Microsoft's Mobile Ambition Shop 'till it gets to the top

Microsoft's Mobile Ambition: Shop 'till it gets to the top

Philip Magson - Shackleton Technologies Dundee

Written by Philip Magson

Although I’ve used Microsoft software for most of my professional life, I have always opted for iOS or Android when choosing a new mobile phone. So it’s intriguing to read about Microsoft’s recent change in strategy to help improve its credentials as a mobile provider.

Microsoft’s new approach focuses on the acquisition and integration of outside technology, rather than simply developing it in-house. Obviously, Microsoft has the vast financial resources available to pursue this strategy but as business-users we’re going to benefit from the innovation this brings in – and from the speed at which it’s happening.

For example, in 2014 Microsoft purchased Acompli for $200 million, a relatively young and unproven app for mobile email which works in a similar way to Microsoft’s Outlook’s on desktop: it brings all your email to one location and also provides calendar, file and content management features which can work with Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. The real kicker here is that Acompli didn’t even work on the Windows phone at the time of the purchase. Since purchasing Acompli, Microsoft has re-branded it as Outlook for mobile, re-released it and has been providing updates and additional features at a rapid pace, thereby filling a significant hole in the company’s software line-up.

Unpicking a Marriage?

The CEO of Acompli, Javier Soltero, previously criticised Microsoft for the way its business apps are “married to Office 365”, predicting an ‘Outlook for iOS’ release which wouldn’t feature any support for alternative email accounts or any particularly innovative features. Those of us who rely on mobile email as part of our regular work day understand what Soltero is getting at: we want to be able to read messages, access contacts and generally perform work tasks as smoothly and simply as possible on our devices, wherever we are. Microsoft’s move for and integration of Acompli into Outlook suggests it might be starting to understand that, too – and trying to get ahead of the game.

Bold New Strategy

We already know Microsoft’s bold new strategy is to go after the mobile market in a big way – but the company is playing catch-up to Google and Apple in this respect, both of which have delivered a far greater level of mobile innovation over the past few years. Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia in 2013 was a sign that it was pushing its innovative energies into mobile devices – CEO Satya Nadella said as much when he announced the big Microsoft shake-up last year. It’s a blatant short-cut, but with Acompli, Microsoft jumped to the front of the line in mobile email apps.

The Wallet Stays Open

Two weeks after the Acompli sale, Microsoft purchased Hockeyapp, software designed to track app crashes, and in February it purchased Sunrise, a highly-rated calendar app. If Acompli is anything to go by, expect to see these acquisitions turned around and rebranded as part of Microsoft’s growing family of mobile services soon. In fact, Microsoft has been purchasing “one to two companies a month” since November 2014.

Of course, prior to then Microsoft was no slouch when it came to acquisitions, putting down truly astronomical (and also just mind-boggling) sums such as:

  • $2.5b for Mojang, makers of the game Minecraft in 2014
  • $8.5bn for Skype in 2011
  • $7.2bn for Nokia in 2013
  • $1.2b for Yammer in 2012

Microsoft is being forced to open up to outside development to make itself competitive on the mobile landscape, and we’re benefitting from this change in attitude. The apps we’re getting have been carefully developed and integrated into the Microsoft family to ensure the bridge between desktop and mobile is seamless.

My business priorities are always going to lie in finding the best tools for my work environment – and at the moment, mobile apps are a hotbed of outside-the-box thinking and innovation. If Microsoft starts to get complacent, or put less effort and thought into developing the purchases it makes, then I’m fairly sure I’m going to be able to find an alternative very quickly.