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Old 05-31-2006, 03:30 PM
Mike Temporale
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Default Talking with John Starkweather of MED Division at Microsoft - Part 1

A couple weeks ago, I sat down and had a one-on-one chat with John Starkweather, the Group Product Manager for Mobile and Embedded Devices Division at Microsoft. We talked about numerous different topics like the future of ActiveSync, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Product Announcements, Marketing efforts, and more. Today, we're going to share part one of this interview with you. I'm no Walter Cronkite when it comes to interviews. I had a nice long list of topics that I wanted to cover. If you find it jumps around a little, I'm sorry about that. It's just the way the conversation went.

Mike: For those that may not be familiar with who you are, can you share with us your name and your position in Microsoft?

John: John Starkweather, I’m a Group Product Manager in the Mobile and Embedded Devices Division. I’m in charge of a group that works with product planning, we work with product management and development to make sure that the products we’re bringing the market and the way that we’re marketing them works for people. So that the product actually makes sense to you and I when we walk into the store. I run a marketing team. It’s a worldwide marketing team for Windows Mobile and Windows Embedded.

Mike: Perfect, thanks. I had a bunch of general questions about where Windows Mobile is going. Lack of announcements that we've seen, where we’re going forward and, um, manufacturers. Whatever’s happening. If I’m missing anything that you want to share.

John: It’s kind of interesting, to quote you on lack of announcements. Things are, um, devices tend to be rather cyclical, so if you were to go and look at what was announced at CTIA, it was kind of a lackluster show. It’s frankly a problem that CTIA’s been having with their spring show for quite a while. You’ve got big shows that people go out all the stops out for like CES, 3GSM and CeBIT, and when it rolls around to the spring, a lot of companies have already done a lot of their major things. Even our software release cycles are based on a kind of cyclical nature of OEMs and even some operators. So, for example, last spring we released WM5, knowing that most of the OEM software was out for the holiday, they wanted it out for the fall. We had hoped to get WM5 out sooner. We had to move the date around and make sure there were a couple of features we wanted to make sure were in, and it was a couple months later than we had originally hoped. In the future, we’re moving all of our RTMs to the fall with the expectation – there’ll be a fall RTM, we’re not gonna make a bunch of ham about it, and then you’ll see devices that get announced at CES and 3GSM and CeBITs with summer and fall availability. You always have devices that hang in the middle here and there but you’re going to get the influx in the early part of the year – January, February, maybe March timeframe, and then you’re gonna see stuff, early announcements and then a bunch in the fall.

Mike: Last year, MEDC I think was the big announcement for WM5, and I guess it was almost end of November until we saw much from WM5 on the market.

John: It was November – there were a few people, like the Universal came out, it was August is started hitting folks, then in the US the 6700 with Sprint came out, because our RTM with our software was the spring; it was a little late for some of those folks.

Mike: I think it frustrated a lot of the customers in the end because we hear this big huff about it and everybody wants to go out and get it, and you can’t. It’s nowhere to be found and you have to wait six, eight, ten, 12 months.

John: It’s a challenge we have, and to top that off, people assume when they hear Microsoft and software, they’re so used to the PC world where you can immediately go buy a box and go do an upgrade, they immediately think oh, so I should just be able to go do this and do it now. The answer is no. Every phone’s got custom hardware and you’ve got these operators in the mix they bring a lot of goodness.

Mike: Which is still problem, a lot of people are out there, as soon as iMate released a new ROM for the SP5M, instantly people were asking, can I put this on my Cingular phone?

John: Exactly. The truth is, yes.

Mike: Technically you might be able to, but there are going to be some hardware differences, and you’re not going to have a solid experience.

John: HTC finished all their MSFP stuff in January, and they sent it all out to their OEMs and operators. Operators go through testing. iMate does a couple of their tweaks, which are minor, cause they’re shipping HTC products, and they put it out. They don’t have an operator trials. Operators have their long process.

Mike: So even with iMate’s minor tweaks, you’re still looking at two months, or two and a half months for them to do their work.

John: Yeah, sometimes it could be faster for lots of reasons. If you talk to them, they could probably give you some reasons why they do certain things certain ways. With MSFP, it wasn’t just the direct push stuff, there were a number of other updates that they put in there. Some things on the accessing front. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but on all the iMate upgrades, there’s an application in there that enables you to switch ActiveSync between the new RNDIS standard that we have with faster connections, or you could switch back to serial. There are still a few people, and it’s people that work in big corporations that have really rigorous security policies that sometimes have issues with RNDIS. We know of, there’s one big company, it’s the only one we frankly know of, but they’re pretty big. Their policy is you can only have one IP connection – they don’t enable any kind of Outlook web access remotely. They really have locked down what they’re doing. In fact, most of the people who work for that company are so frustrated, all of ‘em are using redirect or something through hotmail. I don’t get it, cause the IT department, frankly, when you have people sending confidential information to insecure web-based mail clients, that’s not the right approach. But anyway, there are still some companies that have locked things down, so we’ve put the serial solution back in. Frankly there are going to be some other scenarios where serial is gonna make sense for people.

Mike: So if you actually pick that, can you still use ActiveSync 3.8 or whatever? Or do you still have to pick 4.1?

John: Um, good question!

Mike: I haven’t actually tried it.

John: I haven’t tried that either. I think you’re still gonna need to use 4.x something.

Mike: Right. That would be my expectation.

John: Yeah, that’s what I would think too. Actually, I’ll have to try that. That’s a good question.

Mike: It’s an interesting situation, when you launch ActiveSync on the phone, it stops and says, you know what? You don’t have the right version on your PC. Which was pretty neat. I thought I had 4.1 on my laptop, but I had 4.0, and it wouldn’t let me go forward until I actually upgraded it, which was pretty cool.

John: Ahh. There were some, as folks know, there were some ActiveSync 4.0 challenges, and so we’ve done, all of our Dev. Team was really mobilized to ensure that every issue was resolved. They’ve done a lot. 4.1 was a big update. 4.2’s coming, ah, you’ll see it in the next four to six weeks coming available for download, and there’s a bunch of additional improvements. We really believe that PC to Device synchronization, both wired and wireless, can be one of the killer applications for Windows Mobile. There are points when you compare our device to PC synchronization with the Palm OS or with any of the other, Symbian, or the kind of, ah, roll your own software, that our synchronization is actually pretty powerful. But yet, there are still a lot of improvements that can be made that we’re planning to make. You’ll see that over the next, ah, 4.2 there are some good things, ah, some things under the hood, some visible features, we’ll roll into next year with a new version of software; several years after that with some new things. It will be a much more powerful piece of software.

Mike: Would there be any plans to add, um, with Exchange Sync, some people only use Exchange Sync now, so they’re not getting Favourites, they’re not getting Outlook Notes, they’re not getting File Synchronization, which obviously was a bit more tricky because Exchange doesn’t really handle that.

John: Right.

Mike: But is that something you’re going to look at doing, to make that experience more complete and more similar to what exists when you do it with a PC?

John: There are a lot more features that are being rolled into Exchange, a bunch of additional synchronization features that are going into Exchange. Ah, off the top of my head, I’m not gonna list them off, because I may get myself in trouble, but what I can say is I know that a lot of the features are public. Exchange is doing Exchange 12 Betas right now. In the near future, the rest of Exchange is going to move to a public Beta. It may even be public on that date, but I’m not sure so I’m not gonna say it, but in the near future, they’re gonna move to a public Beta of Exchange 12, and people will be able to see a lot of what those mobile features are. So that’s coming, so to your point, we’re absolutely seeing that.

Mike: Okay, excellent! Back to the manufacturers for a second. HTC is obviously the number one – they just reported some amazing earnings again, I think it was 80% rise over last year. Does it worry you that your major manufacturer, I mean you’re really reliant on the one manufacturer, Motorola’s doing some stuff, Samsung’s done some stuff, but they’re really not penetrating the market as much as HTC.

John: HTC has done a great job of, together with us, of focusing on making a number of investments in manufacturing, making a lot of investments in developer resources, so they can put out some good product. And I think they’ve shown that. With a good business model that is right for operators. Not to say that an OEM label and things, isn’t the right model for the operators, um, it definitely is. But HTC, we believe will continue to play a very important role in the market. In fact, if you were to sit down and talk with HTC and ask them about who they view as their competitors, they won’t list off any of the major OEM labels - even those who would never consider using them to build a device. They will list off a bunch of other Asian ODMs who are copying HTC and going direct to Operators. And there have been a number of those doing that. We really think that the HTCs of the world will continue to be a force to be reckoned with with mobile operators. They’re innovating. They’re making products that, ah, with a quality bar that’s pretty high. They’re getting things to market really quickly. And, they present some opportunities for operators to really control their brand and experience, and there’s more stuff that we’re doing with Windows Mobile, ah, you’ll see some stuff here in the fall especially, where an operator’s really gonna be able to have a custom device experience, but yet, underneath it, you’re still gonna have all the, for you as the user you’ll still be able to add all your applications, and still be able to do a lot of the neat synchronization things that you’ve become accustomed to with Windows Mobile.

Mike: Hmmm, excellent.

John: Now, having said all that, the big OEM names, if you look at who actually is shipping devices in bulk, you know, in big numbers, you really have three companies that really are, kind of, top tier. You’ve got Nokia, you’ve got Motorola and Samsung. Motorola’s doing great stuff.

Mike: Right. They’ve really made a turnaround.

John: They really have, and they’ve got some smart people, really focusing on design, and that, you know, design sells. We think the Q, and it IS coming, and it will be a special product, it’s not gonna be, it’s not on the path of the MPX, or the MPX 100, or the 200 or 220 that did come to market. This is an icon product for Motorola, just like the Razr and the Sliver and the Pebble. This is one of their key products. And with them, we are gonna drive a lot of volume. I’ve heard Motorola say many times that, I can’t give you the exact number, but if they don’t sell, if the Q doesn’t sell in the first year, multiple millions, and I’ll say multiple millions, that it’s a failure for them. And, they’re not saying that to say that it could be a failure, they’re saying it to say that that’s the kind of commitment they’re putting behind it. The operator, the first operator for that product, is putting tons of resources and by resources, I mean marketing dollars, advertising dollars. I mean it’s gonna be a huge launch of that product. And, that’s the kind of commitment that Motorola and other people are putting into it. We’re putting a bunch of resources into it. Same thing with some of the Samsung products. Samsung actually, behind the scenes, you know, they’ve got, true to Samsung, they’ve got a huge roadmap. They put out all kinds of products, and then they go and they shop ‘em around, and they take them to operators and see which ones people will pick up. On the roadmap, you actually see a market. It’s much smaller, but we’re working a lot with them. We built a lab in Korea to, really to work with Samsung, and some other partners, but it’s really about working hand in hand with Samsung. They’re in our labs, we’re in their offices working together to get product out to market, because we know that from a volume perspective, Motorola and Samsung will be huge for us.

Mike: Right, sure. The number two and number three.

John: Exactly. Now, there are others. I mean, you can expect over the next couple of years, you’ll see some of the other big named OEMs build Windows Mobile products. We’d love to be working with Nokia, we’ve done a lot of things with them. We’d love to be working more with Sony Ericcson. Siemens is still around, and there are many other names too.

...Stay tuned for part 2.
"I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious" - Albert Einstein
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