jon Lech Johansen’s recent blog post Google’s Mismanagement of the Android Market captures it well:
one should not need a PhD in Computer Science to use a smartphone. How is a consumer supposed to know exactly what the permission “act as an account authenticator” means?
Another example of this mismanagement, try searching for Yahoo in the Android Market. If you don’t have an Android I included a screenshot of what you see. The first result (as of July 25, 2010) is an app made by a company called Lovemaq. They stole the Yahoo logo, wrapped a few Yahoo.com web pages into an Android app, layered some ads around the app, and threw it into the Android Market.
Updated July 29, 2010: Android app that steals your data was downloaded by millions.
The Case for Microsoft
After killing Windows Mobile 6 and the KIN Microsoft finally has their shit together. They are bringing a unique user experience (opens engadget’s recent review) in Windows Phone 7, a history of cultivating and supporting application developers, and strong relationships with both enterprise customer and OEM device manufacturers. Combine this with a stomach for losing billions of dollars to build scale and the door Android is leaving open Windows Phone 7 will be a serious competitor far faster than most people realize.
Image courtesy of Flickr twenty_questions