Thursday, October 08, 2009, 09:00 pm PT (12:00 am ET)
Exclusive: Pink Danger leaks from Microsoft's Windows Phone
Microsoft's grave Danger from poisonous leaks
With that background on Danger and Pink, the new leaks supplied by our non-anonymous Microsoft/Danger insider will make more sense. "I honestly have no idea who leaked the damaging details to MobileCrunch about "Pink", but since the cat's out of the bag, allow me to add a little context to the story for your readers," the source wrote.
"First, all of the details are true. I wouldn't be surprised if the leaked photos of "Pure" and "Turtle" were an intentional leak by Microsoft (it seems like the sort of thing they would do), but the new details leaking the Pink project partners and the dirty laundry about dissent at Danger are clearly the work of an extremely disgruntled former or current employee.
"I have my share of disgruntlement about the situation, but it never occurred to me to do something like that. This is actually the worst possible timing for Microsoft for this information to come out (on the heels of the awful reviews of WM 6.5), and I suspect that it has already caused irreparable damage to their relationships with a number of key partners, to which I say, 'Bravo, leaker, well played.' Now allow me to twist the knife...
The Pink partners in Danger
"Let's start with the handset makers. Motorola has announced their intention to abandon WinMo for Android, and Palm has already abandoned WinMo in favor of their own WebOS. A few others, such as HTC, have been hedging their bets, announcing their support for Android, but not yet willing to publicly disown WinMo. Now the story has been leaked that Microsoft has been secretly working with Sharp on this (doomed) [Pink] project for over a year, cutting everyone else out of the picture completely.
"You figured out the likely consequences of this over a month ago so I won't belabor the point other than to say that Sharp, who has been a terrific partner to Danger throughout the Hiptop/Sidekick era, was no doubt hoping that Pink would allow them to expand their phone offerings in the Americas, a dream which has now been dashed due to typical Microsoft blundering. I doubt that either Sharp or any of the other handset OEM's will ever take Microsoft at their word again.
"Now, the mobile operators. Verizon is no doubt pissed to see their name leaked in relation to this sorry situation. Fortunately, they have been hedging their bets with their recent Android announcements, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rumors about them working with Apple on a CDMA iPhone were true as well. They've had great success with RIM phones and could also easily ship a WebOS phone, which already runs on CDMA. The one thing they would no doubt like to avoid at all costs is further dependence on WinMo, which apparently has a 25% return rate for dissatisfaction at their stores.
"If any Sidekick device had even a small fraction of this return rate, heads would have rolled! Clearly Verizon was hoping that Pink would be a different story. I've even heard of representatives saying things like 'we can't believe this is coming out of Microsoft' after a successful Pink demo, a quote that was reported to us by the Microsoft representative without any acknowledgment of the backhanded nature of that 'compliment.' No doubt whoever said that has now realized that it is in fact Microsoft, and that demos can be quite deceiving.
The problem of four Pinks
"There were other operators involved in the project because (and this hasn't leaked yet), in their infinite wisdom, the Pink planners decided to try to build both UMTS and CDMA phones in both form factors, for a grand total of four different SKUs.
"None of the other smartphone platform builders were foolish enough to try to build more than one phone at a time, and whoever made this decision didn't take into account the added complexity involved in coding to support two different radio modules (from two different vendors, no less!) for two completely different radio technologies, not to mention validating and testing the RF performance of four different antennas (since each form factor and radio technology requires its own antenna design).
"You could have picked anyone at random from Danger and asked them if this would be a good idea and gotten the correct answer (hell no!), but by the time we were brought in, these decisions had already been made. At some point the UMTS project was placed on the back burner, and for all I know it may have already been cancelled, but the damage to the project has been done.
Pitting Verizon against T-Mobile
"The final operator who is going to be pissed is T-Mobile, who has been just as loyal of a partner to Danger as Sharp has been. I don't know exactly what Microsoft has been telling them, but they have no doubt realized that they've been cut out of this deal in favor of their largest competitor. What's worse is that apparently Microsoft has been lying to them this whole time about the amount of resources that they've been putting behind Sidekick development and support (in reality, it was cut down to a handful of people in Palo Alto managing some contractors in Romania, Ukraine, etc.).
"The reason for the deceit wasn't purely to cover up the development of Pink but also because Microsoft could get more money from T-Mobile for their support contract if T-Mobile thought that there were still hundreds of engineers working on the Sidekick platform. As we saw from their recent embarrassment with Sidekick data outages, that has clearly not been the case for some time.
"So now that the whole thing has blown up in their faces, I'm not sure what will happen next. Fortunately it doesn't affect me since I've already left, but I feel sad that so many Danger folks who I respect deeply are still working there, and none of them were responsible for making these catastrophic decisions. The most likely possibility is that anything worth salvaging from Pink will get folded into the larger WiMo 7 project, where it should have been located in the first place.
"Instead, Pink was a skunkworks project kept completely secret from both the WinMo and Zune teams, which led to much frustration and duplication of effort. Of course WinMo is so screwed that this will likely lead to still more Danger folks quitting in disgust. Another possibility would be another massive layoff and shutting down the Danger offices, but with the economic crunch, I doubt that Microsoft would choose to take the hit of handing out severance packages to all the affected engineers, and breaking the lease on the buildings.
"The smartest course of action (and therefore the one that Microsoft is least likely to take!) would be for them to recognize the value of the original Danger platform that they acquired, and to rebuild the Hiptop/Sidekick into a force to compete with Android (which is, after all, "Sidekick 2.0" in many respects). This won't happen for three reasons: 1) Microsoft's irrational hatred of Java, 2) Microsoft's irrational love of Windows in all of its horrible flavors, and 3) all the Danger folks who loved the Sidekick platform have left or likely will leave soon, and Microsoft has no in-house expertise in Java or the Danger platform.
"Finally, assigning blame. The original leaker didn't discuss the personalities involved, but clearly the executive most responsible is Roz Ho, head of PMX [Premium Mobile Experiences]. I don't dislike her personally (I never met her personally, and she has no idea who I am anyway), but she was clearly incompetent to head this project, and was not humble enough to actually listen to what all the Danger folks were screaming about and to change course before things had gotten to this point.
"She was also responsible for the "Pink" codename, which has a lamer backstory than anyone has guessed: she was listening to a song by Pink (the singer) when she decided she was just the person to go one-up the Sidekick. To her credit, I wouldn't say that she is any more incompetent than the fools above her in the org chart: Andy Lees, Robbie Bach, and of course Steve Ballmer.
"I always figured that she was guaranteed to 'fail upward' with this project, assuming that anything at all shipped as Pink v1 (no matter how crappy), but with this recent MobileCrunch leak, and my 'twisting the knife,' perhaps there will be some accountability after all and she will have to fall on her sword. The smart thing would be for the board to fire all of the people I listed, along with Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie for good measure (two 'visionaries' who seem to be anything but), and then put someone like Steve Sinofsky in charge as interim CEO until things get sorted out. Of course this won't happen either."
Dismal prospects for a Microsoft mobile
With even Gartner now predicting that Windows Mobile likely has less than a year of life left in it, the failure of Pink only complicates Microsoft's already disastrous mess of mobile operations. Stuck between its efforts to sell a software platform that competes with free open source alternatives including Symbian and Android on one hand, and selling integrated solutions that take aim at successful single vendors such as RIM and Apple on the other, Microsoft has effectively shut itself out of the mobile business.
That misstep will provide RIM, Apple, Google, Nokia, and even Palm with easy access to pillage the remains of Microsoft's mobile business long before the company can mount any effective defense. Outside of the mobile business itself, that means Microsoft will also have little leverage to push its desktop technologies into the mobile frontier, from Bing search to Silverlight and .NET development. This also has other implications related to mobile clients, ranging from messaging platforms to cloud computing.
On the bright side, this affords Microsoft the opportunity to focus on providing cross platform software solutions to the successful mobile platforms, allowing the software giant to sell its Exchange ActiveSync and mobile versions of its Office titles to users of all different platforms rather than feeling the need to keep these exclusive to its own platform. In fact, the company has already broadly licensed ActiveSync to other mobile makers and has recently announced new Office mobile software under development for Symbian users.
Daniel Eran Dilger is the author of "Snow Leopard Server (Developer Reference)," a new book from Wiley available now for pre-order at a special price from Amazon.
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