United we stand: Microsoft learns a little from cheesy movies
If there were an award for most platitudes uttered in a single week, Microsoft would have won it by now. The company, which held events to discuss its Windows 8 operating system, its Surface tablet, and its Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system, threw out phrases like: "Surface is a platform for Windows" and "We like to think of [Windows Phone 8] as the work we're doing to reinvent the smartphone around you" and so on. For everything that Microsoft did right this past week, the company definitely turned the "cheesiness" knob all the way to 11.
To add another trite aphorism to the mix: "We're stronger together than we are apart."
During the Windows Phone 8 event Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's corporate vice-president, emphasized the ways that Microsoft has tried to bring all of its products, from Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 to the Xbox media services and Office suite, together into one cohesive whole. By leveraging its broad consumer base as well as its cloud infrastructure, the past week's announcements have been to Microsoft what iCloud (and, previously, MobileMe) was meant to be to Apple.
Consider the Xbox media services. As I wrote last week, the Xbox brand has now become powerful enough for Microsoft to start applying it to every media vertical that the company operates, covering music, videos, and gaming in equal measure. If you want to put work away and focus on leisurely activities, whether you're on a smartphone, tablet, desktop, or console, Microsoft's Xbox services are there to make it happen.
Everything else is handled by SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud syncing service that keeps photos, documents, and who-knows-what-else in sync across those same devices. It doesn't matter if you're editing a PowerPoint deck or writing an essay in Word – with SkyDrive, if it happens anywhere it happens everywhere.
There are other examples of this in action as well, from Windows 8's "Charms," which allow apps to work together and plug into each other, to the fact that Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are built on the same kernel, something that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer emphasizes every time he tries to convince developers to build for Windows Phone 8's (relatively) small customer base.
But let's put the technical aspects of Microsoft's newfound "Up with people!" attitude aside for a minute. (Now we're gettin' crazy!) As Belfiore and Ballmer – and, for some reason known only to a particularly hellish Loki, Jessica Alba – said during the Windows Phone 8 event, their new services aren't just about working together on a technological level. They're meant to bring users together on a personal level as well.
There's been an emphasis on the personal since the debut of Windows Phone 7, the predecessor to Windows Phone 8 and the operating system that shifted Microsoft from its anachronistic Windows Mobile operating system. At the same time that Microsoft shifted to a colder, "urban" design with the Metro user interface, the company built Facebook and Twitter integration into the operating system in an effort to focus on what the company believes truly matters: people.
Now Microsoft is looking to take this emphasis on the personal to the next level. This was made evident by both the new "Kid's Corner" and "Rooms" features that Microsoft unveiled today.
The Kid's Corner feature is a place where children (presumably your own) will be able to use a Windows Phone device without causing any serious damage. Parents can select the apps and games that they want their kids to be able to use and then hand the phone over to their
spawn bundles of joy with confidence. This is a simple concept, but neither of the other major mobile platforms – iOS and Android – have the same feature.
Unless you're a parent, Kid's Corner by itself isn't all that exciting. It does support the idea that Microsoft has spent a lot of time thinking about how people use their phones. Though we often think of a device as "ours," anyone with a child or younger relative knows that smartphones tend to get passed around. Microsoft noticed this and moved to address the problem before both Google and Android.
And then there's Rooms, an expansion of Microsoft's People hub meant to make it easier to divide your contacts into groups and interact with them in a more fluid, convenient way. Users can share shopping lists with their roommates, notes with a favored classmate, or calendars with a significant other directly through Rooms, essentially creating their own little social network.
Maybe the most important aspect of Rooms is that it can communicate with contacts that don't use Windows Phone (read: most of their contacts) themselves. Microsoft must have looked long and hard into its giant, corporate mirror and come to the conclusion that, yes, working with other platforms is better than restraining new products to Windows Phone 8 alone.
Whether it's the gap between its own products, helping users stay in touch with the people that matter, or doing a little bit of covert outreach to people on other platforms, Microsoft's latest product announcements have been all about building bridges. Sometimes the Hollywood blockbusters have it right: It's better to stand together than fight alone.