Microsoft: Build some god damn apps
I read a lot about Microsoft. Particularly because I'm intrigued by their turn-around story. I feel as though they were the arrogant slumbering giant who has awoken to find a different world. This new world is full of Mobile devices and touch screens; far different from the workstations and pixel perfect mice they are use too. They can fix it or fall but either way it's a good story.
2012 looks to be the year when they show off what they have learned. Re-branding, re-launching, and rebuilding nearly all of their software and services around a new design language and interaction metaphor. That's fantastic; but it's totally predictable.
The most interesting part of this new world is apps. Touch has made them incredibly playful and interactive. These apps have developers are exploring this new frontier and users, like my Grandmom, are saying "wow, that looks like magic!"
Apple is doing a great job of this. They're building great apps on iOS. iPhoto on iPad looks great, iMovie is a functionally great and a huge help for making quick edits to your kids soccer video. These are functional and useful apps that expand their platform. They're very useful for their users. I think they serve a bigger purpose though. Apple has set the bar on the quality of apps they expect from 3rd parties. If you're going to go big, you have to go Apple big. The new Spotify looks much more innovative than the iTunes app Apple had built; but where would they have aimed if iTunes didn't exist?
Now let's look at Android tablets. They are enhancing their platform and integrating their services, but that's just table stakes; where are their creative apps? Where are their iPhoto and iMovie competitors? Without a bar, app developers have put their minimum effort to get on the platform or attempted to port their iOS experiences to the platform. I am not going to spend too much time talking about Android because I don't have much experience. I am just going off of ramblings from friends and bloggers but it is a stark contrast to the ecosystem Apple is building.
The thing is, we saw what it took Microsoft to build their last new and successful platform, the Xbox. It didn't take killer hardware, comfortable controllers, and innovative services like Xbox Live. None of that mattered, those were simply table stakes. It took 1 game, Halo. Halo was the glue that proved what could be accomplished with their new platform. It was engrossing and clever, it was a new take on an old theme and it was brilliant. It set the bar games that were to be built on that platform. 3rd parties and the competition had to meet this bar or be left behind.
Microsoft didn't build Halo, they bought Halo. There is nothing wrong with that and it's not meant to be negative. They saw talent and they went after it. After Halo, they built Microsoft Studios. They have bought, built, and partnered with some of the largest companies in the industry to ensure that the Xbox had a long line of killer games on its platform.
I believe that Microsoft's new platform isn't Windows 8, it's not Windows Phone, it's not Xbox, and it's not the cloud. It's Metro. Since Microsoft hasn't given us a better name, I'm calling their new platform, Metro. They have it labeled differently on internal memos but the truth is that Metro is the new platform unifying desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, and TV apps. When developers look at Microsoft they are not looking at their individual platforms, they're looking to take advantage of them all or combinations of more than one, and the unifying language between them is Metro.
Metro is where the future is. In order to get it to thrive, they need to show where the bar is for developers. The need to build a studio that focuses on 'A' grade, bar setting apps We all know that Office is coming, that doesn't count. No one is going to be blown away by Office. Games like Angry Birds? Everyone has them, not good enough. I'm saying build that new thing, something that takes advantage of Metro; something that stretches your ecosystem. Use that to build a base of inspired developers. Expand Microsoft Studios to include apps! Hire the best, buy companies, partner with big names, but build some awesome apps.
You say you are the number 1 software company in the world. You have been flaunting your research programs in the press for the past few months. We've heard your teams talk about how important design is going forward. You are about to launch a new platform, design language, and ecosystem. Make the apps that combine a number of your platforms and work how you envisioned developers using them. Developers will follow your lead.
Build the Halo that brings it all together. Build some god damn apps.