Recently, I was invited to ask Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, some questions during his short visit to Oslo, Norway. I was intrigued by the rare opportunity of meeting this powerful, software giant, and of course, I had to ask him about mobile fragmentation. After all, that’s on top of every ones head here at mBricks, since our main objective is to ease the pain of fragmentation for mobile application developers. You think developing mobile applications is a walk in the park? It’s not. Unlike the world of PCs, most mobile phones are not standardized on the Microsoft OS, but on a number of different operating systems. When extending PC enterprise systems, such as ERP and CRM, to mobile phones, most software vendors will find that Microsoft Mobile has a too limited reach to be their only choice of platform.
So, my first question to Steve Ballmer was if Microsoft could do anything to help mobile extensions of Microsoft-based enterprise systems to have a better coverage on mobile phones. He widened out a broad perspective: “Let me give you the good news and the bad news about the mobile market,” he said. “The PC market is nice, both for us and for you. One operating system does have 97% (market share). That might bring regulatory challenges”, he added with a smile, “but it actually brings a degree of discipline.” Then he continued to discuss how the mobile operating system market is going to look like. He asked himself whether it’s going to be one, two, three or four popular systems: “I don’t think it’s going to be one. I’d love to tell you that all smart phones are going to run Windows Mobile, and we’ll get a 97% share in a couple of years. I don’t think that’s likely. I think it’s likely that, if we do our job right, we could get a forty or fifty percent share.” Ballmer thought that Symbian probably could get a forty or thirty percent share, and he guessed that Apple gets a five or ten percent share, and BlackBerry gets a ten percent share. Then he paused for some seconds, as if there is someone he’s forgotten… “And you say: Where is Android? Exactly where I meant to imply it was … “. He certainly has his way of putting it, on the other side, who would think the Microsoft CEO would embrace Google and Android?
The next theme was strategies for enterprise software vendors going mobile. Ballmer said that developers either have to just assume they have a browser, that’s one strategy, and he added with that same smile “or a browser with Silverlight, that would be a even better strategy for me”. The other strategy would be to consider the application to be important enough to develop a rich client that is going to run on both Windows Mobile and Symbian. Then Ballmer continued “… or you might just say: I’m going to target one and, at least for my enterprise class customers, I could probable get the enterprise class customers to move in a certain direction. Assume the answer is No, you’re back writing browser apps!” Steve Ballmer left little hope for iPhone enterprise applications, and he thought “at least until they modify something, the BlackBerry battery doesn’t really have that kind of open targetable operating system”.
OK, so fragmentation will continue, and we have to be realistic about how the market structure’s going to look like. Ballmer emphasized this quite clearly: “And when we dream, even we don’t dream that we can have the PC type share. You know, it’s possible that we will have even more fragmentation. Let’s say you really do wind up in a world where Google’s present, LiMo‘s present, we’re present, Symbian’s present, Apple’s present and everybody has sixteen percent share… You’re never going to write a mobile app, you will just write for the browser and hope it’s good enough”.
Well, that sounds kind of fatalistic. I’m afraid this would be of small comfort for those developers that view mobile as a great opportunity for their enterprise software. So, I had to ask him one more time. Couldn’t Microsoft offer a cross platform tool to ensure Microsoft PC applications a wider reach on mobile devices? Steve Ballmer answered: “Well, sure, we have one, called SilverLight. We will work to put SilverLight in the browser on various devices, so you could say that’s our cross platform strategy. But the notion of saying: Let’s take our whole operating system and put it on top of somebody else’s operating system, that strategy never works. The mobile operators won’t like it, the customers won’t like it, the complexity… You know, these are not devices with lots of memory, they have less memory and less power than most people would want. So, we will try to immigrate at the technology level of Silverlight, but I don’t see us pushing all on Window Mobile.” Then, with almost a fatherly look he said “I think you’re going to have to deal with some chaos, unfortunately.” Those words ended my slot of Steve Ballmer’s attention.
For me, those words were like good news. It means there is room for a company like mBricks. We have fragmentation as our key interest. We’re reducing the chaos dealing for the software developers and making mobile application development easier. Enterprise software has a great future on mobile devices. mBricks role is to enable the shift to mobility for the software vendors.
Svein Therkelsen, CEO mBricks