Microsoft should make a dumbphone OS

Smartphones are all the rage these days, but what about the underestimated dumbphone market? By the way, when I say ‘dumbphone’ I’m referring to general cellphones that aren’t classified as ‘smartphones’. The quasi-official classification is really ‘feature phone’ but ‘dumbphone’ is becoming more common and distinguishes it better in my opinion.

kin-phones-info

A lot of people won’t get on the smartphone market anytime soon. Price is a heavy factor. Devices themselves cost a lot, even when subsidized by 2-year contracts. Add on the required data plans too. The apps and games are very enticing, and you buy those too. Not to mention a protecting case and other accessories as well. So a smartphone can be a heavy investment.

Not everyone feels the need for a smartphone. It’s nice to have, sure. But is it necessary? Many people can get by perfectly well on a regular cellphone. They don’t feel compelled to switch after analyzing the benefits over the costs. Many people, like myself, can make do with a cheap dumbphone for basic phone & text functionality, and get by with a laptop/tablet on free WiFi for full Internet access, a dedicated portable media player, and a dedicated digital camera that all do their jobs better.

According to Nielsen, dumbphones still rule the market at 60% usage in the United States as of September 1, 2011. Yes, smartphone growth has been rapid, but is that a surprise when most dumbphones look pretty pathetic?

So why Microsoft? I like Microsoft software. Windows Phone is a very good smartphone OS, and I think if they could create a light version of it, it may take the dumbphone market by storm. Now you might point out that Microsoft’s brief history with the Kin in 2010 shows that Microsoft is incapable of producing a good dumbphone, or the market rejects a mid-level phone somewhere between a dumbphone and smartphone. I disagree. If you want to bother reading through my Kin assessment, here’s the link.

The gist is that the Kin wasn’t just a failure; it’s an important lesson about trying to change the dumbphone market with half-baked implementation, poor niche marketing, and missing necessities. Microsoft can learn from its mistakes and try again, having had the experience. I know I’m not an expert, but when many experts and critics are sharing the same view, I think that speaks for itself that some of the the stuff with the Kin could have been easily avoided with better development and ensuring the launch was at least a safe product rather than something that was bound to flop.

Getting into the dumbphone market is also a good idea, because it’s a starter phone for many people. Making the user experience and design similar to Windows Phone might encourage them to adopt Windows Phone as their smartphone when they’re ready. Or at least use more Microsoft services like Bing and Zune or Xbox. As well as in developing markets like Africa and Asia. Considering how Windows Phone runs well on lighter resources, perhaps they could accomplish something similar on even lesser hardware specs that dumbphones have.

Apps are something that dumbphone users will still want. Some might say having a smartphone OS and a dumbphone OS will mean ‘fragmentation’ for developers and users. I find that the market for both of them are completely different. Dumbphones will continue to have lower hardware specs to make them affordable, and thus any app will not reach the level of complexity as they would on a smartphone. It may be easier to code for a dumbphone OS as well, and hopefully MS could provide a very good SDK  so developers can make the most they can out of a dumbphone. Or there maybe a limited official app selection like Microsoft has had for the Zune players.

This dumbphone OS should be licensed to OEMs with fairly good minimum requirements to ensure the integrity of the OS would work well enough, but obviously the specs won’t match the ones required by Windows Phone. Microsoft can also take advantage of their strong partnership with Nokia to get the ball rolling.

In my next post, I’ll go in depth of what I’d think a basic dumphone OS from Microsoft would be like and look like.

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Why the Microsoft Kin failed

I know this is rather late, but I though I had previous typed this up before, but couldn’t locate it on WordPress. So here it is.

The Kin failed because of poor research into what the market wanted, especially baseline features, and Verizon’s issues as well. Here’s a quick list of what killed the Kin:

  • Verizon – MS and Verizon had a break down prior to launch. Microsoft wanted it to be billed as a dumbphone with a low-cost data plan, But Verizon ended up labeling it as a ‘smartphone’ with an expensive smartphone data plan. Only during the 2nd revision did Verizon shift it to Microsoft’s want. When it was too late… Why didn’t they get T-Mobile, like their predecessor with the Sidekick/Hiptop?
  • The marketing – All their ads completely targeted to ‘hipsters’, which if any smart person could tell Microsoft, is a very niche group, super hard to please, and isn’t representative of most of America’s youth. It was a disaster.
  • Missing features, day one – Calculator and calendar came with the 2nd revision and update, but they weren’t there Day 1! I’ve used at least 2 dumbphones, and they had basic calendar support years ago and today. It wasn’t web connected, but it existed. Calculator? Come on. They were still gimpish during the 2nd revision. No IM clients for a phone billed as a social phone. Dumb. No spelling correction or predictive text input. No accessible expansion slots. GPS is only good for geocoding photos and local search, not for navigation. Apps? It’s a dumbphone, but it should have better built-in apps.
  • The ‘social’ was gimped – 15-minute delay in updating your Loop, unless you manually refresh or lock-unlock your phone. It’s like that because of “battery life” and “immature social networking APIs”. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea? Twitter was very gimped. It’s pretty much read only, reply, and tweet. And no IM clients. Or calendars.

Ignoring the above, the Kin did offer stuff over the regular dumphone:

  • Modern look – It was kinda smooth, the graphics looked better with the high-res screen, and the animations weren’t bad. It’s not choppy and ugly like most dumbphones you see out there.
  • The Spot – You could hold, drag, and drop items to a tiny circle that’s always on-screen, and click on the circle to organize and send to the friends or social networks you want.
  • The Loop – It’s the homepage, and it’s pretty much the same as Window Phone’s “People” hub.
  • The Kin Studio – A major winner as an idea to most people. All your photos, videos, text messages, contacts, and such can be backed up to the cloud, all accessible with unlimited storage for free. No dumbphone or smartphone has done that for free.
  • Decent cameras – 5MP standard-def video on Kin ONE and 8MP 720p video on Kin TWO is pretty good, especially for a dumbphone.

Basically, if Microsoft had marketed it better as an awesome dumbphone without the stupid hipster factor, and remembered that this was first and foremost a dumbphone, not a smartphone, they might have had a slight chance of success.

Dumbphones should NOT require an expensive data plan, nor should the features (meant for bigger data plans) be gimped to make cheaper data plans possible. User experience goes down a lot when the feature you use just doesn’t work good. If practically every dumbphone has certain features like a basic calendar and calculator, please include it. If you’re going to claim it’s a “social phone”, you better have like the best social networking features available, and multiple/integrated IM clients too, or you’re just lying. Even a Blackberry would be a better “social phone” with Blackberry Messenger, calendar, e-mail and all that. If it’s not doable, then don’t.

I think it’d be great if Microsoft could redo their dumbphone thing, and do it right. I think they should license the OS to other OEMs, like they do with Windows Phone, but with lighter hardware requirements of course. Redesign the OS to just make it a better dumbphone, without too much expensive extras.

Why bookstores are NOT going to ‘die’ out

There’s been a lot of ridiculous hype that bookstores are going to be dead in the near future. These people mainly contribute it to the rising use of eBooks and how Kindles are making bookstores obsolete and whatnot.

I personally would like to call it BS. I’m not going to go into super factual analysis or attempt to dig up a lot of links to prove any assertions or whatever; I’m just going to suggest you go to your favorite search engine instead or add some of your own logic here.

Borders bookstore Detroit airport by brewbooks

People point out that Borders Group Inc., an international book and media retailer got bankrupt this year, suggesting the premise of bookstores in the future. Thing is, Borders was totally slow in being competitive. For a long while, Borders didn’t sell any books online; they outsourced it to Amazon until about a year or two ago, and Barnes & Noble got a earlier head start as well. Barnes & Noble also brought in their Nook as soon as they could, while it took about 2 years later for Borders to get a Kobo in their stores. Check it out from Forbes. The gist is, is that Borders didn’t have good management and direction as to what consumers want, and they didn’t adapt quickly enough.

So digital sales may have some part to do with some bookstores closing out. But there has to be more than just digital sales. Do a lot of people you know or see own Kindles or Nooks or other eReaders? Maybe it’s just me, but I may see a couple sometimes, but they’re not as prevalent as the online world would like you to believe.

Here’s my theory. Something many media outlets haven’t touched on when they talked about Borders going down is:

  • the rise in secondhand bookstores
  • the rise in library check-outs
  • people buying online at cheaper prices

I know it’s all anecdotal, but I don’t buy books as much as I used to when I was younger. It may have to do with how books have risen like a dollar per paperback (from $3.99 to $4.99) in the past couple of years, and how being an adult means I’ve got to use my money more sparingly. Books are a luxury in a way. It’s not totally necessary for survival, but they can be educational or entertaining. I mostly bought books for entertainment through mystery fiction.

When I can, I mostly go to the library to get books. Sure, there are downsides to not owning them: having to return it back on time (or renew), dealing with any potential nastiness from being used for a long time, and so on. But I usually read my fiction books only once, and rarely ever again. So it makes sense for me to avoid books that are a one-time only thing. If I like it a lot, I may buy a personal copy somewhere.

That’s when I might usually hit a secondhand bookstore, but they are usually farther for me from where I live, so I might head to a national chain bookstore (usually Barnes & Noble) instead. Independents don’t really show up on the radar where I live, and the perks and selection of Barnes & Noble is hard to resist, so sorry independent owners. Borders had few locations in this city, so it wasn’t usually a place I visited, though I like the store’s atmosphere as well.

Also, a lot of people sell books on Amazon.com for cheap. So that helps a ton. I usually bought out-of-print books, that bookstores don’t usually keep since they’re a bit outdated.

I personally don’t care about the eBook craze at the moment. I can’t justify spending over a $100 for an eReader when printed books work fine for me, and I don’t have to deal with DRM issues if I wanted to read elsewhere, or ensure I have a physical back-up. The DRM issue is what hits me the most, and prevents me from even considering buying an eBook until that gets resolved. I kind of wish Microsoft might offer a solution at some point soon.

Plus I like to think any business model will at least try to change and adapt first, before it dies out. I see so many possibilities for bookstores before anything digital will overtake them. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I’m an idea guy and could think of a lot of ways bookstores can be even better than what’s out there.

Bookstores in some form will be here to stay for a long time. Whether it’s a big-chain selling a big selection with discounts and a built-in coffee shop, or a specialized independent, or a secondhand place, I don’t see them dying off in droves.