Innovating telecom

Robert Clark
11 Mar 2010

With its new mobile operating system, Microsoft has delivered a lesson in innovation telcos would be advised to learn.

The Windows Phone 7 platform, launched in Barcelona last month, erases a decade's work on Windows Mobile. It's no secret why. Powerhouse that it might be in the PC world, Microsoft is roadkill in the mobile space.

Pre-iPhone, WinMo had as much as 23% of the smartphone market. Its share fell three points last year to 8.7%, according to Gartner.

It's a lot easier to throw out the playbook when it doesn't work, but the wonder is why Microsoft, with its bottomless pits of cash and expertise, performed so poorly for so long.

A former Microsoft vice-president recently offered a revealing look at the company's inability develop successful new products; apart from the Xbox, it's hard to think of any winners outside its traditional desktop software. In a New York Times op-ed, Dick Brass noted that MS's huge profits - $6.7 billion for the past quarter - come almost entirely from Windows and Office.

He says Microsoft suffers from "a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence."

Brass speaks from experience. When his team invented a product that made screen type much more readable, other parts of the company tried to throttle it by claiming falsely that it made the display go haywire or that it caused headaches. The vice president for pocket devices said he'd support it only if the whole program was transferred to his control.


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