Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Uncle Fester's Big Plans

Last spring, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (a.k.a. Uncle Fester) as so cocksure of the Window's Mobile phone that we was snickering at Apple's entry into the market with a $500 "fully-subsidized" (the notion of subsidized handsets is all smoke and mirrors) phone and even boasted at the idea of taking the iPod on with their newly upgraded brown Zune.

Boy, a lot can change in a year, I mean, six months.

Ballmer dismissed how serious the iPhone could be for business users without a keyboard.

Now, in light of iPhone's overwhelming success, Microsoft has adopted its historic fallback strategy -- copy the hell out of it. Picture Ballmer pumping his fist in the air pacing back and forth on the stage shouting "Infringe! Infringe! Infringe! Infringe!"

According to InsideMicrosoft and MacDailyNews, internal memos show Microsoft's about-face and a redesign of Windows Mobile version 7 almost a direct replica of iPhone. Oh yeah, the tiny keyboard you have to use a knitting needle to pluck at the keys is gone. Microsoft has decided to go with a touch screen keyboard.

But, as Job's said at the iPhone launch, Apple has over 200 patents covering the touch screen technology and will vigorously defend those patents in court. Do you think Ballmer is ready to say, you cannot patent an interface design -- a computer user interface is like frequency slashes on the radio tuner dial?

At CES this year a number of handset manufacturers have been scrambling to "catch-up" with the popularity of the iPhone. Motorola, in its attempt to stop the bleeding of its profits, has redesigned its entire line of upper end devices including the ROKR E8, a buttonless modal face on its candy-bar design, what Motorola refers to as "ModeShift morphing" to switch from phone to camera to mp3 player.

The problem with many of these new iPhone killer handsets is the manufactures still fail to understand the change to the overall human interface design and they simply try to put a superficial band-aide over poor software/hardware integration. Taking the lazy way out, they simply adding icons next to buttons and call it a iPhone clone or killer. They miss the point entirely because they are not industrial design forward thinkers, they are bean-counters with too much say over the design of a phone.

However, there is no question the competitive companies are attempting to capitalize on iPhone's biggest negatives. First-and foremost, the backlash to Apple's locked phone strategy with ATT Mobile. Anyone measuring the market can see Apple is accumulating huge negatives from not only the ATT exclusive contract but also to the brutal attempts of Apple to brick unlocked iPhones and erase applications loaded on phone and iPod Touch that have been jailbroke. This is the soft-underbelly to Apple's success in 2007.

And in recent days the Guardian business pages have been reporting that, according to Bill Gates, Microsoft will not launch a product to compete with Apple iPhone. First rule of business reporting, never trust Microsoft when they say the are not going to do something they are strategically up to their neck in. That's just plausible deniability. Secondly, if you take Ballmer or anyone else for that matter at Microsoft on their word, they are already competing with iPhone with Windows Mobile and consider themselves to be in competition with iPhone.

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