Ray Ozzie is wrong about smartphone apps

Microsoft exec Ray Ozzie, at a lunchtime session with bloggers at its PDC conference told the bloggers that apps won’t be a differentiating factor on smart phones.

He is wrong. Totally wrong.

Why is Mike Arrington so passionate about his Droid (we argued about it for 39 minutes on the Gillmor Gang last week and then we went to the beach together on Sunday and argued about it some more in private).

I’ve talked about this before. Most of what we argue about is apps.

Droid is better than iPhone because Droid has Google Voice, Arrington says.

iPhone is better than Droid, I say, because I have Tweetie, which kicks ass over Twidroid and the other Twitter apps.

Facebook is better on the iPhone. Noticeably better. Even Chris Brogan (who also is a Droid proponent) said that on his Twitter account.

Anyway, everything about these phones will be about the apps that run on top. Can you imagine a Microsoft exec arguing that Windows isn’t better because of apps? Give me a break. Ray, sorry, but you are off the rails.

If Ray thinks that the best apps will come to Windows Mobile and that the best developers will spend time developing for that platform well, then, Ray is drinking better Merlot than I am.

I’ve seen how even kids compare their phones on the playground. They compare apps and games. The functionality of the phone doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s what’s built on top that gets the kids excited.

Same in business. Last week a VP at Citrix came up to me showing off his iPhone app (it let him get into a Windows box somewhere else in the world and use Microsoft Office).

Even today at the PDC, what did Vivek Kundra (America’s CTO) show his app off on? Yeah, an iPhone. And this was at Microsoft’s own conference!

Ray, the truth is I was there in 2006 talking with the Windows Mobile team when they told me they were going to only build devices for the enterprise. Back then they thought the growth would come from going after RIM. Even Wired Magazine can now see the fumble the team made. They were wrong and now you are wrong. Apps are what will decide winners in this play. For now that’s Android and iPhone. Big time.

But if I were losing developers the way Microsoft is I’d probably say they don’t matter either. It just shows that Microsoft has no secret strategy up its sleeves and has no way anymore to get developers excited about its mobile platforms. Google is now in the best position and Ray knows it.

UPDATE: several commenters here (see comments on this post) say that Ray’s comments were misunderstood. I’ve talked with Steve Gillmor who recorded this lunch session (he’ll get the video up shortly) and it sounds like his comments might be more nuanced than VentureBeat presented them. Cool, let’s get into the comments.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

77 thoughts on “Ray Ozzie is wrong about smartphone apps

  1. I do recall him saying something like that, but it was in the context of a platform with equal adoption.

    I agree it's a chicken and egg thing, but I know that as an iPhone app maker we don't feel particularly loyal to the iPhone and as new platforms pop up and become popular of course we're porting our app to them. To us it's just another means of distribution and we'll invest wherever there are enough users.

  2. too many things are for iphone only. i think iphone has more apps than windows mobile ever dreamed of. microsoft leaders have been wrong in many many things recently years. search engine, iphone, windows vista. i love my iphone not just because it is sexy, but because it is sooo cool to use
    _______________
    sweet toys

  3. There is one interesting thing here: we will get a new player in the market with Nokias N900. It is Linux based and Linux has a big community. What will happen to the number of apps for a smartphone like that? Interesting times, that is true.
    You could see that Microsoft still does not understand how important software is. Hardware is just the basis and software drives it. So, no apps, no hardware. That easy!

  4. There is one interesting thing here: we will get a new player in the market with Nokias N900. It is Linux based and Linux has a big community. What will happen to the number of apps for a smartphone like that? Interesting times, that is true.
    You could see that Microsoft still does not understand how important software is. Hardware is just the basis and software drives it. So, no apps, no hardware. That easy!

  5. Hey Matt, you probably brought a lot more technical nuance to your reading of Ozzie's comments than I did, so perhaps I didn't do them justice. That said, I suspect you're mixing your own perception with Ozzie's — I mean, according to my notes he really did say, “I don't think there's going to be differentiation at the app level.” Maybe I lost some nuance there, but I think my summary of his basic point is accurate.

  6. There's really two questions you've posed:

    1. Do I believe that apps that are screened and approved are less problematic than those that aren't? Yes. I think that's pretty intuitive. Tested apps will have a lower fail rate.

    2. Do I believe that the i-Phone Apps are less problematic than those on Android? Not currently. Android has been out a couple of weeks and the bad guys haven't started putting their stuff on the Android phone but they will and when they do it will hurt the user experience and when that happens, and it will happen, people will wonder why these Apps weren't tested ahead of time…

    I'm with Scoble though, the phone isn't up to snuff compared to the i-Phone… App topic aside…

  7. From your comment, I will assume that you've never written a mobile app nor have ported one between the various platforms and devices. Even web apps are difficult to do because of the differences in device capability, screen size, etc., and no HTML5 (whenever it's finally done and implemented) does appear to fix that.

    Talk to any of the mobile app developers about porting apps and all that you get is a litany of pain and woe.

  8. “They compare apps and games. The functionality of the phone doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s what’s built on top that gets the kids excited.”

    Yes, kids and adults alike! You are right on the spot with this one Robert!

    ceo

  9. I guess the irony here is that they sound so much like the IBM of the 90′s. I would love to hear Ray explain why minesweeper and solitaire were one of the most used applications on windows.

  10. To each their own. I've never had a buggy App in 18 months and I've got 7 pages full of them… Awful, agree on that one but there is an audience for most everything.

    Luckily for Apple, others “buy the sentiment”

    1. Do you believe that the apps that are approved are any less problematic than those released for Android? I am not an Android user yet but when talking w/friends who are I’ve not come across any complaints about the quality control of the apps that are available through the marketplace.

  11. What I meant was: I know that. I think you are right, too. But all Mike seems to care about is Google Voice. Which is fine. But I also think you won't convince him. Therefore, not worth your energy.

  12. Sorry, that don't fly. If hardware mattered we'd all be using Nokia phones. My N95 has a better radio than the iPhone. The N95 has a better camera. The N95 has a physical keyboard (or, really, the N97 does). More features on hardware don't matter. What matters? Software and apps. Er, experience using it. Which is really the same thing. The iPhone has the worst hardware out there. But it's the best device.

  13. I don't buy it, the sentiment that “quality matters on Apps even if it takes Apple a couple extra weeks” considering the fact that so many of the 100,000 apps are awful / buggy to put it nicely.

  14. Regardless of what Ozzie said and how he meant it, I think you are getting lost in the trenches Robert. Arrington looks at the hardware, you look at software and UX. An argument that can't be won.
    You milked twitter lists to death too, but now we (or I) need you to go out looking for the next thing and get us on that track. And thanks for the scoblemedia-feed.

  15. I find it interesting and amusing how the current smartphone platform is beginning to show similarities to the video game console platform – such as 'exclusive' apps being the differentiators. If something can enable cross-phone development, would that be akin to cross-platform published games on the consoles? And would some dev studios start to jump onto that to increase revenue like those on the consoles? (A company like EA has experience in this already, so does that give them the upper hand on smartphones?) And then would the phone makers start to snap up the more talented and successful dev studios to rope them into creating 'exclusive' titles for their phone only?

    Well it should be interesting to watch from the sidelines in any case (just like the console 'wars' have been for so many years)…

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