[updated to resolve errors in my original post, thanks for comments]
I’ve read a few interesting blogs today that got me thinking about the platform nature of Microsoft’s business and in particular Windows Phone 7.
First up was Paul Thurrot’s post titled Windows Phone's Real Secret Weapon: Developers, Developers, Developers which left me feeling pretty positive about Windows Phone 7 and the potential for it to be a great new platform for the millions of .NET developers. At the same time I was tooling around on the iPod Touch I won a few years back and marvelling at the range of applications available. It’s a very big hill for WP7 to climb though the announcements around the collection of Xbox Live games that will ship on WP7 bodes well. We need that flywheel of applications to kick in and it you get the network effects of a platform. Like previous platform battles I expect it to be a more drawn out game than many would have you believe right now.
The second post I read is somewhat related – it’s titled What Apple Can Learn from Xbox Live and really talks about the benefits of building a platform to drive the flywheel of applications. The App Store/iPod/iPhone/iPad combo is clearly a very powerful platform for delivery but this post talks more to creating a platform within your platform – scaffolding if you like. Right now, when you build an “iApp” there are some areas where you need to build your own platform as there is no scaffolding. Scott Lowe points to the lack of a social networking or online gaming capability within the Apple developer environment as an example and points out that Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have this. The uniformity it creates is extremely compelling for a developer, especially if the company is invested in building the network within that platform as both Sony and Microsoft are. Back to the scaffolding analogy, it’s like having each different contractor on a building have to build their own scaffolding to access the building. As you use each application, you need a different key or login which is akin to needing a different key depending on which door you enter a building by. It makes it very hard to build things like a rewards system too as there is no common currency or ID that can be re-used across applications.
I don’t know a tonne about developers but it seems that platforms make a lot of sense – they save you having to build stuff from the ground up and literally give you a “leg up”. It leaves me feeling optimistic about Windows Phone 7 and as I wrote this, I thought maybe a real winner here could be Zune. The social capability with Zune is a close cousin of Xbox Live and has some impressive features around recommendations and community. There is a
common points system that can be used to buy music or games or new bling for your Avatar. Zune and Xbox Live on WP7 could be a killer combo and for Zune, it may get the broader reach it deserves given the wider reach of phones.
[update – WP7 doesn’t use points system as noted above, currently uses hard cash]
Interesting times ahead but will a platform approach be enough to regain ground on Apple? Time will tell.