Microsoft continues to work hard to become relevant in an online world dominated by Google, Yahoo, YouTube, MySpace and others. The latest effort involves yet another confusing branding campaign, this time under the Windows Live flag, and a series of confusing application launches.
The latest applications are category based local search, maps and directions and traffic data for mobile devices.
I’m sure some of these applications are great, but most geeks and all non-geeks will never know, because they are released in a confusing, disjointed manner into the already confusing and disjointed mobile technology arena.
Here’s the thing: people want products and applications to be easy to find, easy to understand and easy to use. Otherwise, they’ll just continue to use 411 and Google Maps- because they are all of those things. The increase in efficiency realized from having onboard maps and traffic data is not great enough to warrant a ton of effort to find these applications, see of they will work with your cell phone, install them and learn to use them.
That sounds hard. 411 is easy. Turning on the radio is easy.
Sure, these applications may come pre-installed on 3 or 4 new handheld models- if you happen to have the right network provider and if you happen to be in the market for a new phone at the right time.
The chaos surrounding what mobile phones are available from what network and what applications work with what devices makes for a ball of confusion for anyone other than those of us who use Blackberries. We know that none of the new applications we read about will work on them.
In sum, it’s a mess.
Microsoft can help by telling us, in plain English, what these applications do, how they are better than what we currently use, where we can get them, and how to use them. And by creating products that make us more efficient without trying to take over our online lives by pushing us towards other Microsoft products. And finally and most importantly, by creating products that work with as many of our mobile devices as possible.
What Microsoft cannot do is impose any logic on the mobile technology situation. Network providers obviously think that they can attract users by having the exclusive rights to some new device for a period of time. Of course, next week some other provider will have exclusive rights to some even newer device. It’s a confusing cycle that doesn’t change the fact that mobile phones, like their wired forefathers, are a commodity. Trying to pretend otherwise just makes it confusing and frustrating for everyone.
Handheld manufacturers propagate this confusing situation, of course, by making a separate device for each network. There are more Blackberry versions than there are people to carry them. Until the network providers decide to cowboy up and compete on price, coverage and service like a good commodity- and not on the illusory benefits of a temporary exclusive on new hardware- there will be no end to this cycle of confusion.
So all these new applications might be really useful.
Too bad most of us will never use them.