Peter Rojas from Engadget just gave Bill Gates the third degree about the next version of the XBox and more importantly, about Windows Mobile. The results were astoundingly clear. Where Bill was able to articulate the vision for the next version of XBox and give straight answers to what it does and doesn't do (it's not going to be a media center, for example), he was clearly befuddled at the mobile market and tried to spin and create FUD, but not really doing either very well.
I think Peter did a great job of not just nodding along to Bill's first opaque answers to his Windows Mobile questions. He kept trying to get Bill to explain his vision and clarify Microsoft Mobile strategy in a competitive market and to me, it just came across as Bill just not getting it. At all. I mean, hey, Bill's the richest guy on the planet, not me... so you can be the judge who really gets it. But in this case, I think he's being as short sighted as the original version of The Road Ahead which if you remember, forgot to mention the Internet... in 1995.
First, he refused to recognize that Symbian is destroying Microsoft in the smart phone market by shifting the focus of the question to Nokia, RIM and Palm. Man, if Bill is holding up the Treo as any sort of example, you know he's out of the loop. Here's a great quote:
You also have down in the consumer space this idea that as you get camera features in and data browsing in it plays much more to our strengths. It's much more of a software device...
Actually, no, mobiles aren't software devices just yet. Though I fervently wish we were at the point where people bought mobile phones because of their ability to run certain applications, we won't be there for quite a while more - *especially in the consumer space*. In the business market this does apply somewhat (mostly just mail), but consumers want their phones to "just work" like iPods, and software to them isn't software as such, but added functionality like games or ringtones. You might say that Microsoft is taking the long view, but in the context of this interview I didn't see that. I saw it as Bill not really having a clear understanding of the consumer mobile market as it is now, or will be in the forseeable future. I mean reading the interview, it sounds like he wants your Mom to have to use her PC in order to get her mobile phone working! That's way out there.
Another quote which made me think Bill was just making things up as he went along:
So we're just at the beginning of our mobile phone thing, because speech recognition, visual recognition, and data is just beginning to be a meaningful thing in terms of phone usage. Mail, yes. That's started. But data is just getting reasonably priced.
Wow, now *that* really is the long view. Mobility is in its infancy because speech and visual recognition isn't common? Yowza. I agree that data penetration could be a lot better (in the West at least) and that much more can be built on top of phones that have better connectivity, but I would put that in a much, much different category than speech and visual recognition.
Finally Peter just asked Gates outright the main question: "Is the goal to have a Windows Mobile phone in every pocket just like the goal is to have a Windows PC on every desk?" Bill's answer was less than inspiring if you're a Microsoft fan, and quite amusing for the rest of us. The answer should have been something along the lines of, "Yes of course. We feel that our mobile operating system empowers users like no other mobile platform, and we want to provide that power to as many people as possible. To get there we need to make smart phones easy to use and accessible to everyone, yet have the ability to extend their capabilities through our software platforms - both on the handset and on the server - so that the most advanced business user can get the maximum value from their mobile as well. It will be a while before consumers realize the power of their mobile phones, but we feel that eventually the market will shift en-masse to our vision of the future."
But he didn't say that, did he? What he did say was this:
Well there'll always be tons of operating systems. There'll always be tons of software stacks in mobile phones. We're trying to make the best software we can and we have no shortage of ideas where we can make that phone way better than it is today.
Too bad he didn't want to bother sharing any of those great ideas, hey? My bet is they really don't have any because they don't really get it (or at least their Chairman doesn't). This a good thing. It gives the rest of us just a little more breathing room until Microsoft actually does get it.