By Harry McCracken | Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:21 pm
Should Microsoft build a phone of its own? Over at Ars Technica, Peter Bright is arguing that it should. The case is pretty straightforward: The iPhone is as good as it is in large part because Apple designed (in Steve Jobs’ famous words) “the whole widget”–the hardware, the software, and the service. Same thing with the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s best and most successful hardware product to date.
Of course, building the whole widget hasn’t guaranteed Microsoft anything in the past: The Zune HD hasn’t made much of a dent in the market. (It’s a nicely-designed product, actually–just one that didn’t show up until after the world had moved on to new classes of devices.) And the Kin–the closest thing to a “Microsoft phone” so far–didn’t quite work out. (Bright, oddly, doesn’t mention the Kin.)
I think there’s a good chance that Microsoft will build a “Microsoft phone” at some point, simply because the temptation may prove irresistible. But that doesn’t mean that putting Windows Phone 7 on different handsets from multiple manufacturers is an idea that’s doomed to fail. After all, it’s similar to what Google is doing with Android–and while the Android rollout isn’t without its bumps, it seems to be going pretty well.
Microsoft’s real danger with Windows Phone 7 isn’t that the basic business model doesn’t make sense. It’s closer to the overarching issue that rendered the Zune irrelevant: It’s possible that a phone OS that ships in late 2010 without cut-and-paste, multitasking, and other features which are universally available on competitors may be too little, too late. Even if the OS is appealing in other respects (and from what I’ve seen of Windows Phone 7 so far, it’s thoughtfully done and potentially neat).