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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.

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