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James Whatley on the importance of ecosystems

Whatley is back this week with his perspective on ecosystems — a word that’s increasingly being integrated into the marketing communications of almost every key player in the marketplace. Years back, an ecosystem meant having a few developers knock out some expensive and rather limited third-party apps. Nowadays the term has much wider connotations. Over to James for more…

– – – – –

First, I thought Google. Now, I think Microsoft.

I was reading recently about Skype functionality being built into the forthcoming Mango release on Windows Phone (WP) and I started thinking: who is now moving forwards fastest in this whole ecosystem race?

At the turn of the year, I was part of a research panel discussion around the near future of mobile. The NDA I signed on the evening prevents me from disclosing what treats we were party to, however, what I can share is some of the thoughts we went in with.

Each of us was asked to present our ideas around future mobile technologies. My pitch was around, funnily enough, ecosystems:

“We’re already seeing mobile operating systems appearing in car dashboards. Soon they’ll be in our fridges, on our televisions, built into our coffee tables.. and, when that happens, purchasing decisions will also be made based upon these ecosystems. If your main technology at home is Android-based and you’re coming to buy something new for your household, you’re more likely to keep within the ecosystem that you’re used to. Both from a UI perspective and also from a service interaction ideal.”

This was at the end of last year. Rewind a few years, back when I was working at a certain voice to text company, and Google was talking about launching their own voice-to-text product through Google Voice – “They’ve parked their tanks on our lawn, we must be doing something right”.

At that time I was thinking about the different pieces being put in place by the big G:

GMail, GTalk, Google Maps and now, Google Voice.

Communications + presences + location? I remember saying to a French Googler whom I knew at the time “Man! I can totally see where you guys are going! Amazing. Android will be the glue to pull it together aaaand.. when you align the stars, it’ll be perfect!” – he smiled and bowed his head, knowingly.

The communication ideal behind these nodes, if you will, for me seemed like a major background strategy that was slowing falling into place. Alas, here we are several years later and – even with the likes of [the yet to be proven] Google Plus – all of these services are still yet to fully link up properly. But these things take time.

Fast forward back today and this piece on Engadget highlighting Skype integration in Mango hits. My brain clicks into gear.

Xbox, Windows, Windows Phone, Hotmail [yeah, I said it] and now Maps – the pieces are all there. But the key part here for me is Xbox. The one thing everyone seems to be overlooking: Xbox. There are 53.6million of these machines worldwide – already sat under televisions. Of those, 66% are connected [or at least registered] online via Xbox Live. Include in that another 10million Kinects [the fastest selling peripheral of all time] and you have one hell of a home entertainment system / internet ecosystem.

The Kinect already had video calling before Skype was announced for Windows Phone. Skype is also rumoured to be bundled in the next Xbox update. I’m not saying video calling is the future, not by any stretch. But a true and proper unified communications plan for consumers is the next big step. [Facebook is nearly there, but isn’t interested in home or mobile hardware].

Windows 7(.5/Mango/Tango/Rango/Bingo/Bango – delete where appropriate) also promises gaming integration, amazing applications [like the mind-blowingly awesome British Airways app we saw demo’d earlier this year] and well, I can’t help thinking that a sleeping giant has been stirred.

I used to think that Google would be the one pulling this stuff together – the faster, more agile of the huge players in the world. They still could be. They still might be.

All I’m saying is, don’t forget about Microsoft and above all, don’t ignore the Xbox. I genuinely think it’s a trump card that Microsoft is yet to play.

Whatley out.


  1. @whatleydude I agree with everything except the ‘Trojan Horse’ comparison…

    In this case the Greeks are in full-view, painted bright colours and jumping around very loudly yelling “look at us” – dancing on top of the horse. It’s just that the people of Troy still too pre-occupied with an older wooden donkey that the Greeks made years ago and no-one really liked to notice.

  2. Don’t forget, also, the Windows PC base. Sure, smartphones shouldn’t *need* to connect to a PC, ever, if you don’t want them to, but MILLIONS (if not BILLIONS) of people have mass buckets of content (videos, photos, music, etc) stored up on a PC somewhere – they trust Microsoft’s Windows OS to store these treasures.

    And yes, if Microsoft is able to execute properly, Xbox will be the key, absolutely.

  3. Agree in the sense that Xbox and Skype make people want to participate in the Windows eco-system. This is very powerful (as Apple and Google have also shown with various ancillary services).

    What about people who want to communicate across eco-systems? There’s a gap there.

  4. Absolutely – from the moment of the Skype acquisition I’ve been envisioning a world in which – in theory, if certain execs get out of the way – you could have a family sitting at home video chatting via Kinect, to grandma using Skype on a desktop or iPad, to dad travelling overseas Skyping in via Windows Phone. In theory – that scenario is full of win. I wonder how long it might take to come to pass.

  5. Is anybody else thinking about the Microsoft aquisition of Nokia being the best end-to-end implementation of taking on Google?  Perhaps I’m way off base, or even way late to the party with this thought… but to me, it seems a no-brainer.

  6. I thought you might weigh in on this one chap (what with our shared love and appreciation of gaming etc), you’re exactly right about the content play here.

    Also, who needs a Blu-ray player when you can stream HD content on demand?

  7. Totally agree. A good case in point here may well be video calling. For example, Skype powers video calling in Xbox, yes. But don’t forget Skype is also video calling in Facebook too.

    As one might say: “That’s a tasty burger”

  8. physical media has extremely little life left in it, in my opinion. It’s only on artificial life support anyways – once I can buy a movie and have the ability to play it back anywhere (like I do with music on AmazonMP3), there will be absolutely no reason to deal with physical media. 

  9. (Tried to add a comment here yesterday but it seems to be stuck in the moderation queue, so trying again)

    While I totally agree about the value of a complete eco-system, I’m not convinced MS is in as strong a position as you suggest. You single out the XBox and mention that there are 53.6M of them out there. Well, even if every single one those XBox owners went and bought a Mango phone as a result that’s still only slightly more than the number of Android phones sold in the last *quarter* of this year: 46.7M. In the grand scheme of things, it would be a drop in the ocean.

    PC tie-ins may be more significant, but as other commenters have already pointed out: The trend is to move content and synching into the cloud and untether phones from PCs (hell, even Apple is heading this way with iOS 5’s reduced dependence on iTunes).

    That leaves Skype which is big and popular. However, it’s not unique to MS systems (in fact, I’d argue Skype’s popularity is partly due to its strong cross-platform support) so it’s little more than a hygiene feature IMHO.

  10. Completely agree with you James. Xbox integration is definitely Microsoft’s trump cards and the Nokia / Microsoft partnership heralds great possibilities for mobile gaming.

    As for Skype, Microsoft are onto a winner there. If they make it Windows Phone only, I think the Skype service offers enough of a carrot for consumers to move to Windows Phone, especially with Mango, Nokia’s Maps & Imaging prowess and all the Windows Phone goodies.

    Microsoft is the dark horse; it may not lead now but given how much money Microsoft have put towards acquisitions, development and partnerships, I can’t see it doing anything but succeeding. And when it succeeds, it will set the industry alight.

    Just my two cents.


  11. ahem, I’ve never Skyped someone via Facebook. I had facebook chat integrated into my phone for a while (N900 has native support). Had to disable it — it is the wrong group of people for instant messaging.

    Love Skype Video on mobile, thou. That’s a terrific use-case. I’m sure it will get much better. I think I would like Skype on the TV via xbox kinect. I can see that being useful if the camera’s good enough.

    Mobile operators will soon be launching cross-network, cross-platform IP-based mobile video. Eventually this will bridge Skype, Google, FB, and Apple communities too.

  12. Speaking from, for want of a better term, ‘normob’ experience, both video-calling from the Kinect and Facebook are seamless and enjoyable experiences.

    Funnily enough, I’ve never Skype video-called using my phone. Ever! 😀
    Horses for courses and all that.

    That aside, I’m totally with you on the multi-platform stuff. It’s funny, on the way in this morning I was wondering if Motorola made televisions…

  13. I don’t think they’d ever have the short-sightedness to make Skype windows phone only chap, as @twitter-20580968:disqus points out above, the strength is in its multi-platform reach.

    Why close down these channels when ostensibly they can be used as adverts for your umbrella brand?

  14. Odd – I actually prefer Skype to landlines for this as it minimises messing around with numbers for conference rooms and the higher quality makes it easier to deal with background noise etc.

    Cost isn’t really a consideration in our use (albeit mainly internal).

  15. Don’t forget James Nash… it’s not just one person per household that buys phones. One XBOX can = 2-4 phones, roughly. Then you have friends who don’t have an XBOX, but they see their friends with a Mango device. Oh man things in this market can shift very quickly.

    Whatley… I’m thinking the same thing as you after seeing BUILD yesterday. Microsoft has huge potential here and can take a huge bite out of the market immediately with, you know who… Nokia. It’s up to Microsoft to capitalize on that marketshare they will quickly gain.


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