iPhone versus Windows Mobile: this week, the war begins

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 09 June 2008

Frenzy. That's the best word for the acres of rubbish I've spread over my computer display today, just by typing "iPhone" into Google news. And it's a pretty safe bet that this frenzy will be overwhelmed by the tsunami of junk which will pour forth from bloggers and news sites after Steve Jobs is finished talking. But my focus will be on the rivalry between the iPhone and HTC's range of Windows Mobile devices.

The rivalry will make Apple fans smile contemptuously. They should take the idea more seriously, I think, because the iPhone isn't the only game in town, and Microsoft's protege is doing better than people realise, after a slow start.

Frankly, the idea that the iPhone and Touch platform will destroy other phone games doesn't strike me as being a sensible one. The  idea that good games need high resolution and fast sprites is, surely, dissipated by one look at the success of basic games such as Pong and Brickout on all platforms; a popular game, like all classics, is a game which people like playing.

Football does not require a 100,000 seat stadium and word class players to attract kids; any patch of relatively flat ground where you can pile your coats and sweaters will do, and even the ball can be pretty approximately round and of non-standard size (tennis balls are often used, so is waste paper) as long as we know what the rules are.

Equally daft ideas have been offered about the power of the Cloud to turn the iPhone into a universal computing device. Universal access to the Internet is changing the world, not just the Mac and iPhone platforms.

What does matter, then? Answer: two things

  • An understanding of the commercial channels to market in the phone business and
  • An ability to provide genuine innovation which appeals to users
  • Nokia's failure isn't yet a failure, and may not become permanent; but its problems lie in its abject submission to the insane demands of the network operators. Somehow, it has to learn from what Windows Mobile first, and now Apple, have shown is possible: to design a user interface and an API which help the user, rather than confuse.

    Apple's failure is a trivial one; it has to learn to design a good phone. The first iPhone has too many technical deficiencies - purely as a phone - to advance without fixing those errors. Nobody doubts that Apple will do this.

    HTC's weakness is less trivial; it is in thrall to Microsoft and pretty much committed to the science of bloat. The good news is that there are powerful voices inside Microsoft who realise that just because you can put a full SQL server database into a handheld, doesn't mean you should.

    I'm expecting more mistakes as the year unfolds. But mistakes are how you learn; and it will be those who fail to learn from their mistakes, who lose the battle.

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