Don’t Get Mad, Get Better

I had seen this flash by yesterday, but today the story has hit mainstream. Apparently at yesterday’s Microsoft company meeting Steve Ballmer tormented an employee who was brandishing an iPhone. Should that employee have been a little more discreet in Ballmer’s presence? Maybe. Did Ballmer overreact? Probably. Should employees feel pressured to use only their company’s products? Absolutely not. Their company should make products that their employees want to use!

Don’t get caught with your pants down

Full disclosure: I am a BlackBerry user on Verizon. I live in Montana, where AT&T just doesn’t exist. Maybe they think there’s nothing here but cows?

In 2007 Apple turned the mobile industry upside-down when it introduced the iPhone. Never before had any phone offered so many easy to use features to consumers, and we ate it up. Before the iPhone smart phones were pretty much exclusively for business people and choices were limited, Windows Mobile or BlackBerry. Within months we were seeing phones being touted as iPhone ‘killers’, but that was far, far, far from reality.

More than two years have passed and there still isn’t anything even close. Many have tried and fallen short. Some of those have actually been really good phones, but still no iPhone. Why not? I’m certain that there are lots of incredibly smart people working at Nokia, LG, HTC, etc. We have Windows Mobile and Android operating systems that can run on many devices. How is it that the iPhone has gone so long unchallenged? Surely those in the mobile industry had known that something was coming from Apple, even if they didn’t know what. Yet that sat idly by churning out one generic phone after another. They had become complacent. A newcomer to the industry couldn’t possibly offer any significant competition, right?

Wrong. Apple has claimed about 13% of the smart phone market in just over two years, while Microsoft’s is sliding down past 9%.

You can’t really blame Ballmer for disliking the iPhone so much. Apple’s success has come at the expense of Microsoft and others, who were now scrambling to get something to market as quickly as possible. This marked the beginning of the cycles where just as soon as anyone gets remotely close to a comparable device Apple would release a new iPhone.

It didn’t take long to see that the iPhone was going to start running away with the market. At its launch it was the most expensive mobile device you could buy, but that didn’t stop thousands of people from camping out to get one. The day Steve Jobs announced the iPhone the Windows Mobile team should have put everything on hold to start planning its return strike. Each and every one of them should have been in those lines to get an iPhone so that they could really understand what made it so great. Only then could they really design a device worthy to be called a competitor. But they didn’t, and now they are playing catch-up.

Never stop getting better

This story applies to a broad range of industries, with software development absolutely being one of them. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to take an idea and turn it into’s one of the reasons I enjoy what I do so much. But in an industry that can move so quickly you simply can not afford to let your guard down. To stay in the lead you’ve got to innovate in your product, or someone else will. If you become complacent you will get overtaken. And in the event that you do get your ass handed to you, don’t even think about getting mad.just get better.

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