Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Opinion - Who are you and what have you done with Microsoft?!

Microsoft are not exactly known for innovation, but rather unfortunately better known for taking existing products and essentially copying them. The PC cropped up after Apple's first Mac, Internet Explorer took so long to get tabs that by then most computer savy people were using Firefox and, in England at least, folks are vaguely aware that there's a brown iPod called the Zune. I almost imported the Zune HD from America when it was first released, but some extensive research indicated that it just didn't match up to the already existing iPod Touch.

And yet, if Microsoft got one thing right, it was the Xbox and subsequently the Xbox 360. In the eternal PlayStation versus Xbox debate, although requiring a subscription Xbox Live blows the Sony equivalent out of the water. In the days of the first Xbox in some boardroom meeting a man must have stood up and said "Look lady and gents, in 5 years from now a lot of people will have reliable and fast broadband, *points at figures* and my son loves playing games with his friends... *dramatic pause* so lets make him the best darn online system so he can just do that!". And so after a lot of nodding, shaking of hands and head scratching, Xbox Live was born. At least, that's how I imagine it happened.

Essentially the way to make a lot of money then was creating a platform that made it easy to communicate with others. Fast forward to the present and this is now standard. If you can't imagine your life without Facebook any more you know exactly what I mean. What's new is delivering a platform which allows third party developers to create content for you. Makes you a a lot more money with minimum effort. Think the iPhone app store or games on Facebook. This all came to light for many after a rather controversial rant from a disgruntled Google employee, who pointed out that the 'Games' provided on Google+ were more of an afterthought, neglecting a valuable attraction for new customers.

The new Xbox 360 'squares' dashboard
So where does Microsoft fit into this? Unless you've been hiding under a rock, Microsoft and Nokia teamed up in a huge advertisement campaign to promote both the Windows Phone OS and Nokia's new range of phones. But that's not all. In a genius move by Microsoft, the Xbox 360 dashboard (that's the menu when you switch on your 360) has been completely redesigned to mimic the huge square interface used in Windows Phone. And that's not all! The new Xbox dashboard now has apps, with clear intent to add more in the future. Sky TV and music service existed on the 360 already, but have been renamed as apps. My instant new favourite is LoveFilm, which will allow unlimited film streaming for what I hope will remain a very reasonable fee of £5.99/month. More is on the way, such as BBC's iPlayer. For the first time the Xbox 360 might actually become a genuine media hub, rather than just a game's console. Having messed around on the new dashboard I can say that it is a pleasure to use.

The innovation here comes from whoever designed those boxes for Windows Phone, and then the one who then put it onto the Xbox 360. It's a unique design, integrated and feels like a media experience. Little things, such as being able to use a Windows Phone as a remote for the 360 just adds to the experience. Seeing how I can have my Xbox Live account signed into a Window's Phone, I'm going to have to think very hard when my contract runs out next year. I don't say that lightly, having been a huge fan of HTC and Android for some time.

Not wanting to praise Microsoft too much, I'm going to raise a point where Microsoft seriously fall over themselves. 'Windows Phone' is an awful name for an operating system for a phone. I associate Windows with what I have on my computer. Computers I associate with all things geeky. Windows Phone has tried so hard to not be geeky (unlike Android) but cool and fun. They are so confident about this, you can even try out a demo of their operating system on your Android or iPhone! Just load up this link on your phone So why call it Window's Phone?! Why not call it Zune Mobile. We know Zune is Microsoft, but Zune is a cool name. I almost bought a Zune don't forget. Or don't call it Zune Mobile. Just don't give it the same name as a computer's OS! What if the Xbox had been called a Windows Box... lets not go there.

So there you have it. Despite my mini end rant Microsoft have suitably impressed me and I expect many to be lured to Windows Phone thanks to the 360 revamp. On a final note, a quick search on their website and "Innovation: Driving Market Excellence" appears under their key growth strategies. May it continue.