Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thoughts on the MS/Nokia Deal: Software Now Comes in a New Box

Now that the dust is starting to settle a little from this weekend's hysteria over Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's mobile assets, it probably is a good time to step back a little, take a deep breath, and think about what this means to the IT ecosystem. A good deal of ink and lots of electrons have been tortured on the Internets in breathless criticism of this deal. I think that its safe to say the usual suspects will always pop up to complain about what a horrible waste of money this is, and ostensibly, how it will mess up their carefully crafted, but meaningless financial models. Setting aside the finances, this move portends a lot of big things in the world of IT and application development. Let's walk through the list in order of obviousness.

The "New New Client" is Mobile and not MS

This can't possibly be the first time you are reading this, so I'll spare the details. Every decade or so, the predominant client architecture and it's user interface paradigm goes through a profound change. To what should be no one's surprise, it's happening again in a couple of distinct ways. Firstly, the world is going to touch interfaces. Apple's iPad can be credited for making this change stick. Secondly, the world's end users have now become inured with consuming application content on their phones. Again, Apple largely owns credit for getting this over the mass market chasm. Both of these things have a lot of repercussions if you are writing apps going forward.

What is different this time, is that the big client paradigm change was NOT driven by Microsoft. It was not influenced by Microsoft. In fact, it's hard to tell whether they were even in the room while all this was happening. So here we are, with Apple calling the shots, and the Redmondians are occupying the cheap seats. Back when I was much younger, Microsoft was the one doing the disrupting by forcing everyone to rewrite their apps for the Windows UI. This was one of the big reasons that MS succeeded in owning the PC by the early 90's. That this same strategy is now being perpetrated on their Windows platform is not lost on them. Clearly, this deal is a major part of getting their mojo back in their view.

There is a Change of Thinking Afoot in Redmond

Microsoft has always been as pure play a software company as can be imagined. Their recent trend has them veering away from that somewhat. I think this is very significant. For the last 15 years, the notion of "tin-wrapped" software has been steadily gaining credence. At first, the cognoscenti hated it because with the tin - and it's enclosed hardware - came costs, and hence lower profit margins. It has been proven, however, that this approach has a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to controlling and managing the customer experience. Intuitively, one can see that the more of the stack that a single vendor integrates, the better the customer outcome. The customer gets a more seamless, plug and play experience. The vendor also gets better lock in loyalty. Nowhere is this approach more evidently successful, than at Apple. (Oops. There's that name again.)

So, it seems that if you are going to make a technology product for mass markets, the right way to do it is to own as much of it as possible. Hence we see Microsoft making tablets (e.g. Slate), and now, they are going to be making phones. I am not going to opine on whether they can successfully pivot in this manner, but it is significant that they are slowly aligning themselves with what they see as working well in the market. They have done this before, and regardless of the outcome, they will make things very interesting for everyone involved.

If You Are Writing Apps, You Have Some Tough Choices Ahead

In the Web Era, the client was largely defined by a browser, HTML, and things like JavaScript, Java, OCX, Flash, etc. This is how you delivered your application experience to your user. That paradigm may have already Jumped The Shark as I write this. When all of the truly interesting, interactive user experiences are from natively written, touch enabled, mobile applications; the market will have to follow suit. Users will have spoken. This is already happening with services like Yelp, Uber, and Facebook, where usage has increased due to the quality of the mobile experience. Slapping an HTML 5.0 page in a browser window will be an obvious step down for a mobile user. 

Now that Microsoft has gotten religion on mobile and touch, you can be certain that it will tip whatever remaining part of the market that was on the fence. This means that app developers now need to think about native UIs for iOS, Android, and maybe even Windows. That's an awful lot of work, and some tough choices to make. For guys like me, it also means lots of cool new things to build. I love paradigm shifts.

No comments:

Post a Comment