I laughed out loud when I saw this headline on the ars technica Web site: “Monkey see, monkey do: Microsoft launches mobile app site.” It’s so typical of Microsoft in recent years to desperately emulate companies it perceives as its competitors, even at the expense of its own embarrassment.
The move was in response, the article surmised, to Apple’s launch of App Store, a site for downloading iPhone apps through iTunes. It’s beautiful, polished, intuitive and complete—classically Apple.
Microsoft’s site, on the other hand, “brought Mr. Flashy along for the ride, and left Mr. Usability behind,” wrote Emil Protalinski in his article. I wasn’t able to navigate the Microsoft site myself because I don’t have (nor do I want) Silverlight installed. The template I saw looked OK, but how useful can such a site be without the ability to search?
Available applications, of which there are an estimated 18,000 reports the article, can be broken into these categories: all applications, industry, sales force enablement, field force enablement, GPS navigation, and other. Huh? Where are “business, education, entertainment, finance, games, news, productivity, sports, travel and utilities?” (Those are some of App Store's categories.)
Why does Microsoft continue to build applications that are hard to use? In Protalinski’s opinion it’s the rush to compete. But I have another view. I believe that the folks at Microsoft have forgotten how to design applications with the user in mind. When an application is conceived at Microsoft, I'd imagine that a giant team of developers is assembled, the app is apportioned, and groups are assigned by expertise. They go off to their silos to stuff as many features as they can into their portion of the app, hoping for bragging rights over the guy two cubicles over. There isn't the slightest consideration for the first-time user, which is everyone at some time or other. Then, when some ivory-tower manager decides it’s time to launch, all the pieces are glued together—ready or not.
I have no inside experience on the subject, of course. But I invite anyone who does to tell me where I’m wrong.