A core part of Microsoft's strategy from days gone by was known as embrace and extend. With a reboot of their mobile platform due later this year, is it time for Microsoft to think about moving some of their services and applications to competitor's platforms? To some degree, it's already happening. Microsoft licenses the ActiveSync protocol which allows Android, iOS and other platforms to wirelessly sync with Exchange. It's developed Bing and Live Messenger apps for iOS and also done a deal to bring mobile Office apps to Nokia's platforms. One could argue that in some of these cases Microsoft has given competitors access to what could have been key differentiators for its own mobile efforts. I'm not sure I disagree with that analysis, but now that it's happening, I think Microsoft should think even more broadly about porting some applications and services. Here's what I'd like to see made available for other platforms.
Office Mobile: Sure, there are other solutions for viewing and editing Office documents on almost every platform, but none of them carry the Microsoft Office brand. A version of Office for mobile (including a touch-enabled version of OneNote) would be an instant best seller on every platform and a become the de facto standard for mobile office applications. A combination of free document viewers and a suite of applications at a reasonable cost would put Microsoft at the top of mobile productivity and at the same time help continue to drive Office sales for PCs and Macs.
Zune Pass: It's one of the best music subscription services around, but it only works on PCs and the few Zunes that have been sold in the market -- and yes, the even fewer Kins. A Zune client that supports streaming and offline downloads would be a great way for Windows users who for one reason or another haven't embraced Microsoft's mobile devices to use more of the company's services. Apple's great iPod success came with the addition of Windows support, and Microsoft can similarly position Zune as a choice for media consumption on non-Microsoft platforms -- mobile and desktop alike.
Porting applications and services can help Microsoft become the key provider for core functionality on other platforms and devices.
Xbox Live: It's another perfect app for mobile use and another reason for consumers to consider an Xbox purchase. While Microsoft likely prefers Xbox Live remain a premiere experience for Windows Phone 7 users, there's simply too many XBL members who don't use Windows or Windows Phone 7. It's silly to ignore them. Done properly, Xbox Live could become the standard for mobile gaming without Microsoft having to recreate the entire ecosystem, and provide a strong incentive for developers to create titles for the experience.
It's not likely that Microsoft (or any other vendor) will dominate the mobile platform space they way that Windows dominated the PC industry. While Windows Phone 7 may allow Microsoft to become a strong mobile platform provider, porting applications and services to other platforms can help Redmond become the key provider for core functionality across multiple platforms and devices. As non-PC devices become more important to consumers, this is a perfect opportunity for Microsoft to set the standard for core functionality on every platform and further drive the Microsoft brand into the consumer world. The alternative is to allow others to drive those standards -- and rather than embrace and extend, Microsoft's efforts could be engulfed and devoured.
Michael Gartenberg is a partner at Altimeter Group. His weblog can be found at gartenblog.net. Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.