By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 12:36 pm
The rumors about this have been flying for months: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Microsoft is in talks with Verizon to launch an iPhone rival next year. (Here’s a link to a story at Silicon Alley Insider; the Journal’s piece is behind a paywall.) The project is code-named “Pink,” and Microsoft would handle the software and services, with the manufacturing being done by someone else.
Silicon Alley Insider’s Dan Frommer says there’s a good chance that a Microsoft phone would flop, because Microsoft is late to the game and its prior mobile products have been uninspiring. This may be a contrarian view, but I don’t think timing is in a issue–we’re still very, very early in the smartphone revolution, and a knockout product with lots of money and resources behind it could still be a big deal. (Remember, the iPhone looked like a late entrant when it was announced in 2007.) The bigger question is whether Microsoft can come up with anything truly exciting–and, actually, whether it can come up with anything that feels like it’s part of the future of phones rather than its past.
I keep harping on the idea that smartphones are the new PC, and that they’ll eventually replace PCs as we know them. So far, that’s an out-there notion–when I raise it, folks usually nod their heads in agreement and then say “Yes, but…” I’m fixated on it because I believe it with all my heart. I think that most of the major companies of the PC era, from Microsoft to HP to Dell to Adobe to Intuit, are going to have to figure out how to make themselves part of this world, or they’ll get left behind–just as all the minicomputer companies that once lined Route 128 in the Boston area once did. (I grew up in Boston in an era when Digital, Wang, Data General, Prime, and Apollo were titans–bought a computer from any of them lately?)
It was Microsoft software running on commodity hardware, as much or more than anything else, that did in the minicomputer back in the 1980s. I can’t imagine that any rational person outside or inside of Microsoft truly believes that Windows Mobile 6.5 is a platform for a robust Microsoft presence on smartphones over the next five to ten years–and no matter what happens, it’s going to be fascinating to see how Microsoft and dozens of other companies respond to this sea change.