Thursday, July 01, 2010

Why Microsoft killed the T-Mobile Sidekick

Prior to the iPhone, the best SmartPhone for someone who didn't need Outlook access was arguably the T-Mobile Sidekick. It provided excellent cloud capabilities (all contacts, calendars, photos, etc. were synced auto-magically) back when "the Cloud" was still conceptual to Microsoft and Apple. It was a good phone with strong battery and antenna. It had an excellent screen, a unique design, and an excellent hard keyboard. And it had the cheapest unlimited data plan out there, appealing to low-end users. Then, it was bought by Microsoft who promptly let the servers die, losing customer data, and then turned it into the Kin. Which they promptly killed, in favor of Windows 7 phones.

Why did Microsoft buy such a valuable piece of technology and then abandon it? Insiders claim it was a combination of factors: (1) the psychotic obsession with making every operating system a branch of Windows (pushed by the release by 18 months), (2) the internecine squabbling within the Microsoft mobile division amongst managers, and (3) a complete lack of actual vision for what the behemoth wants to produce for a phone.

Overall, it appears that Microsoft simply never saw the Apple/Google SmartPhone revolution coming. So, every move in the last 3 years - Windows Mobile 6.X, the Windows Phone 7 announcements, the Sidekick/Hiptop/Kin moves, the Microsoft Courier project - are all signs of panic as they try to figure out how to proceed and who to copy. Expect more casualties in the months ahead.

Rest in Peace, Sidekick. You will be missed.


Aaron Klein said...

Actually, I'll beg to differ a little bit on your analysis.

Microsoft was actually quite prescient on where a lot of the technology was going. Bill Gates stood on stage in 2005 and described the iPad.

Microsoft's problem was the complete and utter failure to execute on the vision.

While this latest news is being claimed by pundits as evidence that Microsoft's strategy is still in disarray, product development lifecycles are such that past strategic mistakes are still working their way out.

Six months ago - Microsoft made a "bet the company" move on Windows Phone 7 - breaking the shackles of past compatibility and building a completely new mobile OS. Sure, the branding is Windows Phone, but there is zero technical relationship between Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile 6.5.

Will it work? I remain skeptical. But dropping Kin/Sidekick is one of the first signs that they are actually putting all of their chips behind one strategy. Not a typical Microsoft move, but long overdue.

The mobile story is still being written. I don't know if there is room for Windows Phone 7 or webOS at this point, and BlackBerry has a limited window of time to get the OS right.

Otherwise, it becomes an iOS vs. Android world, and remember that the Mac looked like the dominant computer in 1984. Apple has a long road ahead of itself to maintain their momentum with a closed platform. It may well work this time...

Nomad said...

Insightful comments. The problems with the theory include:

1. The recent firing of the head of Microsoft's mobile division after the Windows 7 Phone announcement

2. The fact that the Kin was allowed to release at all, and that they spent millions of dollars in a huge ad campaign.

3. The continued sales of Windows Mobile 6.5 and encouragement to customers that "they are not abandoning it"

I grant you that looking at Microsofts strategy now is looking at distant stars - what is visible now was put into motion a long time ago. It is possible that Windows 7 Phone will be amazing when it releases, and it will change the industry. (I doubt it. Day late and a dollar short. But never count out Microsoft.)

As to the discussion of whether the iPhone will turn out to be the PC or the Mac - whether it will dominate or lapse back into irrelevance - remains to be seen. I agree there is the potential, and am enjoying the ride for now. But either way, Microsoft looks a lot more like IBM at the start of the PC revolution, rather than the Microsoft of old. They're poised to use strategies of the last revolution in the next one.

The next 5 years will be exciting to watch.