Devices and services? Microsoft needs to focus on apps

windows-8-storeLate last year, Microsoft announced that it is changing its focus, moving away from software and toward “devices and services”.  We’re not really sure exactly what that means, yet, although the devices part is fairly obvious (although it may be less obvious that it’s a good strategy): continue to expand the Microsoft Surface line, integrate Xbox and the upcoming Durango into a Windows driven ecosystem, and keep pushing Windows Phone.

Services are a bit harder to find a clear path for.  Certainly Microsoft is betting big on Bing, and SkyDrive, and Office 365, and Azure, and those may be the four big pillars of services.  Xbox Music could be another pillar, although it not only isn’t a competitor to iTunes at the moment, it’s even a much worse service currently than what we had with Zune.

In fact, most of the apps published by Microsoft for Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 are underpowered, poorly conceived, and in a word, abysmal.  Mail, Messaging, Photo Gallery, etc., etc., are laughably poor counterparts to what we had with Windows Live Essentials.  And here we are, nearly 6 months after we first caught sight of these apps, with little or no improvement, and they’re still mostly unusable except as proof of concept demos.

Last week, Skype updated its Windows Phone app, but even though Skype is a Division of Microsoft, it couldn’t even support one of the baseline features of Windows Phone, and had to drop support for the People Hub.

And those are just the apps for Microsoft services.  It doesn’t get much better for supporting other services, something that is imperative in a post monopolistic world.  There’s a Facebook app for Windows Phone, but none for Windows 8, and we’ve been documenting the very public issues Microsoft has in supporting Google services.  Windows Phone’s lack of top tier apps is well documented, and some blame those services for not releasing Windows Phone apps.  Well, with barely 3 percent marketshare, it isn’t up to a 3rd party service to prop up Windows Phone, it’s up to Microsoft.

The old Microsoft, the one that focused on software and platforms and tools, could get away with tossing out a mishmash of “Hello World” apps, with high hopes that third parties would complete the job, and in the old days, they did.  In this new Microsoft, however, where Windows Phone lags far behind the market leaders, and Windows 8 is getting off to a slow start, Microsoft needs to do more.

It’s up to Microsoft, not Google or other popular services, to provide apps that work with third party services, and it’s certainly up to Microsoft to provide top quality and industry leading apps for its own services, and sooner rather than later.

The Sinofsky regime decimated the Windows Live organization, shipping Hotmail off to Office, silo-ing SkyDrive into its own little org, and burying the rest of what used to be Windows Live deep within Windows.  Now, with Sinofsky gone, Microsoft needs to put app development for Windows Phone and Windows 8 front and center, collaborating across divisions, and across the 3rd party landscapes.  There can’t be any more excuses.  Windows Phone needs to work with every service that any other phone works with, and Windows 8 needs to not only do everything that an iPad does, but do it better, and do more besides.