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Crisis expert bashes Microsoft over Windows Phone 7 update fiasco

Gregg Keizer, Computerworld | March 30, 2011
Microsoft needlessly botched getting timely updates for Windows Phone 7 to customers and antagonized some of its most loyal fans by not delivering on its promises, a crisis communication expert said today.

Kerley compared Microsoft's job with Apple's ability to push updates to iPhone users, and said the former failed to mimic its rival.

"Apple waits until they can do it right," said Kerley, talking about situations where Apple's been flooded with consumer complaints, as it was last summer when customers griped about the iPhone 4's antenna problem or when users demanded additional features after the 2007 launch of the first-generation iPhone.

"Apple has a history of executing, making sure it's done right," said Kerley, who gave Apple a C- grade last year for the company's handling of what CEO Steve Jobs called "Antennagate."

Microsoft faces the same problems that Apple does, Kerley argued, and so the comparison is fair. "It's not like Apple doesn't have to have carriers test its iPhone updates," he said.

Part of Microsoft's problem stems from the territory it's staked out. Apple, for example, uses a closed ecosystem that it completely controls -- including manufacturing the phones -- while Google has taken a different tack, giving users more freedom to modify their Android-based smartphones, and ceding updates to a wide range of handset makers and carriers.

"The way that Microsoft has positioned itself, it's the worst of both worlds," Kerley maintained. "It wants to control the update process but it's trying to work across a disparate ecosystem."

And Microsoft may have rushed the updates, or at least told customers they were coming, because it faces an uphill battle in the smartphone operating system market.

"There's a feeling here that in its rush to catch up [with Apple and Google], it may have tried to add features that hadn't been tested enough," Kerley said.

The update debacle doesn't mean Windows Phone 7 is sunk, said Kerley, even though many of the complaining customers -- influential "early adopters" -- are exactly the ones Microsoft must satisfy.

"They need to act a little more like a startup," said Kerley, "and tell people 'here's what we can say that's true,' and 'here's what we can say that we're working on.' It needs to show customers that it's learning from its mistakes. But they're playing catch-up, and Microsoft isn't used to not being dominant."

The Windows Phone 7 part of Microsoft could learn some lessons from Microsoft's Xbox group, which has faced consumer complaints in the past, notably about faulty game consoles. In 2007, Microsoft took a $1 billion charge against earnings to account for an "unacceptable" number of hardware failures of the Xbox 360.

"Microsoft needs to make sure its fan base sticks with it through thick and thin," said Kerley, "as they did with the Xbox."


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