The tech influencers’ Twitter streams have been all aflutter this weekend, with talk of the Motorola Droid. Verizon Wireless launched its version this phone on Friday, and the techies are swooning. They love the screen, the Google Maps-based turn-by-turn navigation and the thinness of the phone, which still manages to sport a physical, slide-out keyboard. Most of all they love the Verizon network, which offers resilient service and ubiquitous 3G coverage.
There seems to be something else though. There’s something that people either like about the Droid, or are at least willing to tolerate: the fact that the handset manufacturer (Motorola) and the phone OS vendor (Google) are separate entities. People seem intrigued by the idea that unlike Apple, which makes both the iPhone and iPhone OS, and which controls the entire software channel for the device, that the Droid’s platform is decentralized, and the Android Market is open to all developers willing to pay the $25 registration fee.
What’s ironic about the market’s new-found love for an open platform, that OEMs can customize and anyone can develop for? It’s the exact same concept that Windows Mobile/Windows Phone has used for more than six years.
I thought (up until now) that the iPhone succeeded because it dispensed with that model. Apple decided to (1) own the platform, (2) design and manufacture the devices, (3) market the product and (4) bully their exclusive US carrier to the degree that they almost control their device’s network, too. Microsoft, on the other hand, saw companies like HTC, Samsung and Motorola make most of their phones and let the various carriers market the devices as they saw fit. I thought that lack of uniformity and control was a huge part of why Microsoft lost so much share and momentum to Apple.
But I think the Droid may prove me wrong. Google’s got a similar model to Microsoft’s, many of the same OEM’s, the same approach to carriers and the same democratic approach to developers. Meanwhile, people mistakenly believe Google invented this model, and the Droid seems poised to take off in a way that Windows Mobile never has.
I’m going to write another post one day about Microsoft’s victory in the mobile space. But it will be a look back. The win was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Microsoft built the PocketPC, and used it to beat Palm and its eponymous PDAs. The problem is that Microsoft rested on that victory, using a little-evolved version of that same device in the phone market and thus leaving themselves wide open for the drubbing they got. First from Apple and their different approach. And now from Google with an almost identical one.
It’s ironic, and it’s sad. But it’s hopeful too, because Google’s success will be, in some measure, a validation of Microsoft’s original approach. And, hopefully, it will also be a lesson in how to make better devices and strive for superior execution.