gingerbread_menCompanies should be consistent. Every product that rolls off the line should be as similar to the product that preceded it, and if it isn’t, you’d best trash that one and do better next time. Whether it’s Lego having to make sure that every brick it ships will fit with every brick it’s ever produced, or Apple enforcing strict quality standards in its Foxconn factory, consistency is good business.

Today we see two of the largest technology companies in the world grappling with consistency. Google’s lack thereof is holding its flagship phone back and irritating some of its most rabid customers, while Microsoft suffers from the opposite problem, an overabundance of consistency (if such a thing exists). Microsoft’s dogged pursuit of consistency has handicapped its mobile efforts and, in an ironic turn, created problems for the people who would like to see Windows Phone succeed.

The first issue is with Microsoft’s branding. The company’s stranglehold on the Windows brand has led to confusion among customers who expect the legacy Windows desktop when purchasing Windows RT devices. Dell Vice-chairman and President of its PC business, Jeffrey Clarke, reportedly warned Microsoft as much before Windows RT launch, saying that Windows RT should be renamed. (Now let’s take a break and say that Clarke would be right anyway, as “Windows RT” is an arcane name that has no business being applied to a commercial product.)

Microsoft’s stringent standards for Windows Phone devices has led to a few problems as well. While high standards are usually a good thing – I’ll take a slightly-differentiated Windows Phone device over a cheap, plasticky Android phone any day – Microsoft’s choices have made it hard for consumers and manufacturers.

Since Windows Phone 7’s introduction, devices running the mobile operating system have been tightly controlled. Microsoft dictated which processors could be used, the resolution of every screen, and kept manufacturers from “skinning” the OS with their own software.

This consistency ostensibly meant that consumers could pick up one phone and have roughly the same experience as someone who had chosen another Windows Phone device. They wouldn’t be stuck with an inferior device simply because one manufacturer wanted to release a low-end product or cut corners somewhere.

Which is great. It really is. Until Microsoft’s hardware partner, Nokia, released the Lumia 900 just a few months before the announcement and release of Windows Phone 8. Because Microsoft wanted to create a level playing field, anyone who had purchased a Windows Phone 7 device is unable to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. In its pursuit to control the experience, Microsoft and its guidelines knowingly pushed a hardware “partner” to release a soon-to-be-obsolete device.

HTC reportedly scrapped a large-screened (over 5 inches) Windows Phone device because of the operating system’s limited resolution support. According to Bloomberg, the company nixed the device because Windows Phone will only support a 720p resolution, much lower than the 1080p available on Android devices.

So rather than releasing a large-screened phone with a comparatively inferior resolution than Android devices (which HTC also produces), the Taiwan-based company had to shelf the product. Which is a shame, because HTC’s Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S devices have been lauded as some of the finer phones – in general, not just limited to Windows Phone’s ecosystem – on the market. As the so-called “phablets” continue to rise in popularity, offering a device serving that niche would make sense.

It’s easy to point a finger at Microsoft or Google and say that one’s solution is or isn’t working. Microsoft could stand to loosen the reins on Windows Phone and the Windows brand a little, while Google would likely benefit from a more consistent delivery schedule of its flagship device.

Microsoft’s control over Windows Phone is appealing because it mitigates the “I don’t want to buy a shitty device” problem at the store, but runs into problems when it limits Windows Phone devices to a certain mold. Google’s lack of control over Android is appealing because it offers variety and “openness,” but perhaps it should have commissioned a few more molds so it could deliver its flagship device as promised.

[Image courtesy f_shields]