The Smartphone Wars: Microsoft may win after all

By a curiously-timed coincidence, three lines of evidence have combined over the last week to convince me that I have been seriously underestimating Microsoft’s competitive potential in the smartphone market. One is that I actually got my hands on a Windows 7 phone; another is a report from a major market-research outfit that has been reliable in the past; and the third is a revealing report from an informant on the hardware side who I’ll call Deep Chip.

The sporadic reports that Microsoft has achieved something remarkable with its WP7 interface turn out, much to my astonishment, not to be lies. A major, underappreciated strength of the design is that the large, simple, rectangular touch areas turn out to require less dexterity and mental effort to use than the rows of tiny icons on an Android or iOS phone. Mate this to a well-thought out navigation structure and you get a sort of art that conceals art – not flashy, but more effective than a design that focuses more on eye candy. I’m thinking they may actually have stolen a march on Apple here.

Next, we have Android, Windows Phone to rule mobile. IDC’s projection of a 67% compounded annual growth rate over 2011-2015 may seem implausible, but the company points out that Nokia is in a strong position to upsell its Symbian userbase (still a plurality worldwide) into WP7 phones. And IDC has an enviably accurate record in such market projections.

Finally, I’ve received a fascinating report from a source inside a major component vendor. Deep Chip informs me that several major Pacific-Rim electronics manufacturers want Microsoft to break out of its present 2% basement because they fear being stuck in an Android monopsony, a concern which has become more acute as a result of persistent rumors that Google plans to go into the hardware business and produce own-brand phones.

Apple manufactures its own chips, and its relationship with one contractor (Foxconn) is so intimate that the other electronics houses fear having to accept ever-decreasing margins through having no competing buyers. Thus, they’re actually pulling for WP7 demand to rise fast enough to create a vigorous non-Apple, non-Android market for their hardware.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is quietly flexing its muscles. While Google has been unable to prevent premature tablet ports of Android, Microsoft has successfully prevented the carriers from issuing its March WP7 upgrade before it was fully baked. Microsoft’s contention all along has been that Android is chaos and that the carriers would benefit from a more measured and disciplined approach; that argument might be getting some traction.

Between Microsoft, its allied carriers, and the electronics houses, the outlines of a coalition actually capable of surging past iOS and seriously threatening Android seem to be gradually emerging. A little-noticed feature of the Nokia-Windows alliance – the lack of an exclusivity clause on either side – assumes greater significance now. I’m thinking it may turn out that the NoWin deal was a billion-dollar head-fake.

82 thoughts on “The Smartphone Wars: Microsoft may win after all

  1. The WP7 interface really is pretty good. I mentioned it before when I was talking about shopping for a new android at the T-Mobile store. The only “android” phone my wife liked was the WP7 one. Still, even with that I do think they’ll need something more / different, perhaps something to get the corporate buyers interested and take RIM’s space as the “sales guy phone”. A phone with all the corporate goodies of a blackberry, with a decent UI (don’t get me started on the new blackberry UI), exchange / doc / xls support and no random complete email and internet outages because everything has to go through the mother ship? It could be a winer.

  2. Reading your post it occurred to me that icons on phones came straight from icons on a user’s desktop.

    I wonder if the WP7 interface might inspire some new desktop designs.

  3. “Deep Chip informs me that several major Pacific-Rim electronics manufacturers want Microsoft to break out of its present 2% basement because they fear being stuck in an Android monopsony, a concern which has become more acute as a result of persistent rumors that Google plans to go into the hardware business and produce own-brand phones.”

    That would mean that the initiative is with Google, and not MS. Google can convince the HW makers that they do not want to enter the market, and then MS are on their own again.

    The HW makers do know that they need competition between the OS makers to get any margin. That means they must make sure MS will not get to large too. They know how MS make their money.

    However, as the VCR, Music, and PC markets have shown, there is very little room for more than one technical standard (~10% to be more precise). A 50/50 market share for two mobile phone OS’ is simply much too expensive. The pressure for the market to settle on one standard will be much too strong.

    And if they must choose, the HW makers will know which OS will leave them any breathing room.

    Anyhow, if you read “The problem with Microsoft…”, you see that MS will not make it until 2015. At least not in one part. Calls for splitting MS into six parts are growing stronger.
    http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/03/29/the-problem-with-microsoft/

    Ballmer has scoffed at suggestions that Microsoft spin off its consumer business. Speaking at an industry conference in October, Ballmer called Goldman analyst Sarah Friar “nutty” for proposing just that when she downgraded Microsoft’s stock, and he dubbed her suggestion “the second most crazy idea I have ever heard.” (He gave no indication of his top choice. Friar has since left Goldman.)

  4. I think this is really a testament to an oft-underappreciated advantage proprietary products have over “free” software – the more orderly development atmosphere allows the projects to be driven with a single vision, ultimately resulting in a more efficient development environment and a more cohesive and stable product. Microsoft in particular has really mastered the art of avoiding the internal divisions that have so often plagued open-source projects (going all the way back to UNIX), and making sure that each portion of each program interacts equally with every portion of every other program, for maximum speed, consistency, and reliability.

    I’d say you deserve major kudos for realizing this back in 2000, when you commented on how the “cathedral”-like development process of proprietary products provided for much more efficiency than the “bazaar”-like model common in open-source products ever could. To quote your essay: open-source projects are the summation of “differing agendas and approaches out of which a coherent and stable system could [never] emerge.” Congrats on being right!

    It’s for this reason that Microsoft dominates the supercomputer, server, and PC markets, and will soon dominate the smartphone and tablet markets!

  5. @Scott Lawrence
    “It’s for this reason that Microsoft dominates the supercomputer, server, and PC markets, and will soon dominate the smartphone and tablet markets!”

    You sounded “reasonable” until this last quote. MS dominating the supercomputer market?

    But I should have known when you wrote:

    “and making sure that each portion of each program interacts equally with every portion of every other program, for maximum speed, consistency, and reliability.”

    That can only be intended as humor. Your humor tags were lost I assume? I totally got off guard. Good humor!

  6. Good to enough to make me read every paragraph twice, which are the best kind of April Fool’s. :-)

  7. @K
    Indeed, I fall for these every year :-( Will I ever learn?

    But maybe the moderator should remove these spoilers.

  8. @Winter: I suspect that /my/ humor isn’t the only thing that’s catching you off guard today. Perhaps you should get some sleep, before you accept that job offer from google.

  9. @Scott Lawrence,
    “Perhaps you should get some sleep, before you accept that job offer from google.”

    The worst part, It is 8 AM over here. I am just out of bed and had my morning coffee. More like still not awake.

    And Google never offered me a job. The nearest I got was winning a Google raffle at a conference. I would not know what to do at Google anyway.

  10. Now that we got the point of the post (it still hurts), we could look at what it would take for MS to pull this one off. There is a barrage of articles attacking Google, even an anti-trust complaint in Europe (http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=2011033112355966). The Register has started to publish anti-Google articles on a regular basis.

    So either (or both) Apple and MS are still thinking it is worthwhile to fight Android big time. Are they playing along the Qaddafi book of Market Dominance, ie, rather levelling the market with artillery than get only a small part of the pie?

  11. Sorry about the spoiler. But people usually read the article before the comments anyway… ESR must have posted it right about when I was starting on my morning commute…

  12. Welcome to April Fool’s Day, the only universal Internet holiday! :-)

  13. Yesterday we could have considered seriously the possibility that Microsoft will win the smartphone wars. But today, with Google’s latest technology salvo, which Mr. Raymond conveniently neglected to mention in his essay, there can be no question of Microsoft’s ultimate success. Shame on you, ESR.

    Gmail Motion:
    http://gmail.com/motion/

  14. I had pointed out the IDC article to Eric a few days ago, and was wondering what he would have to say about it here. I can’t think of a better response.

  15. In the spirit of the original post.

    One aspect no one has mentioned is in Microsoft’s mobile dominance is their installed base of gaming consoles. What if their next generation console is a phone? Or what if it is an app on WP7?

    It’d likely need a docking station as power requirements for a console, mobile battery capacity, and hours of play isn’t going to happen soon. It makes no sense not to leverage their XBOX users to drive WP7 sales. Sony may already be moving towards their PS4 as a phone or app as evidenced by the Xperia Play.

  16. @Dan R
    “One aspect no one has mentioned is in Microsoft’s mobile dominance is their installed base of gaming consoles.”
    “It makes no sense not to leverage their XBOX users to drive WP7 sales. ”

    That idea has popped up several times in comments. There are a few problems.
    1) The Xbox360 runs on Intel, not ARM
    2) The OS of the Xbox360 is based on Windows2000, which does not run on ARM

    Porting the OS and games to ARM would take the same effort as porting Windows 7/8/9. And without a port, nothing that works under Windows7/8/9 or Xbox will work on WPone7/8/9.

    How can you leverage an installed base when nothing from that installed base will run?

  17. @jsk
    “The X360 is a PPC Xenon from IBM”

    Sorry, I misread Xenon for Intel Xeon. You are right, the Xbox360 runs on IBM Cell (I somehow forgot). And I read the Win2000 somewhere, written by someone who did not know it neither, obviously.

    So, having shown that I know less than nothing about the Xbox, how would that translate to leveling the Xbox on WP7?

    ARM is not Cell nor PPC, and Xbox OS is no Windows 7 nor is WinCE/7. Sounds still bleak to me.

  18. Being a relatively new reader, this is my first of esr’s 4/1 jokes. Well done, sir! It was made better by the fact that he played it complete straight, with the same logic and evidence-based argument we expect and love. Happy April Fool’s everyone!

  19. I was convinced that IDC’s prediction of a 67% growth for WP7 was also a joke, until I checked ….

    I suppose that ESR’s observation about IDC being accurate in the past is a joke, though. What was he referring to?

  20. @esr:

    Now, all you have to do is sit back and shut up on the cellphone topic, and no matter what happens, you’ve got it predicted correctly!

    BTW, FWIW I read Deep Chip all the time…

  21. Winter,

    Both the Xbox and Windows Phone run XNA, a game framework based on .NET. And the Xbox 360 has an IBM PowerPC-derived CPU.

    And yes, even though Eric has his trollface on, this post is actually pretty plausible. Microsoft may get their heads out their butts and if they do, there’s no stopping them.

  22. @Jay I’m sure they achieved >90% penetration of the OS and browser market because their heads were in their butts all the time.

  23. If so, it would be the first time.

    They didn’t get to high-90s desktop market share by being stupid. They just realized they didn’t have to write good software to do it!

  24. Microsoft got to >90% market penetration by anticompetitive techniques that are going to be very difficult to replicate today. Turning up the temperature extremely slowly until you have a boiled frog might not work on a frog that’s just seen his buddy salted and buttered.

  25. Well played.

    I was fairly sure it was a 4/1 joke as I had just finished scanning the Slashdot ones and the Google one was on our morning radio station this AM – then I got to the IDC quote and checked it out, wondering if you had somehow managed to get them in on the joke (which would have been a REAL joke, all things considered ;) but it checked out.

    At that point I started doubting your sanity – but shook it off. There’s just no way you could possibly have done a 180 on MS that quickly without putting in some really biting remarks that at the least would have been far more self-deprecating that the minor ones you did put in. If you’d done that you might have gotten me to the 95% believer mark despite the date.

    Well done

  26. I was reading fast and sort of absent-mindedly and got all the way to “IDC has an enviably accurate record in such market projections” before realizing. Blech. I seem to fall for all of these even if I’m perfectly aware of the date. I bought the “GNOME 3.0 delayed for 6 months” headline before reading a few lines of the post.

  27. I have been reading this blog for two years now I suppose, more or less, after reading most of the content of the older esr site which made me realize what a fascinating bunch hackers are. The funny thing is that I don’t even own a smartphone, but the reading is interesting all the same !

    Althought I am obviously not a hacker myself (or maybe because of it ?) I did not buy this windows 7 stuff (after a few seconds of astonishment, I must admit) simply because it just did not *feel* right, like encountering a polar bear in Tahiti. ESRmight as well have Written “Why we sould abandon the first amendment and all this carrying guns stuff”. Then I remembered the date and I was sure.

  28. @Federico:

    I suppose that ESR’s observation about IDC being accurate in the past is a joke, though. What was he referring to?

    Umm, any IDC report?

    Take the itanium for example. IDC’s been making off-the-wall forecasts about that forever:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/02/28/itanium_04_sales/

    Here’s an extremely amusing chart, of several predictions of itanium sales volume (not necessarily, though probably, all IDC), against actual sales:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Itanium_Sales_Forecasts_edit.png

  29. I wonder if they’re actually recording all the muppets contorting themselves? A montage of idiocy!

  30. >Sorry, I misread Xenon for Intel Xeon. You are right, the Xbox360 runs on IBM Cell (I somehow forgot). And I read the Win2000 somewhere,
    >written by someone who did not know it neither, obviously.

    Oh it’s not that bad, you’re dating yourself. The original Xbox was commodity PC hardware- P3 cpu, Nvidia GPU, standard 3.5″ hard drive- which made it much bigger and heavier than its competitors, thus the jokes about things being OMGXBOXHUGE. There were major rumors at the time of it running a modified Win2K, but they turned out to be just rumors. The 360 is indeed quite different.

    I enjoy a good April Fools gag, this one was pretty decent -it was a especially a treat for regular readers.

  31. “Microsoft got to >90% market penetration by anticompetitive techniques that are going to be very difficult to replicate today. Turning up the temperature extremely slowly until you have a boiled frog might not work on a frog that’s just seen his buddy salted and buttered.”

    I wonder what that has to do with my comment…

  32. Apparently, not knowing who IDC is(and not looking at the timestamp) means that I don’t get the joke. That is actually a perfectly coherent argument on its face.

  33. I know this is an April Fools post, but I’m with tmoney – the WP7 interface is actually good and really, honestly innovative, as I believe I’ve said here before.

    I can’t believe it’ll be “dominant”, but if/when WP7 fails abysmally it won’t, at least, be because the UI/UX was bad.

  34. (In Winter’s defense, also, his claims about an Intel CPU and a Win2k variant were true of the original XBox.

    Just not the 360.)

  35. Porting the OS and games to ARM would take the same effort as porting Windows 7/8/9. And without a port, nothing that works under Windows7/8/9 or Xbox will work on WPone7/8/9.

    Wait.. you do know that Win8 is going to run on ARM, right? I have no idea what this means for the XBox or WP7, but the OS support for ARM is evidently already underway.

  36. Yes indeed, y’all have been AFJed in what I like to think is the classic style. All those years on USENET had to be good for something.

    And interesting feature of the OP is that while certain subordinate sentence clauses are not false, and much of the rest seems plausible, there is not a single entire sentence in the OP that is actually true.

  37. Well, now that it’s no longer April First, I will say that the latest comscore report is out, and if Microsoft is going to win, they probably ought to start selling more stuff. In the last three months, they lost, not only market share, but absolute subscribers.

    No real surprises. Android kicking ass, Verizon gave Apple a little bump, and RIM taking it in the shorts. Unfortunately, since it’s some kind of average ending February, it might not fully reflect Verizon iPhone. It will be very interesting to see Apple’s numbers on that in a few weeks.

  38. Another look at the article shows that:

    - Total cellphone (including dumbphone numbers) was probably static. Using the numbers given (which probably gives some round-off error), total cellphones increased from 233 million to 234 million from the November report to the February report.

    Plugging Apple’s percentages in here, they gained around 2.2 M subscribers during that period. That includes Xmas, of course, and AT&T pushing new (iPhone 4) and old (recycled iPhone 3) pretty hard.

    But, interestingly, Apple’s gain was Mot’s loss. That’s on total cellphones, not necessarily smartphones, but… The report specifically calls the Verizon iPhone “the most acquired handset in the month of February” and, of course, Verizon was where you could get the Droid. The press release is a pretty good teaser — I’d almost be interested enough in seeing the full report to pay a bit.

    The other stat we can tease out from this is, qualitatively, the sorts of phones people in the US are buying. As I mentioned, the total market grew maybe a million subscribers, but smartphones grew by 8 million subscribers.

    RIM actually lost half a million subscribers, and Microsoft and Palm together lost another 630K.

    As mentioned, Apple gained around 2.2 million, leaving the remaining 7 million upgraders and RIM/MS/Palm defectors to Android. Android added 225% more subscribers during the 3 months than Apple.

  39. I was somewhat late in spotting these articles. They clearly explain the why and how of the Android Juggernaut. And it explains why the phone suppliers rather are in bed with Google: Google earns their money by removing all obstacles between their business and the user, leaving more money for the phone suppliers. All the others, Apple, RIM, MS, earn their money by taxing users, and thus leaving less money for the phone suppliers.

    Why open code is irrelevant to Android’s success
    http://www.infoworld.com/d/open-source-software/why-open-code-irrelevant-androids-success-311

    Those who should care the most about openness –users — continue to select products that optimize user experience over openness; it’s an interesting development, considering that the traditional PC provides a highly customizable environment with the flexibility to mix and match hardware with operating systems. One would have expected mobile buyers to seek this same level of hardware and software flexibility in their “post-PC” device purchases.

    The Freight Train That Is Android
    http://abovethecrowd.com/2011/03/24/freight-train-that-is-android/

    So here is the kicker. Android, as well as Chrome and Chrome OS for that matter, are not “products” in the classic business sense. They have no plan to become their own “economic castles.” Rather they are very expensive and very aggressive “moats,” funded by the height and magnitude of Google’s castle. Google’s aim is defensive not offensive. They are not trying to make a profit on Android or Chrome. They want to take any layer that lives between themselves and the consumer and make it free (or even less than free). Because these layers are basically software products with no variable costs, this is a very viable defensive strategy. In essence, they are not just building a moat; Google is also scorching the earth for 250 miles around the outside of the castle to ensure no one can approach it. And best I can tell, they are doing a damn good job of it.

  40. The Sega Dreamcast was a customised Windows CE with a highly optimised port of DirectX. More likely the XBox is based on CE, which has a different kernel to NT. The CE kernel supports hard-realtime, for example, and drops all the multi-user security functionality which is unnecessary for a single-purpose box.

  41. Quoting esr: “And interesting feature of the OP is that while certain subordinate sentence clauses are not false, and much of the rest seems plausible, there is not a single entire sentence in the OP that is actually true.”

    Arguably, “Meanwhile, Microsoft is quietly flexing its muscles.” is a complete sentence, and could be true at any time. I do suspect that at any given time it’s overall muscle mass is shrinking, but it will likely be both loudly and quietly flexing those muscles until it is well and truely dead –which may take some time. Unfortunately.

  42. >Arguably, “Meanwhile, Microsoft is quietly flexing its muscles.” is a complete sentence, and could be true at any time.

    You have a colorable argument there. But the specific thing I was thinking there was that Microsoft’s failure to get carriers to do more than twitch in the direction of releasing the March WP7 update was in fact a complete failure to impose its will. Credit to Ken Burnside for pointing this out when I told him the sort of AFJ I was planning to write.

  43. You had me right up until the “successfully prevented carriers from shipping their update…”

    However,

    A major, underappreciated strength of the design is that the large, simple, rectangular touch areas turn out to require less dexterity and mental effort to use than the rows of tiny icons on an Android or iOS phone.

    I actually completely agreed with this sentence. I think it’s a genuine merit of their Metro interface that it depends more on big, coarse swipes to change views, and selectable elements tend to be oversize. With certain dexterity limitations I could believe it is the easiest interface of all three to use.

    @Winter:

    One would have expected mobile buyers to seek this same level of hardware and software flexibility in their “post-PC” device purchases.

    I misunderstand this quote from the first article. This sentence seems slightly off-logic to me. Hasn’t every headline suggested that large numbers of customers *are* choosing Android (and hence, hardware/software flexibility)?

  44. @Ben:

    The Sega Dreamcast was a customised Windows CE with a highly optimised port of DirectX. More likely the XBox is based on CE, which has a different kernel to NT. The CE kernel supports hard-realtime, for example, and drops all the multi-user security functionality which is unnecessary for a single-purpose box.

    Actually if memory serves correctly, Dreamcast was a dual-mode system. It ran both SegaOS (the default Dreamcast BIOS and software stack) for direct hardware access, and it could also run in Windows CE [but not many games if any used this feature.]

    Or maybe I’m only partially correct (something like a stack called “SegaOS” running on top of the CE kernel) but I was fairly certain the Dreamcast actually really utilize Windows CE all that much, despite the bragging points.

  45. >I actually completely agreed with this sentence.

    I thought that was one of my cleverer bits of misdirection. It does sound very plausible unless you’ve read enough human-factors research. In fact, at the hand and eye ranges where smartphones get used, the size difference between Metro panels and conventional icons doesn’t matter. Fix the device at longer range, or above shoulder height, though, and it would start to matter a lot.

    The fact that you hold a phone in a hand when you use it matters a lot. It means that when the control elements are at the edge of your comfort range for visual discrimination, you just move it closer to your eyes without even noticing that you’re making the adjustment. It also means that your proprioceptive map for planning interface motions is better. So, again, there’s no actual gain from Metro. Unless you have fingers the size of kielbasa…

  46. Well, big fingers are definitely common – if they correlate with purchase of 4+ inch devices perhaps. But Metro by design seems to require less accurate pointing, and depends more upon swipes. The visual size isn’t a big deal, but I think the enlarged touch targets are definitely friendly.

    Watching friends search and poke for small buttons on these ~4 inch touchscreens (because UI designers will *always* make use of the minimum target size) is a little strange. Especially on WebOS, which I think pushes a little too far toward the tiny edge.

    Less detail, but bigger targets seems like a genuinely good idea to me in a pocket-sized device, only for the touch size alone. I would be interested to see that this isn’t born out in user interaction literature though. I haven’t used Windows Phone (only tried a Zune HD), but it seems intuitive to me that the Metro UI would be easier to single-finger navigate than iOS, WebOS, or Android.

    Very clever though.

  47. There’s another true sentence in your OP:
    “Next, we have Android, Windows Phone to rule mobile(Link).” – That was, in fact, the next thing you spoke of.

  48. twilightomni – Eric’s sentence about the UI is almost completely, word for word, identical to an account I gave him four months ago – when I got to play with an iPhone, a Droid and a Windows 7 phone within an hour of each other.

    I happen to like the Metro interface. I like that the information updates live – you can pull the phone out and look at it for status indicators rather than having to navigate things. The swipe-and-move modality is better than the hunt-and-peck.

    Since Eric has never used it extensively, and would quite possibly rupture the space time continuum if he found something to like about a Microsoft UI, he remains skeptical. :)

  49. @twilightomni
    “I misunderstand this quote from the first article. This sentence seems slightly off-logic to me. Hasn’t every headline suggested that large numbers of customers *are* choosing Android (and hence, hardware/software flexibility)?”

    I think I selected the wrong quote. What I wanted to refer to was the fact that consumers benefit most from open systems due to the competition. However, they always go for a nice UI even if that means lock in and worse products later. I do not see this as a paradox. It follows directly from game theory..

    For Android, this simply means that maego is less of a cometitor.

  50. @Winter,

    It depends upon what level of competition (hardware, software) we’re talking about. If every single phone ran Android, I’d call that a lack of competition in the platform space. (“Open” aside, of course).

    Obviously saying “it’s a nice UI” or “it’s open” or “it’s just marketed really well” probably oversimplifies buying decisions.

    What I meant was that same author both argues 1) More people are buying Android devices, 2) Android is open (but less than it used to be? Less than Apple, etc), and 3) Why do customers keep buying devices that aren’t open?

    3 doesn’t seem to flow from the premises of #1, or maybe I skimmed his article too quickly and he’s slamming Android for not really being “open”. It sounds like what is happening is exactly what he wants to happen, so I’m not sure why he sounds so dissatisfied.

  51. Previously: obviously that should be “Android is open (…More than Apple.)

  52. >twilightomni – Eric’s sentence about the UI is almost completely, word for word, identical to an account I gave him four months ago

    That’s not how I recall it. You seemed to me to be speaking more of time-domain responsiveness due to laggy refresh on the Android, rather than the control element size.

  53. It’s a Fitts’ Law thing — Metro wins that competition because every button is always next to a screen edge, and thus easier to acquire accurately. I thought that was pretty brilliant the first time I saw it.

  54. @twilightomni:
    “It depends upon what level of competition (hardware, software) we’re talking about. If every single phone ran Android, I’d call that a lack of competition in the platform space. (“Open” aside, of course).”

    Competition between phone makers and providers. I do not believe the “benefits” of competition between standards outweight their costs.

  55. @Winter:

    Competition between carriers and phone makers is definitely good. Competition between platforms is also good, as otherwise we wouldn’t have Metro or WebOS.

  56. >It’s a Fitts’ Law thing — Metro wins that competition because every button is always next to a screen edge, and thus easier to acquire accurately. I thought that was pretty brilliant the first time I saw it.

    Ah, now that is a valid point – where the size of the control elements wouldn’t be. Interesting.

  57. @Winter:

    Those who should care the most about openness –users — continue to select products that optimize user experience over openness…

    I had already seen (and for the most part agree with) the article about google’s “moat”. I completely disagree about whether openness of Android matters, and I vehemently disagree that users are the ones who should care most about openness. Let me rephrase that. To the extent that openness matters to the end users, and to the extent that network effects haven’t already locked an open solution out of a market, vendors will care deeply about openness on behalf of the users simply by caring about their own bottom line. That’s part of how the free market works, when it’s allowed to function properly.

    I think I selected the wrong quote. What I wanted to refer to was the fact that consumers benefit most from open systems due to the competition. However, they always go for a nice UI even if that means lock in and worse products later. I do not see this as a paradox. It follows directly from game theory..

    But, successful businesses aren’t going to be swayed by the shiny. They are swayed by the money, and if the shine can be applied well enough for the customer to the cheaper long-term infrastructure, they are going to make that investment.

    One thing that RMS and the FSF don’t get is that the desire for “free as in beer” always leads to the desire for “free as in open” when it comes to mission-critical software. These handset manufacturers, and to some extent the carriers, have made a significant investment in a new infrastructure. Nothing is every truly fiscally free, and the ability to amortize present costs over future production is paramount. Remember that Google has a habit of deciding to do something big and “beta” and then to stop caring about it later.

    If I were a carrier and wanted to believe in google’s “free as in beer” offering, but was leery about their commitment to the whole cellphone thing, I might want a contract that said that I get the source and I can do whatever I want with the source:

    - I can get third parties to write code for me
    - I can work with other manufacturers on the source in case Google stops caring, even manufacturers that don’t have current contracts with Google
    - I can sublicense the code to other manufacturers (e.g. for market segments I don’t care about)
    - I don’t have to worry about or account for how many copies I ship
    - Google will never change its mind and assert patents against me in a lame attempt to collect royalties later

    And, oh by the way, if Google has some mechanism not related directly to the code where they can funnel me some additional revenue gravy, that’s nice too, and I might (or might not) agree to stipulations about what I do with the code to get at that additional revenue. But first I want to make sure I don’t have to invest in a new OS next year.

  58. From what I understand, isn’t Fitts Law not about corners (a specific case) but in fact specifically about how the virtual *size* of an interface target affects how easily people access it?

    I mean, if Metro only allowed two giant half-wide screen buttons per row, that would definitely be a case of Fitts Law optimization due to target size.

  59. >From what I understand, isn’t Fitts Law not about corners (a specific case) but in fact specifically about how the virtual *size* of an interface target affects how easily people access it?

    It is. But as I pointed out earlier, the size of a control element on a handset is whatever you want it to be – people will move the phone to a position at which visual discrimination is easy. Relative size might be an issue, but all the control elements in a Metro panel array or iOS/Android icon grid have the same size.

    This may leave corners and edges with some advantage; infinite depth is still infinite depth. But I’m not at all sure of that now that I’ve had time to think it through. The problem is that Fitt’s Law assumes, in effect, that your fingertip is always glued to the screen. I think the effort model has to be different when your action path is not limited to the screen surface but involves landing on it from above. I am not sure that edge and corner effects survive that change.

    tl;dr – Applicability of Fitt’s Law to smartphone interfaces is not a given. 3D motion matters.

  60. Fitts’ original paper was published in 1954. His original experiments involved subjects tapping a stylus between two separate target regions on a flat surface. It doesn’t assume that your fingertip is always glued to the screen.

  61. btw, lest there be any confusion, I do not think Windows Phone 7 is going to be any kind of a success at all. If nothing else, I don’t believe Microsoft will stay focused on the strategy they’ve laid out. I also am not interested in using a Microsoft phone, since my current phone is good enough. I just find the UI intriguing, in part because I instinctively don’t expect Microsoft to do smart UI stuff. One of my strategies for remaining mentally flexible is to leap on the possibility that I’m wrong about stuff like that. You gotta be your own devil’s advocate.

  62. It’s a Fitts’ Law thing — Metro wins that competition because every button is always next to a screen edge, and thus easier to acquire accurately. I thought that was pretty brilliant the first time I saw it.

    Note that the mile high menu bar (i.e. menu bar at top of screen) isn’t really Fitts’s law, though it’s the formula behind it. The mile high menu bar is a Bruce Tognazzini (founder of ) thing.

    Fitts’s law (which does apply to smartphones) is that the speed of pressing a button is related to the Distance divided by the Width of (or margin of error in hitting) the button. Tog’s corollary (if you will) is that a menu bar at the top of the screen is effectively “a mile high”, or in other words to reach the menu bar you just slam the mouse to the top of your pad as fast as possible and you’re there.

    While fitts’s law applies to smartphones (although with different co-efficients for movement speed), Corners and edges don’t necessarily have the same “mile high”ness about them that they do in mouse driven interfaces (except maybe if you’re dragging to the edge). If i press 1cm to the side of my smartphone, i haven’t pressed the button just as much as if i’ve bashed 1cm to the side of a button in the middle of the screen.

  63. A discussion about the relative merits of mobile OS’s with relation to finger sizes sounds a bit outdated to me. We usually no longer designer forms by pixel by pixel, just define the UI in XML or something like that and let a framework sort out the rest. How hard it would be to include a hot dog finger mode in the framework which increases button sizes and automatically pushes buttons that don’t fit on the screen downward for scrolling or to a side screen available by a sideways swipe? This is absolutely not something that needs to be hardcoded into an OS, therefore, should have no effect on the evaluation of OSes.

    Even better, include pinch-zooming and bidirectional scrolling in the framework just like it is in pretty much every mobile browser. I have no problem using desktop-intended web apps in Opera Mini.

  64. The article linked below disagrees with the OP ;-) They think MS is large becoming irrelevant. The curious thing is that this is a post from the future: It is said to have been posted on 08 March 2011.

    And a question. Do they really say “let’s Bing it” in TV shows?

    Microsoft Business Practices Edges Them Closer to Oblivion
    http://www.mediavisioninteractive.com/blog/index.php/facts-and-figures/microsoft-business-practices

    * Apple’s and Android’s

    Let’s get this elephant out the room – Apple’s OSX will never take over the market percentage which Microsoft is currently sitting on. The same goes for Android. Despite their good looks (iOS) or freedom for creative thought outside of a restrictive OS (Android), Windows remains as the number one OS not only for home and business computers, but for computers built into everyday products such as ATM’s and supermarket cash registers. But despite this, Microsoft is still thinking too small and cannot seem to push their OS into the hands of the average person on the go. Their Windows 7 phone and the Zune are nothing more than an unmitigated failure; Microsoft’s next attempt is a tablet-like device in 2012. Some success could still come its way.

    Additionally, Microsoft has lost a great portion of respect amongst the man on the street – when a question is asked we say ‘Just Google it.’ Nobody – outside of those on paid TV shows who are forced to use the Microsoft search, ever say to ‘Just Bing it’. Ultimately, Microsoft may enjoy being the ‘grandpa’ of the computing world. They get to sit comfortably in the corner, living off the fat of their past business practices while younger companies flourish in their wake. If that is the case, then I wish them the best in their golden years.

  65. And the great iPad2 killer is coming. In 2012, in the Fall of that year. At least they think so at Finest Daily. After having a chat with Steve Balmer.

    They bank on it being the greatest (Tablet) OS in history! Just as every MS OS was the greatest in history. And the impressive hardware they talk about will be from “Intel is working a set of chips that might just be exactly what tablets need and they are interested in a collaboration with Redmond.”

    Yes, the Wintel monopoly will strike back! Years behind, but just wait, they will win (they say). And really, please wait, and do not buy or develop for iOS or Android.

    IPad 2 is out, here’s Microsofts tablet reply
    http://www.finestdaily.com/news/gadgets/ipad-2-is-out-heres-microsofts-tablet-reply.html

    If you’re willing to shift that away from your mind, here’s a few lines about what the Microsoft tablet promises.

    Windows 8 operating system, that’s not a misprint, Microsoft is going to start testing the system by the end of the year.

    With testing done through most of 2012, a first sight of it seen on Microsoft’s new tablet will be far more impressive than a ready for PC launch.

    Apart premiering the most eagerly expected operating system of the near future, the 2012 Microsoft tablet should end up using some seriously impressive hardware.

  66. Just to document the downfall of MS (this is on topic here?), yet another kick against a dead horse. The reason of Android’s success is again exposed: The short development cycle of “kicking out exciting, appealing devices nearly every week”.

    Android Steals Market Share From RIM, Microsoft, Palm
    http://www.informationweek.com/news/personal-tech/smart-phones/229400787

    Android also stole some share from Microsoft and Palm, despite the fact that Windows Phone 7 launched in the latter part of 2010 and Palm (now owned by HP) launched a new smartphone on Verizon’s network in the three-month period examined by comScore. Microsoft’s share dropped from 9% to 7.7%, a loss of 1.3% of the overall market. Palm’s share dropped from 3.9% to 2.8%, a loss of 1.1% of the overall market.

    The reason behind Android’s success is quite simple. Hardware makers have banked their high-end device strategy on Google’s smartphone platform, and are kicking out exciting, appealing devices nearly every week.

    ……

    It’s obvious that Android and the slick devices being brought to the market by the likes of Samsung, Motorola, HTC and others are affecting which platform users choose. Apple’s next iPhone, whenever it may arrive, really needs to step it up with respect to new features if Apple wants to maintain the market it already has. If it doesn’t offer a significant spec and feature jump with its next iPhone, Apple stands to lose share to Android.

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