How to Retool Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Group

ms-devicesThe departure of two key members of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices group comes as a shock to those in the know. Robbie Bach, head of the group and its Chief Experience Officer J Allard are leaving the massive software giant (Business Insider). The Microsoft spin is that Bach is retiring and Allard himself says that he’s going to swap the 95% of his Microsoft life in for 95% of his personal life. Yet, when you look at the group’s successes, the list comes up short with only one success – Xbox 360. The list of failures is far longer by avoiding a full-on recall with Xbox 360s (due to a design/manufacturing flaw), Windows Mobile, Zune and the recently ditched dual touch screen Courier device.

Microsoft needs to come back. Here’s what it should do to start:

1)      Release a handheld gaming device that isn’t named Zune. As the iPhone proved, there can be more than one dominant player in the handheld market. Release a device with the same power as an iPhone but with a 3D graphics chip that makes games look Xbox 360 hot. Of course, make the device compatible with Xbox 360, Natal and add in major benefits for those who own both (faster leveling up for characters, special unlocks, etc. to start).

2)      Make DirectX open. While Microsoft’s gaming API really is a great piece of work, it only works on Windows machines, the newest version only works in Vista/7 and an older variant works on Xbox 360. And that’s the issue. Make it open and see if someone can port the API to Linux, Apple and Android machines. Of course, controlling the purchasing methods and security here would be key for Microsoft’s revenue stream but making sales on volume is better than building higher walls around the walled garden.

3)      Kill Games for Windows because it never worked. Seriously, it was a confusing marketing term that never caught on. Kill it and be better for it.

4)      Work with a TV manufacturer to create touchscreen TVs. I’ve played with Microsoft’s Surface concept and it really is amazing when you play. Now they need to get it out of the museum and into classrooms and homes.

5)      Buy TiVo. I love TiVo for their nice interface and so many other things that no other DVR UI has. Yet, TiVo lovers aren’t so hot for the new TiVo Premiere boxes which feel like more upsell than functionality. Microsoft includes TiVo-like software on nearly Windows machine, software that actually is good and it plays well with both my PS3 and Xbox 360. Of course, Microsoft needs to give TiVo some autonomy to create new upgrades. With Microsoft’s marketing muscle, and the option of releasing a TiVo/Xbox 360 hybrid, would be a worthy merger.

6)      Kill Windows Mobile. Seriously. I only have a single friend who uses Windows Mobile and he loves it. Interestingly, he works with Microsoft.

7)      Give away a million Xbox 360x units. The old box is flawed and many of my friends are on their 5th refurbished Xbox 360 after hitting the Red Ring of death. Solution: Come up with a better design, shrink the size down and give out a million of those to players who have had countless issue. Costly, yes. But it’s a great way to sow the seeds of respect and Microsoft’s gaming future.

8)      Make Zune the new Windows Mobile, cut the licensing rates and go more in the way of Kin. I like the Kin concept but it’s a bit weak out of the gate. Still, it’s more consumer focused than MS has been in years past so I think that there’s a great growth opportunity here.

9)      Invest heavily in the upcoming Cloud Gaming industry. Ideas like Gaikai and OnLine are also slow out of the game but investing now in a disc-less, online gaming future may come from one of these companies. Plus, publishers would love it if all those used games were out of play.

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Adobe’s Ad Campaign Loves Apple, Questions Freedom of Choice

flash-appleIn the past few weeks, the bitter war over enabling Flash on the iPhone, iPod and iPad hit an impasse as Apple CEO Steve Jobs (http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/) publically roasted Adobe’s Flash as insecure, a battery hog, for not being an open standard (Apple is notoriously proprietary) and soon replaced by newer functions in HTML 5 (or the company’s “Gianduia” technology).

Rather than continue the public rhetoric around the viability or potential of Flash on Apple’s touch products, Adobe launched a new ad campaign that purports the company’s view of Apple, of HTML 5 and boils down the whole issue into a near-political debate around the freedom for developers to choose which medium to create their digital art in. We found that ad on Engadget.com today that linked out to a page on the Adobe site (http://www.adobe.com/choice/?sdid=GXRUX) that briefly talks about the company’s position.

Will it end the war? Probably not. Yet, Apple has played this type of strategy before. When record companies supported, and then publicly denounced the use of Apple’s FairPlay encryption technology for DRM (digital rights management), the record execs did the unfathomable thing… they decided to support DRM-free music. Might this be Apple’s way of wearing down Adobe execs and making Flash a truly open standard?

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