Open Mouth, Insert Foot

In the course of a single week, two behemoths of mobile technology have opened their mouths and inserted their foot. Last week Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, spoke to a group of developers at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference. Among his comments:

It [smartphone application development] is a completely different situation from the PC market, where software’s built to run on a Windows or a Mac. Mobile apps require very little development, so it’s much easier to bring them onto every platform. [emphasis added, source]

Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice-President for Worldwide Product Marketing, tried to play one-upmanship in an interview with BusinessWeek. In his interview, Schiller claims that:

Developers are generally glad to have this safety net because usually Apple’s review process finds problems they actually want to fix.

While both Microsoft and Apple can have their opinions about mobile applications, it’s not recommended to disparage their developer communities. In Microsoft’s case, belittling the community that they need to help them succeed — in fact, the community that helped make Microsoft highly successful to begin with — doesn’t do much to endear the developer community to Microsoft’s fading Windows Mobile platform.

In Apple’s case, burying their heads in the sand about the problems — treating this situation as a PR opportunity instead of transparently laying out concrete plans for fixing it — doesn’t help the developer community feel better about it’s Apple relationship. Developers do care about the review process — most developers have at least one rejection story even if they don’t make it public and each is annoyed at the multi-week delay in getting their apps to market. There is a growing perception in the community that Apple is transforming into the Big Brother it parodied in its famous 1984 commercial. While it’s not true, at some point perception becomes reality.

The reality is neither platform — Windows Mobile or iPhone — will succeed or fail based on these problems. In Microsoft’s case, they have much larger issues with markets and manufacturers as they have been eclipsed in the enterprise by RIM BlackBerry smartphones, in the consumer market by iPhone, and by device manufacturers dropping Windows Mobile in favor of Android.

And Apple, for all the problems with the app review process, has bigger issues involving carrier relationships and enterprise compatibility. Even developers, who hate the review process and are threatening mass exodus, wouldn’t be complaining as vehemently if their apps were making them living wages.

In the end, none of these comments will have a huge impact on Microsoft’s or Apple’s mobile businesses. But it wouldn’t hurt if both extended olive branches to their developer community rather than smacking them with it.