Signal Tuesday: Please Microsoft, Open The Phone!

Today is a Signal Rant, or rather, perhaps, a Signal Plea: To Microsoft, the subject of my Friday Signal. I’ve been paying close attention to the mobile space, and am particularly fond of the Apple v. Google soap opera – Closed vs. Open! Elegant & Controlled vs. Messy & Connected! It’s almost too perfect except…well, except it should have been Microsoft starring in the role that Google now owns.

Let me explain. Back in 2007, when Apple redefined the mobile world with the iPhone, there were basically two approaches other mobile players might take to fight back: parrot the iPhone with a proprietary, vertically integrated solution (basically, try to out-Steve-Jobs Mr. Steve Jobs) or do what Google did – lean hard into Apple’s Achilles heel: The fact that the iPhone was not an open hardware or application-development environment.

So fast forward to where we are now.  Android, Google’s mobile environment, is a clear and strong second to the iPhone, and while the folks at Apple will never admit it publicly (because, well, they don’t ever speak publicly), they have to be worried about it. It’s a very real competitive threat.

Now Microsoft is pushing to become a third major player. And to my mind, the company has a choice to make. No one – not even folks at Microsoft – will dispute the fact that Windows Phone 7, due out in the Fall, is a reboot of sorts, and a clear attempt at creating the kind of platform that Android and iPhone already enjoy. While the system is not yet out, the early buzz is good, but Microsoft stands at a crossroads. In essence, the choice comes down to this: Will Microsoft ape Apple’s approach, or will it take the path of Google?

I fervently hope it will do the second.

Why? Well, we’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? It didn’t end well for Apple, in terms of market share, when it took a vertically integrated, precious approach to operating systems back in 1984. After Apple changed the computing market with the Mac, Microsoft took the best ideas in Apple’s OS, integrated them into Windows, opened it up for any hardware maker to use, and the rest is history. Apple sued Microsoft, but to no avail. (HTC, anyone?!)

Right now, Google is taking the same approach in phones – Microsoft’s approach! So imagine this observer’s dismay when early news leaked out that instead of out Microsofting Google, Microsoft instead was parroting Apple in its approach to the Windows Phone application store. As far as I can tell, Windows Phone 7 won’t support Flash, either – though the company is promising to fix that later….

When I was up at Microsoft last week, I implored the folks I spoke with to keep a more open mind to how it competes in what is soon to become a three-horse race. Already Microsoft is claiming its app store policies and approach will be far more transparent than Apple’s, so that’s a start. But the game is afoot, and it’s now – before developers and marketers get set in their ways and make crucial first year decisions about which platforms they’ll support and with how many resources – that Microsoft can go totally open – to the point of out Microsofting even Google. Huh, just writing that makes my head hurt.

Onwards, to today’s linkages:

News Corp. Throwing Away The Crown Jewel: Fox Audience Network (TC) Not confirmed, but would be quite a story if FAN was sold.

The Online Ad Market Is Back To Setting Records In The U.S. (PaidContent) I don’t want to say I told you so, yet (see #9), but…

Digital Gets Physical (Adweek) A fun tour of the “web meets world” theme. Pay attention to “Stickybits” from my pal Seth.

The Real Reason NBC, Fox, and ABC Want to Kill Hulu (Business Insider) Online upstart messing with its parents’ minds. Who’da thunk.

10 Essential Rules for Brands in Social Media (AdAge) A fun read and worth the time. Particularly like “The 2-4X Rule: When it comes to conversion, visitors driven to a site by influencers are to to four times more likely to convert compared to visitors from other sources, such as display advertisements or paid search.”

Holy Grail of Targeting Is Fuel for Privacy Battle (AdAge) Just keep watching this space. Or I will for ya….

Brian Roberts: Comcast Won’t Discriminate Against Competitor’s Web Programming (paidContent) Well that’s nice to hear.

Americans Using TV and Internet Together 35% More Than A Year Ago (Nielsen) And that’s just the start. Wait till the two come together entirely. With a gestural interface. It won’t be long.

Interview: Sergey Brin on Google’s China Gambit (NYT) If you’re following the story, worth a read.

Forget Foursquare: Why Location Marketing Is New Point-of-Purchase (AdAge) Well, don’t forget Foursquare, really. Just pay attention to the signal in the database of intentions that is local, of course.

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