So let’s cut the crap for a second. 2011 wasn’t an excellent year for Microsoft. Not a single product that they released last year didn’t come with a “but” attached to it. Windows Phone 7.5’s roll out was awesome, but to see what the software paired with great hardware could really do, you’re going to have to wait for Nokia device’s to really hit American shores (The Nokia Lumia 710 isn’t due on T-Mobile until January 15th, and we’ve still heard nothing on any more devices from the company officially.) Windows 7 kept chugging along, just as stable as it’s been since launch. Xbox unleashed the new 2011 Dashboard, only to leave us craving more integration and applications then they’ve already provided. In fact now that I think about it, it’s been a downright crummy year if you were hoping Microsoft would make big moves this year.


The Case of Zune

If you went into 2011 thinking thatit was the year the Zune brand became less convoluted, you should be completely and utterly disappointed by now. This year the service continued it’s tailspin. What tailspin? Well i’m glad you asked. The early months of the year were complete radio silence from the folks on Zune. They continued to release new applications for the Zune HD of course but finally admitting to killing Zune hardware devices. Then they decided that Zune hardware wasn’t dead. And then they killed it all over again. Zune Pass even got a name change to the Zune Music Pass. In fact Zune wasn’t Zune it’s Zune Music + Video. Lastly Microsoft changed the included goodies you got for that $14.95 a month. First off it’s only $10 for unlimited music downloads, and music streaming for three PCs or devices, and unlimited streaming to Music Videos going forward. Zune on Windows Phone improved, Microsoft added Smart DJ, better navigation and the Zune Podcast Marketplace.


The Case of Windows Phone

Speaking of Windows Phone, there is something to be said for Windows Phone Mango’s slick development and roll out, and the 50,000+ applications in the Windows Phone Marketplace. First, i’m all for more applications, but you know what i’m not for? Glorified RSS readers masquerading as applications. In fact I’m starting to think that because it’s easier to create an app, it’s making the Windows Phone Marketplace a target for low quality work from less than stellar developers. Hardware is still a very big issue in Year 2 of the platform as well. HTC, Samsung, and LG still don’t seem to understand that to succeed in the mainstream against the Apple juggernaut it takes more then a kick ass phone. It takes an experience. With the exception of HTC’s various docks we’ve seen no move from any of the OEMs or Microsoft to boost the number of quality accessories that are compatible with Windows Phone.


The Case of Xbox Dashboard

Make no mistake Microsoft unleashed a stunning array of new features to the Xbox Dashboard including the ability to save to flash drives, cloud saves, deeper Kinect integration, Live television provided your cable company is Verizon, and applications from various content providers including iHeartRadio, TMZ, YouTube and others. Hell, they even managed to slap the other console makers around in sales for the entire year. Having done an exhaustive, (no really, I had to actually cut paragraphs) review of the 2011 Xbox Dashboard, I found myself pondering what might be in store for the Xbox next fall. Why is that? Even though it has squares, and looks all Metro-like the Xbox Dashboard still feels like it’s on and island, isolated from the rest of Microsoft. Sure applications are great, except that no one but Microsoft partners can get their apps in. Oh and for the record I doubt anyone who came up with the Metro design language would be pleased by the strange gray blob that still sits on the Xbox dashboard’s home screen.



I say all of this to make a point: 2011 was very clearly a transitional move for Microsoft’s consumer facing technologies. Over the next 365 days Microsoft is going to have to nail every last one of these areas to pull off their strategy. Zune can’t be in virtual limbo when you’re trying to show a united front against Apple and Google. The Xbox Dashboard can’t be connected a few ways that make sense, and completely disconnected in places that would give Windows Phone an advantage with consumers. Windows Phone can’t use half of the development story from Windows 8, but still be based on C#. Microsoft, you’ve got 362 days to make it happen. The clock starts now.




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