Apple's Tyrannical Turtleneck Won't Fit Microsoft in Mobile

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Lately, I feel like I'm in a mirror universe where up is down, black is white, and Microsoft is trying to become Apple. A company that built an empire through open partnerships has decided to go medieval on its closest allies, asserting strict control over the hardware and software on mobile devices that use its operating systems. Note to Ballmer: That turtleneck doesn't fit you.

This week, Bloomberg reported that Microsoft is actively trying to limit the number of vendors a chipmaker can partner with to create Windows 8 devices, which will result in fewer Windows 8 tablets overall. Imagine Dell being the only company allowed to make Windows 8 tablets with Intel processors in them.

This draconian strategy started with the launch of Windows Phone 7 last year. Vendors who want to manufacture Windows Phone 7 handsets must agree to a harsh set of restrictions; they can only use a certain screen, processor, and other key hardware components.  They can't modify the look and feel of Windows Phone 7 to make it look distinctive for their users; the best they can do is throw on a few applications and use a few of the tiles on the home screen.

Just as Apple only lets iOS developers sell their apps through the App Store, WP7 developers can only sell their applications through Microsoft's Windows 7 Marketplace. There's no way for users to side-load apps or for anyone to start an alternative market. Apps are even severely restricted in what they can do. Eight months after the WP7 launch, there's still no way to build a screen shot app, because one app cannot run in tandem with another.

This week at Computex, Acer CEO J.T. Wang said that Microsoft "is really controlling the whole thing" and that both he and his competitors feel the restrictions are "very troublesome." Based on what we're hearing, I can't blame him. With Android, Acer was able to produce the truly unique Acer Iconia Smart, which has compelling software and a higher res screen than the competition. With Microsoft's mobile OS, Wang's products look and act just like his competitors'.

While a partner- and developer-unfriendly lockdown may work well for Apple, it's not a model that Microsoft should follow. When trying to forge a new mobile strategy, Microsoft should learn from its own successful history of flexibility and collaboration with partners rather than trying to pick up a big stick and keep everyone in line. And that's exactly what seems to be happening with Windows 8.

Windows became the world's leading operating system precisely because it is so flexible. For decades, vendors have been free to use any hardware they want to build Windows PCs, and they've been allowed to customize the Windows software pre-load to their hearts' content. Developers have been able to program for Windows in dozens of different programming languages and distribute applications through literally millions of outlets, from download engines to retail stores.

With Android, Google is actually following the Windows model for success: build a strong OS and then let your partners innovate and make it their own. When HTC wants to develop the first LTE phone or the first Android tablet with pen input, CEO Peter Chou doesn't need to call Google's Andy Rubin and beg for a papal exemption. But if Chou wants to adopt these features on a Windows Phone 7 handset, he'll have to wait until Microsoft issues an edict from on high, telling his competitors that LTE is now part of the standard hardware build they all must use.

Some pundits have dinged Google for allowing its partners the freedom to try new things. They foolishly focus on subtle differences in the user experience from one phone to another, such as the UI enhancements that HTC has put into its Sense software that are different than those you'll find in Motorola's Motoblur overlay. But what they call "fragmentation" is really innovation. Without the freedom to push the envelope and make their products standout, there's little incentive for vendors to put a lot of eggs in Microsoft's basket.

Microsoft says that it is locking things down to provide a consistent experience for users, but in the end, the company is trying to play by Apple's rules rather than its own. Ballmer and company have taken the wrong message from Apple's success. Locking down its products is not the key to Apple's success. The iPad and iPhone continue to win because they are well made and marketed.

Microsoft won't succeed by picking up the big stick and trying to go it alone. To be a leading player in the mobile space, Ballmer and his charges needs to focus on the company's core strength in bringing developers and vendors together to build the best ecosystem, not pushing them away with high-handed edicts.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
  • ken Says:

    has anyone seen the Zune?
    oh ya, thats now history!

  • F. Rigonato Says:

    If the problem is the existence of crap android phones, you have the freedom to choose the best one, so just the fool will buy the crap. Windows have the best ecosystem,games, etc. not apple. The innovation leader is microsoft.

  • Bill Says:

    Since when did Laptop Mag started coping PC Mag, PC World and Engadget?
    Let's take a quote from someone and make a nonsense article out of it.
    So, the point you are trying to make is that you want Microsoft to copy Google who in turn copied Microsoft in a "open" platform. You make the point that Microsoft started as an open platform that anybody can modify, which is what Android has become. So, where is the article "Why is Google coping Microsoft?"

    They already tried it the open way, Windows Mobile and where did that get them? Clearly they saw what happened and said they need a new strategy. They saw the success of Apply and created a similar environment. Just like Google saw the success of Windows and made Android. Is it exactly like Apple? No. Do they make their own hardware? No. There is at least some variety in the phones. There are different screen sizes, you can have different quality cameras, you can choose to have a real keyboard or not, you can put some changes to the tiles (I will bet that Nokia will be able to make more changes), you can have a different screen types, you can put your own apps if you want.

    Imagine, your company spends millions on a new new Metro UI just to have a vendor skin it? Innovation? What if a vendor produces a really crap skin on top, and you have no control over it. You have no control over a customer blaming not the vendor but Microsoft.

    "The iPad and iPhone continue to win because they are well made and marketed."
    It seems to me, the general feeling from all reviewers is that Windows Phone 7 devices are well made. That the UI is better in many ways than a grid icons. Static Grid icons, that's really innovation right, and yet Apple gets a pass on that.

    What you should be criticizing Microsoft is the marketing. That is their weak spot. They just cannot market products correctly. The marketing of the phone is horrible. Also, why is Android a success? Is it because of the OS? I tired it and I have a Android tablet. It's really not that great. All I see is that they copied Microsoft's "open" OS and then copied Apple's grid icons. You call that innovation.
    No, the thing is the general customer goes to buy a phone and what do they see? I walk into Best Buy and there wall to wall Android phones. So what are the chances a customer will buy an Android phones. Don't forget the power that carriers have in a product's success.

  • SideShowBob Says:

    Al says it all, I think Microsoft will be in the "happy"place...the middle...inbetween the draconian dictatorial regime of Apple and the lawless wild west of Google Android. My only complaint is that it is time for Microsoft to drop the brand "Windows" is irrelevant in a post-pc world. I mean what the heck is a "Windows Phone" ? What is Windows about it? I love Wp7 but MS should have branded it differently. Microsoft's marketing needs to learn a thing or two from Apple. By the way, when Windows 8 Tablet is launched, I'll be first on the queue..(I mean online queue at Amazon. Not like those Apple retards) to find Bart

  • Al Says:

    What a dumb article. If Microsoft did the other method of going totally anarchistic on their software and hardware people would be yelling that they're trying to be google. In reality Microsoft is trying to play in between them they have hardware requirements but at least they LET other manufactures get into the party, rather than Apple who won't let anyone use IOS on any other hardware than their own. Google on the other hand has no standards so you have dozens of crap phones with bad hardware that run poorly. Again with the marketplace they have shown that they are clearly not as draconian Apple with their own appstore, but not as anarchistic and malware filled as androids.

    Acer is the only one complaining because their a company that sells stuff on the cheap. Acer laptops have always sold themselves as cheap laptops. It's no wonder why they're complaining about system requirements.

  • i told u Says:

    I disagree with some points here. First I do agree with Microsoft should allow other venders like HTC to put things like sense ontop of WP7, to yes help innovate, and set their devices apart from others using WP7. Though to me what Microsoft is doing correctly is advising anyone they allow to use their OS, they need to be using a base set amount of Screen size, resolution, and specs. I myself think this is a good idea, which makes sure that whoever buys a windows phone, can be assured that it will perform the same way as any other WP7 device and not worry about because its a budget phone, its laggy, and has a small screen and resolution because Microsoft aloud a company to do so. Android is fragmented, and as you can see my the market share as come to a halt and actully declined. Why because now consumers have a choice when they go in a buy a device, as opposed to last year when the only compettion Google had was the Iphone (Q3) and WP7 (Q4). Now WP7 is on every carrier, Iphone on 2 carriers, and HP will launch Webos devices (with the veer already). Microsoft will continue to gain ground as will HP, once they get established which will happen very seen (especially with microsoft new found reach with NOkia). Then when consumers go into a store like the Iphone, and Ipad they know this is the top version from this paticular company, and I dont have to worry about what version this is running, what limitation I have because this company chose to use lesser specs, and if this phone will be outdated in 3 months and not supported anymore (Android).

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