Microsoft’s New Mentality: Release The Product Instead of Perfecting It

An image from a separate WP event.

Microsoft recently hosted a tech talk at my university, where Scott Chamberlin (currently working in WP’s camera division) answered various questions about how Microsoft operates and what his experience has been like. One of the most interesting topics was the matter of either perfecting a piece of software and taking forever to release it, or just simply releasing the product as-is.

Chamberlin stated that years ago, Microsoft would think “We can take however long we need to release our products, and when we do release them everyone will buy them” (written as close to the original quote as I can remember). But then competition started heating up and Apple began to emerge as a leader in MP3 and smartphone technology, and Microsoft was forced to change their mentality.

Now, according to Chamberlin, Microsoft believes that it is best to release the product and get it out to market instead of spending an excessive amount of time perfecting the product. The market is no longer going to wait for Microsoft, and the potential benefits of spending more time perfecting a product are outweighed by the cost of being late to a market.

This new mentality certainly holds some ground. The Zune was late to the market, and nearly everyone already jumped on board with the iPod, leaving very few potential Zune customers even if the Zune was perfect.

Being first to a market is becoming even more important nowadays. As we saw with the iPhone, a smartphone isn’t just about the OS features and the hardware anymore. It’s also about the apps. Since the iPhone was essentially the first strikingly popular smartphone in the market, it was able to build up a high number of apps and has been able to accumulate more and more apps over time. As we know, developers write apps for platforms with a large user base. In 2007, the iPhone didn’t even allow apps, but it was certainly accumulating users. Then in 2008, iOS 2.0 brought the App Store. Thus, Apple reached the mobile app store market in July 2008 and had a significant amount of time to grow.

Being late to a market can severely handicap a product nowadays. WP7 was originally released near the end of October 2010, just over two years after iOS released its first App Store. Around the time of WP7’s release, the iPhone had about 300,000 apps in its App Store. Windows Phone of course had hardly any. By being late to a market, a company is significantly handicapped since its competitors have had more time to establish an ecosystem and lock users into it.

This new mentality could be the reason why WP7 was released running on Windows CE instead of simply waiting for Windows NT. By releasing WP7, Microsoft has been able to accumulate over 100,000 apps which will run on WP8. Microsoft could have alternatively waited for Windows NT and possibly released WP8 earlier, but it would have started with almost no apps and would have been even later to the market, even though it may have been more “perfect”.

Drawbacks to this mentality of course include the possibility of more bugs and issues, since products have less time to be polished and perfected. However, due to the emerging importance of app ecosystems, I believe that the “release first, then polish” mentality is truly necessary to become successful in today’s market. Tell us what you think in the comments below!

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