The smartphone war is long over; the two winners were Android and iOS. Most of the other contenders have long given up; right now Microsoft is slowly laying the last remnants of Windows Phone to rest.
That doesn’t meant there aren’t regrets. Indeed, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates recently listed the company’s failure to come up with an Android-like mobile platform as one of his greatest mistakes.
“The greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard phone platform – non-Apple platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win,” Gates said at an event hosted by a US venture capital firm recently.
SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)
This provokes two related questions. First, why didn’t Microsoft, with its vast funds and stack of brilliant brains, come up with something like Android itself? And what would the tech world look like today if it had managed to do so?
It’s not like Microsoft didn’t want to break into the smartphone market; long before Android and iOS arrived it had spent years working on different handheld devices (PDAs as they were called back then).
But once the iPhone and iOS, and then Android arrived, Microsoft was wrong footed and scrambled for years to catch up, even buying Nokia’s smartphone business in a doomed attempt to re-invigorate its attack, before finally giving up.
And there are, of course, plenty of reasons why Microsoft didn’t, and couldn’t ever, create something like Android, or indeed even like iOS.
For me, a big part of the problem for Microsoft was that, for far too long, it saw smartphones as little more than scaled-down versions of the standard desktop (it even had a brand called Pocket PC).
For a company so dedicated to the PC that isn’t at all surprising, but it meant that the idea of a totally new user interface based on touch and a new way of using applications (these tiny ‘apps’) was always going to be a struggle. Even though, when the iPhone first launched it, only had 500 apps and Microsoft already had 18,000 for Windows Mobile. The real breakthrough was the integrated app stores of iOS and Android, which made downloads much easier.
Another big reason why Microsoft couldn’t have created Android was that it was (and still is, to a certain extent) an open-source product, in a time when open source was still viewed with great suspicion by Microsoft. But Android’s open nature meant that handset vendors could take it and tweak it and use the bits that they liked.
But even more important was that Android was cheap to use. Not having to worry about high licencing fees meant that handsets were cheaper for vendors to make and it was less risky to experiment. Hence the massive, Cambrian, explosion of different Android handsets in the market. As they lost market share to Android everyone, including Microsoft, finally dropped their licence fees but by then it was too late (a few years later Microsoft also offered a free upgrade to Windows 10 to many users, showing how pervasive the concept had become).
There was only room in the market for one mass-market mobile operating system, which was Android, while Apple had already got a secure lock on the premium market.
Still, if we put aside the institutional, technical and economic reasons why Android was unlikely to appear from within Microsoft, let’s consider what would have happened if, somehow, it had.
Gates himself has a pretty clear idea. “There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system. And what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M,” he said. So Microsoft would have been $400 billion better off at the expense of Google.
A smaller Google, a bigger Microsoft. Maybe, if it had been a big mobile player, Microsoft would have never made its pivot to the cloud, or maybe Google would have moved faster to the cloud itself. It’s hard to measure the implications of such a big change.
As for individual users, it’s worth remembering Google’s profit on Android comes from the services – maps, search, email – which are bundled with the operating system, which is why is can pretty much give it away to phone makers.
That was one of the huge breakthroughs with Android, but those Google services make money by capturing our information. As such, Android has played a significant role in normalising the idea that we can and should exchange our privacy for access to these services.
Most of us are still happy enough with that bargain, although more of us are worrying about it, too.
Could Microsoft have created something as successful as Android without using similar tactics? Perhaps, if it could have used smartphones as route into selling more paid-for services, much as it uses Windows today.
Perhaps then it might have taken a lot longer for surveillance capitalism to become the status quo. Perhaps not. Perhaps another company would have come up with a very similar offering to Google and we’d be exactly where we are today.
But it’s always worth remembering that the status quo is never inevitable, and doesn’t last forever.
ZDNET’S MONDAY MORNING OPENER
The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet’s global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.
PREVIOUSLY ON MONDAY MORNING OPENER:
Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions – TechCrunch
Twitter reveals its move into paid subscriptions, Australia passes its media bargaining law and Coinbase files its S-1. This is your Daily Crunch for February 25, 2021.
The big story: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions
Twitter announced its first paid product at an investor event today, showing off screenshots of a feature that will allow users to subscribe to their favorite creators in exchange for things like exclusive content, subscriber-only newsletters and a supporter badge.
The company also announced a feature called Communities, which could compete with Facebook Groups and enable Super Follow networks to interact, plus a Safety Mode for auto-blocking and muting abusive accounts. On top of all that, Twitter said it plans to double revenue by 2023.
Not announced: launch dates for any of these features.
The tech giants
After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers — This requires platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content.
New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads — The sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Sergey Brin’s airship aims to use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell — The Google co-founder’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.
Coinbase files to go public in a key listing for the cryptocurrency category — Coinbase’s financials show a company that grew rapidly from 2019 to 2020 while also crossing the threshold into unadjusted profitability.
Boosted by the pandemic, meeting transcription service Otter.ai raises $50M — With convenient timing, Otter.ai added Zoom integration back in April 2020.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market — The company intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DOCN.”
Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck — For founders aiming to entice investors, the pitch deck remains the best way to communicate their startup’s progress and potential.
Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1 — We dig into Coinbase’s user numbers, its asset mix, its growing subscription incomes, its competitive landscape and who owns what in the company.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads — The new streaming service launches on March 4.
Register for TC Sessions: Justice for a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup world — This is just one week away!
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Twitter plans to double revenue by 2023, reach 315M daily users – TechCrunch
Just ahead of its 2021 virtual investor day on Thursday, Twitter this morning announced its three long-term goals focused on user base and revenue growth, and a faster pace of shipping new features across its platform. The company said it aims to “at least” double its total annual revenue from $3.7 billion in 2020 to $7.5 billion or more in 2023. It also expects to reach at least 315 million mDAUs — that’s Twitter’s self-invented metric for “monetizable” daily active users — by the fourth quarter of 2023.
That would represent a roughly 20% compound annual growth rate from Twitter’s base of 152 million mDAUs reported in the fourth quarter of 2019, the company noted in a new SEC filing.
Active user growth has been difficult for Twitter — the growth tends to be slow or even flat, at times. Per Twitter’s most recent earnings, mDAUs in the fourth quarter 2020 had reached 192 million instead of the 193.5 million expected, for instance. Investors are used to Twitter under-delivering on this metric — or even inventing its own user base metric to hide that its monthly user growth sometimes declines.
In any event, Twitter’s longer-term plans indicate it believes it will finally be able to deliver on user growth — perhaps aided by its investment in new features.
In its filing, Twitter said it would “double development velocity by the end of 2023,” which means doubling the number of features shipped per employee that “directly drive either mDAU or revenue,” it said.
On this front, Twitter has been fairly active in recent months. Late last year, it launched its “stories” feature called Fleets to its global audience. It’s also now testing new features including a Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, and a community-led misinformation debunking effort known as Birdwatch. And it acquired newsletter platform Revue, which is already now integrated on the Twitter website. The company has made smaller acquisitions, as well, to build out product teams, including with social app Squad, stories template maker Chroma Labs, and podcasting app Breaker.
New features may help to attract increased Twitter usage, but revenue growth will also come from diversification beyond advertising. Twitter has spoken several times about its plans to build out a subscription product, which the company said would begin in 2021 but wouldn’t impact Twitter revenue in the near-term. The company has also said it may investigate other areas of monetization, like tipping and various paid consumer-facing features.
Today, Twitter said publicly it plans to reach the $7.5 billion or more target by “growing our audience and gaining advertising market share in both brand and direct response.” But the company did not speak to its plans for subscriptions.
Investors are already responding favorably to Twitter’s announcements this morning. Twitter stock is up by nearly 7% as of the time of writing.
New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads – TechCrunch
Online advertising can be a “pretty dry topic,” as Facebook’s head of brand marketing Andrew Stirk acknowledged, but with a new campaign of its own, the social networking giant is looking to “bring to life how personalized ads level the playing field” for small businesses.
The Good Ideas Deserve To Be Found campaign will include TV, radio and digital advertising. Individual businesses will also be able to promote it using a new Instagram sticker and the #DeserveToBeFound hashtag on Facebook.
The campaign will highlight specific small businesses on Facebook, including bag and luggage company House of Takura, whose founder Annette Njau spoke about the benefits of digital advertising at a press event yesterday.
“What those platforms allow us to do is, they allow us to tell stories,” Njau said. “I can’t tell this story on TV, I can’t tell this story in a huge magazine because it costs money and I don’t know who will see it.”
These sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, where apps will have to ask for permission before sharing user data for third-party ad targeting. In response, Facebook claimed that it was “standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” though the social network also pointed to these changes as one of the “more significant advertising headwinds” that it expects to face this year. (Apple’s Tim Cook, in contrast, has said that these changes provide consumers with the control that they’ve been asking for.)
When asked how this fits into the broader dispute with Apple, Stirk said that while Facebook has been publicly opposed to Apple’s changes, this campaign is part the company’s longer-term support for small business.
“There is a degree of urgency in the fact that … small businesses are hurting right now,” he said.
Head of Facebook Business Products Helen Ma added that this is “very much an extension of the work that we did on the product side at the very start of the COVID period,” which included the launch of the Businesses Nearby section and a #SupportSmallBusiness hashtag.
In addition to launching the campaign today, Facebook is announcing several product changes, including a simplified Ads Manager dashboard, new options for restaurants to provide more information about their dining experiences and more information about personalized ads in Facebook’s Business Resource hub and Instagram’s Professional Dashboard.
The company also said it will continue to waive fees on transactions through Checkouts on Shops through June 2021, and will do the same for fees collected on paid online events until August 2021 at the earliest.
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