It’s fortunate that we all have the ability as humans to grow, mature and learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the ability to adapt and learn. This fundamental principle not only applies to “macro” topics like culture; it applies to the little things as well. Cellular technology and its uses are one such example.
When cell phones first came into existence, there was essentially one use for the new technology – to make and receive phone calls. Time passed, and the emergence of the Personal Digital Assistant (“PDA”) eventually merged with the cell phone to create what came to be known as the “smart phone” – a cellular phone that could also be used to digitally maintain and manage your life. While this technology evolved, something else evolved. People began to use the technology and evolve in the ways we use the technology, as well as what we expect from the technology. As we look at today (2010) and compare how people view and expect to use smart phones to a decade ago, a lot has changed.
Ten years ago, we were all trying to figure out the best way to take advantage of smart phone technology. Not only the makers of the technology, but also the users of the technology. Different companies took different approaches. For Microsoft, the approach was simple – give users the ability to do many of things they did on a computer in a smaller, more mobile form. This is what led to the Pocket PC platform and eventually extended to the Microsoft Smartphone operating system. For the most part, no one really knew well (and could only assume) how user should interact with and experience working with a platform of this type – there really just was not enough information. Microsoft took a logical approach of familiarity; try to give users a look and feel similar to what they had on the Windows operating system. For a while, this approach worked and worked quite well. But time marched on, and along with it users comfort, experience and desires with regard to smart phones. As a result, the focus of expected user experiences also changed. This became strikingly apparent when Apple introduced the iPhone to the world.
Say what you will about Apple. Whether you like them or not, Apple does one thing as a company better than anyone in the technology sector – they research and understand targeting users and understanding their expectations for user experiences. Apple has made their living by identifying a market segment, intimately understanding how they interact with a given technology (or more importantly, how they want to interact with a given technology), and crafting a solution based upon those needs and desires. They had proven themselves time and time again with OSX as an operating system and the iPod as a media platform. While these technologies may not appeal to you or I, they did appeal to millions (I now explain to people regularly why I am not an iPod user or an OSX devotee as simply “I am not Apple’s target audience”). Apple’s next target was the cellular market – an we all know about the success of the iPhone. By identifying and understanding a user base of cell phone users, Apple created a user experience destined for success for that user base. While this was going on, Microsoft continued its focus on enabling users to do a lot of things with their now Windows Mobile devices. However, the user experience around Windows Mobile seemed to be secondary when it came to features. Which leads us to the present time.
Microsoft has shown in recent years that they are increasingly “getting it” when it comes to the user experience. While Windows Vista wasn’t the success Microsoft had hoped for, it was obvious that Microsoft was moving the desktop computing experience towards more “user-focused” features. Windows 7 has taken that design thinking to the next level, and early indicators are pointing to success in this regard. Microsoft has also shown their understanding of user experiences with both their Xbox and Zune platforms. While Zune has never achieved the sales numbers that people would have liked or expected, the customer satisfaction numbers for Zune prove that Microsoft is at least listening and responding to a targeted user bases’ needs (I think it is easy enough to argue that while their technology focus has improved, their marketing strategy still leaves much to be desired). Now, Microsoft has turned its “user experience crosshairs” on the area where they most critically need it – their mobile phone business.
If you look closely at the announced KIN platform and first devices, you can see that Microsoft has targeted a very focused user segment. This audience is all about the phone being used for connecting with friends, be it by call, email or social network. They also created very useful user experiences around all of this functionality. In the KIN, Microsoft has designed not only to do things, but to do things in a fun and efficient way.
Microsoft has taken this same approach with Windows Phone 7. They have looked at a targeted user base and focused on creating both fun and efficient user experiences to match up with user’s needs. In this respect, I am excited about Windows Phone 7. Not so much the “fun” side (although I do like fun) of the platform, mind you; I am looking forward to the efficiency. In this way, I too have evolved as a user of smart phones. While I enjoy the amount of control I have with a current Windows Mobile device, I have come to realize that is not what I really crave. I crave the ability to do the things I do on the phone in an efficient manner. I now leave the control and customization part of technology to my desktop and notebook computers. By the way – I’ve come to recognize this in my use of netbook computers as well. I craved the form factor, but the restricted power of a netbook was too hindering for me. I now realize that I am not the “target audience” for a netbook. Instead, I am the target audience for a small form-factor notebook.
KIN and Windows Phone 7 are not for everyone – I realize that. I know first-hand many existing Windows Mobile users who are upset with the decisions Microsoft has made in their mobile phone strategy. For Microsoft to succeed (or even survive) in this market, however, Microsoft has had to evolve along with users of the technology. Unfortunately, targeting certain user segments also leaves others out of the equation. From working in this segment on a daily basis, though, I can safely say the “old” market segment is much smaller than the “new” and “evolved” segment. In the end, it is about business.
Both the KIN and Windows Phone 7 platforms truly have the tools to be a success. They address how users have evolved in their usage and expectations of mobile phones. If Microsoft can effectively market that point to the world, they have the ability to once again be a major player in this market.