Archive for May, 2006

The shortest path from you to your friends… on your cell phone, too: Microsoft using social networks to capture the mobile platform

May 8, 2006

I’m not usually in the business of making grand predictions, and I’m not about to make one now. However, something interesting just happened.

1) A younger sibling of one of my friends stated “Win a phone at!” in her comment field in MSN Messenger. I think she’s 15.

2) The main advert at shows a Qtek 8300 smartphone – with the MSN logo on the display.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well. Back in the good old days, when I was less than 20 years old and we still used ICQ and IRC (a lot more than we do now), I vividly remember seeing a commercial at the cinema. It was quite brief, and stated: “MSN Messenger. The shortest path from you to your friends!” (loosly translated from Norwegian; “MSN Messenger – den korteste veien mellom deg og vennene dine!”).

We all know what happened. You won’t find many people below the age of 20 who aren’t using Microsoft’s MSN Messenger for instant messaging today.

The Qtek phone above is debuting at a quite attractive price point – 299 NOK (~ 45$), with a total cost including the subscription of about 440$. The fact that it can run MSN Messenger means that a lot of teens will want one. And, obviously, the fact that it runs MSN Messenger means that the operating system on the phone is Windows Mobile.

From now on, young people who like to stay in touch with their friends and send lots of SMSes have a new option – a phone which lets them save money on SMSes while having access to a lot of cool MSN features, like smileys and presence information.

If given the choice between a phone able to run Messenger and one that can’t, most teens will have no problem choosing. This will be a big problem for Nokia, Sony Ericsson and other vendors peddling phones with non-Windows OSes. In the long term, it could give Microsoft a decisive advantage on the cell phone platform – similar to the situation we now have in the desktop market.

The fact that services like instant messaging are now moving from the desktop to the mobile market gives MS a opportunity to turn their monopoly in one market into a monopoly in another. There’s no point in an instant messaging service on your phone if you can’t synchronize it with the one you’re using at your computer, and so a phone with Windows Mobile will be the only realistic option for someone who wants IM on their phone. It’s quite ridiculous. If I was Symbian / Nokia / Sony Ericsson, I would:

  • Fund the development of good MSN Messenger client alternatives for my phone operating system of choice
  • Push the telecoms authorities to recognize the MSN Messenger as a service so important that Microsoft cannot be permitted to own the protocol – it must be made public. This makes it a lot easier to create a competetive MSN network client.

This would remove most of Microsoft’s unfair advantage, I think. But I doubt it will happen soon enough to stop Microsoft from benefitting hugely from the monopoly in instant messaging that they enjoy (which they in turn achieved as a result of the monopoly on the desktop in general). However, it would at least mean that other vendors have a better chance at competing with Microsoft in the long term, both on the desktop and mobile platform.

PS: The situation in instant messaging is of course mirrored in other fields, like media players (Windows Media Player vs other players), web browsers (Internet Explorer vs others), office suites (MS Office vs OpenOffice) etcetera. But I’ll save the big picture for a later post.