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iPhone 'was boulder on Microsoft's arm'

Microsoft execs explain iPhone's role in creation of Windows Phone

Microsoft was forced to scrap its existing mobile strategy and start again from scratch when creating Windows Phone in order to break free from the 'boulder' of the iPhone that had trapped its arm, a former executive has said.

An article in the New York Times this weekend containing interviews with several current and former Microsoft executives that were involved in the process of creating Windows Phone.

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 was apparently a major influence on the development of Windows Phone - not least because it made it abundantly clear how poor Microsoft's previous efforts at creating a smartphone platform had been.

"Apple created a sea change in the industry in terms of the kinds of things they did that were unique and highly appealing to consumers. We wanted to respond with something that would be competitive, but not the same," said Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft engineer responsible for software design for Windows Phone.

Belfiore was hired by one Terry Myerson, who had taken over as head of engineering for Microsoft's mobile group. In late 2008, Myerson convened a seven-hour meeting of Microsoft's mobile engineers in which it was decided that the company should scrap its existing mobile strategy and start again from scratch.

"We had hit bottom. That frankly gives you the freedom to try new things, build a new team and set a new path," Myerson said. A former Microsoft executive, Charlie Kindel, likened Microsoft's position in the mobile market to that of Aaron Ralston, the hiker who amputated his own arm in 2003 after it became trapped under a boulder in Utah. "This boulder comprised of Apple and Blackberry rolled on our arm. Microsoft sat there for three or four years struggling to get out."

Though critics quoted in the New York Times piece offer rave reviews of Windows Phone, this hasn't yet translated into sales. However, Nokia's partnership with Microsoft could see things change, with the two companies due to officially unveil the Lumia 900 handset at CES today.

However, Nokia isn't putting all of its eggs in the Windows Phone basket, as it continues to back its Symbian OS as well, albeit having scaled down its profile.

Microsoft is also pushing Windows Phone handsets through a number of other smartphone vendors, though continues to give hardware partners strict rules about the types of device that Windows Phone should run on. "It's not just about software. It's about the whole end-to-end experience," said Albert Shum, general manager of the design studio for Windows Phone.

This end-to-end experience is something that Apple is able to manage very well as it is responsible for the hardware and software of the iPhone. If Microsoft wants to begin to compete with Apple in this market getting the end-to-end experience right will be crucial, though not as crucial as actually convincing consumers that they want a Windows Phone handset in the first place.


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