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Microsoft's latest mobile app acquisition shows it gets urgency

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 13, 2015
Buys Sunrise, another Android and iOS mobile app developer, to beef up Outlook.

To Dawson, the acquisitions show that Microsoft has acknowledged its prior failures in building compelling service-agnostic apps that run on rivals' platforms, and has realized that it must do that faster than it could create them in-house. "Microsoft probably could develop some of these apps on its own. But it would take a long time and Microsoft clearly doesn't think it has that time," Dawson wrote on Tech.pinions.

Also in play is the company's long-standing cultural preference for creating on Windows, with little if any thought to other platforms, even if those have the vast bulk of the mobile device market. Buying smaller companies with proven expertise in building Android and iOS apps lets Microsoft sidestep the Windows-first attitude that still dominates its engineering staff.

"[These acquisitions] shouldn't trigger despair but hope on the part of those who have faith Microsoft will do better," Dawson wrote. "That Microsoft is willing to accept it perhaps doesn't have the wherewithal to create these products, given the people and assets it has, is a positive sign, not a negative one, at this point."

Like Acompli, Sunrise not only comes in editions that run on both Android and iOS, but also taps into a variety of services from rivals, not just Microsoft's own Exchange, still the standard for businesses. Sunrise, for example, gathers appointment data from Google's and Apple's calendar services, as well as Exchange. It also pulls in reminders, events and to-dos from the likes of Evernote, Facebook and Todoist.

The true test for Microsoft, said Dawson, will be how well it expands the footprint of the acquired technologies and user experiences beyond mobile and onto the desktop. That's necessary to make good on Microsoft's expressed plan to create software that works, looks and operates similarly on all devices, on all platforms.

Dawson cited the Mac edition of Office as the old Microsoft, which favored Windows and only begrudgingly created a suite for OS X, one that most saw as sub-standard. With Windows' share of all devices rapidly falling as iOS, and especially Android, dominate smartphones and tablets -- and as Windows-powered personal computer sales slump or at best stall -- Microsoft cannot afford that thinking: Apps on rival operating systems must be top-notch, not simply adequate.

The question remains, however, what Microsoft hopes to get out of spending millions on acquisitions like Acompli and Sunrise which fancy Android and iOS, not Windows.

The answer so far as been Office 365, particularly the business-grade subscription plans. To use the Android and iOS Outlook apps for work, users must have an Office 365 subscription through their employers. Making Outlook even more compelling by adding Sunrise to its calendar functionality would, under that theory, prompt more people to use the app for work, thus pressing businesses to adopt Office 365 or expand the number of seats under its licensing.

 

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