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Microsoft, Direct Action and Windows Phone: How Redmond is defying the industry

A few weeks ago I wrote an editorial piece on how 2013 was finally turning into the year of Windows Phone (after numerous false starts).

There turns out to be another facet though that I missed in my analysis, which I'd like to address here. Besides increased advertising, impressive hardware, a maturing ecosystem and a reinvigorated Nokia who has hit their stride, Microsoft is using another tactic: direct action.

It’s a fascinating change in strategy from previous years where Microsoft took on a more “hands off” approach, often leaving marketing up to their OEM and carrier partners. Now, in 2013, Microsoft is asserting themselves a lot more directly (and it’s not isolated to just Windows Phone as the recent Surface rumor suggests).

A brief moment in history

Microsoft Direct Action

Direct Action was a phrase coined in the early 20th century and is defined most notably by the American anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre in a famous article of the same name (yes, I’m dropping some political history on you today).

Traditionally speaking, the tactic has been used for social and political causes, whereby an injustice is brought to people’s attention through various means, often involving the breaking of law. Indeed it often goes beyond that as people try to solve problems directly where traditional institutions have failed.

Extrapolating that to much more modern “problems” of 21st century mobile technology, we can see that certain services and means of communication are controlled by a handful of corporations, who are frequently at odds with each other. Yes, I’m talking about Microsoft versus Google, where the latter has increasingly been keeping their services to themselves, even boasting how they have no intentions to ever make Windows Phone apps.

It’s an interesting debate regarding services such as Twitter and YouTube and access to them. While Google has a right to make money off of said services, it’s up for examination as to the point at which such access (or denial) becomes a problem. A similar case has been made recently about bandwidth, internet access and throttling of data by ISPs.

We won’t take sides on the argument here and instead we’ll leave it to you in comments. For now we’ll just say there’s a lot at stake for who controls what in mobile technology and it’s a discussion we should have.

Microsoft’s rebelliousness

When the new official YouTube app landed on Windows Phone a few weeks ago, we all assumed that finally, for the betterment of consumers, both companies had come to an agreement regarding access to Google’s APIs. It actually felt good knowing that these two giants could come to terms so that we could continue to enjoy Google’s investment in YouTube but on our choice of hardware.

Turns out we were wrong, very wrong.

Google infamously sent a “C&D” (cease and desist) letter to Microsoft telling them to pull the app from the Store due to it not showing ads and allowing video downloads, something that violates Google’s Terms of Service.

Legally speaking, Google is in the right. Socially speaking, they come off as jerks.

Microsoft wants to play by the rules, but it is Google that is not coming to the table. So what did Microsoft do after previously failed attempts at finding common ground? They said “Screw it, we’ll do it ourselves” and released a high quality, well reviewed app for their customers, something we’ve known about for over two years now

Once the C&D came though, the real showdown began—would Microsoft comply? As it turns out, they made an effort to show good faith by removing the video download ability but the app still shows no ads, ergo it denies Google revenue. 

In a statement to ZDNet, Microsoft had the following to say on the matter:

"Microsoft updated the Windows Phone YouTube app to address the restricted video and offline video access concerns voiced by Google last week. We have been in contact with Google and continue to believe that our two companies can work together to hone an app that benefits our mutual customers, partners and content providers. We’re earning new customers every day, with IDC reporting recently that Windows Phone posted the largest year-over-year gain among leading operating systems. We look forward to working with Google to maintain a great YouTube experience for the growing number of people who rely on both of our respective products."

Make no mistake, Microsoft has thrown down the gauntlet and they will not let Windows Phone fail.

There’s even more

While we won't go into detail and name names of other apps, we now know that this Microsoft v. Google standoff is actually not the first time this has happened. There are other high profile apps that have faced similar C&D requests that Microsoft are reportedly ignoring.

The reason why they’re doing this is because they know that in order to be accepted by the smartphone market, they need to have certain apps and services on their platform. While they have been more than willing to assist in app development, sometimes even paying for it e.g. the New York Times app, they are on occasion rebuffed for whatever reason by some of these players.

Because of that, it’s fascinating to see, in my opinion that Microsoft is starting to throw their weight around and even take a few legal challenges on the chin in order to gain marketplace traction.

It’s a form of direct action, a stern “if you won’t work with us, we’ll just do it ourselves (or look the other way)” tactic and to be honest, it’s refreshing to see.

Will this approach pay off? Will it buy Microsoft enough time to continue to gain traction in the market? It remains to be seen, but leaving judgment aside, it’s an intriguing change in tactics from a juggernaut of a company.

To paraphrase Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A: Companies who won't talk with Microsoft? You’re on notice.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

146 Comments
  • They need to get after Epocrates next. It's the go to drug reference app for health care professionals. I was told by doctors that they, nurses, and med students wouldn't even consider a phone that doesn't have that app. The crazy thing is Epocrates was on Window Mobile, back in the day.
  • I know many, many people that would love Epocrates on their Windows Phone AND Windows 8 tablets. Epocrates snapped in Windows 8 with an EHR/EMR running next to it? Awesome stuff. 
  • That sounds like an awesome idea!
  • Then add Epocrates to Xbox One.
     
    Play Halo 5 with an EHR/EMR snapped to the side.
  • I talked to someone last night and he said his kids private school requires every kid to have a iPad. Apple covered the schools network upgrades and WiFi setup. MS needs to do this.
  • And it looks like they just might do that. 
  • Oh cool. LOL can't believe I missed that article :)
  • They are... I know at Seton Hall U, every students get a Windows 8 tablet or Ultrabook. They also get Windows Phones. Hopefully we will see more of this.
  • I would instead take that school to court. A class action lawsuit for excluding BYOD ability. Just because Apple paid for the infrustructure, doesnt mean they need to be revenue farms for future iSheep.
  • Agreed. I'd love to walk up to the docs at my hospital and show that off to them. It would be a huge stepping stone for the platform.
  • I would think the health care professionals would be more concerned about using a platform (android) that wasn't HIPAA compliant.
     
  • I 100% agree with this. I had to switch back to my iphone after getting tired of having to bring both it and my Titan to work. I am shocked that the platform has been out this long and we still don't have any decent drug apps. No Medscape or Lexi either. With Windows 8 tablets becoming more common I don't think these companies will be able to ignore the Windows ecosystem much longer. I am planning to get the EOS and really hope epocrates or Medscape is there by then.
  • The best part of this article is that you put quotes around "problems". Very appropriate perspective
  • Yup, obviously when compared to the struggles of the 20th century, this is just silly stuff and I needed a way to convey that.
  • You just love showing off your Yellow Lumia huh Daniel? It certainly stands out more than my black one. Still slightly jealous. 
    "Bla-- I mean, "YELLOW POWER!"
    Cheers :)
  • Yellow power indeed :)
    Get asked everytime I pull out my yellow 920, "which phone is that"?
  • You'll wanna slap me when I say this, but I actually had the Cyan model at one point. It kept freezing on me though, so I sent it back and got black. I figured I liked the neutral color anyway, but boy do I get jealous sometimes, lol.
  • I'm holding a red one here and it does grab the attention. I agree with everyone about what MS is going for. Something RIM (BlackBerry) should have done long ago for their platform. Go MS! We're counting on you.
  • Everyone I work around notices my "YELLOW POWER"
  • I'm thinking of swapping my red case for yellow!! Maybe.
  • My son has a red 920
    Beautiful that one too :)
  • Why won't they make a magenta 920?. Did the magenta 900 not do good??
  • Think a magenta 920 would sell like hotsomething... :)
  • They DID make a magenta 920, (It was in official Nokia videos around the time it launched last year, AND I noticed firmwares for a Magenta version in Navifirm,) but they just never released it.
  • I think long term it will help. Example itsdagram. By having an app that can basically do everything the official app can it can help sell more phones because people want instagram. Long term I think an official app will come out because they see how popular itsdagram is on windows phone.
  • I've often seen unofficial apps that work better and are more popular than the official ones too.
  • Numerous false starts indeed. Thought it would pick up but didn't and then late 2012 and early 2013 it has finally started.
  • I'm thinking about starting an advocate program up whereby I distribute monthly flyers to RSPs alerting them of new and hot apps even including third party apps like Itsdagram and so forth.
    Microsoft could throw their weight around in a very public way by simply announcing that they want Brand X on their phones and are willing to foot the bill to develop the app. Doing it in a very public way puts the emphasis on those brands to put up or be shown to be the jerks that they are. There is no reason a company should ignore a segment of users when the only thing that would happen would be positive results.
    Funny thing is how so many people seem intent on destroying Microsoft in the mobile space are working together with Google. Then Google turns around and bites them in the rear end.
  • Sadly there is all the cost of up keep as well. I think with Microsoft combing Xbox, PC/tablet/laptop, and phone together we will see a huge shift to Windows. Remember it took Android several years to get where they are now.
  • Yeah, but imagine what the "tech jurnos" will say. Verge headline: MS so desperate for apps they are begging to develop them, themselves! We all know is google and instagram being elitist jerks, but the tech peeps are so far up google and apples arse that the news will backfire. Mainstream news on the other hand, they would go nuts!
  • This ^
  • I just can't imagine an elitist using a google product. Elitists usually use the real thing not a knockoff.
  • Awesome! Way to Microsoft. Time to ramp up the direct development efforts ten food. It's the only way to ensure the original developers came to the platform - you have to drag 'em kicking and screaming.
  • Someone is hungry.
  • Lol, I caught that too.
  • Lol!
  • Maybe 3 food or 5 food, but 10 food? That's just too much food...
  • Microsoft seems to have saved it's WP ammo for the time when it has achieved three mandatory requirements before going to batte...
     
    1. Windows NT/WP8 kernel (done)
    2. Full Verizon support (quality devices at all price ranges) in the usa. (done)
    3. low-cost WP devices for prepaid (non-subsidy) markets making up most of the world (done)
     
    Now they need to speed up development of still missing features in addition to apps.
  • You are right that the checklist is getting ticked off nicely, but MS is not in the position to save ANY ammo when it comes to WP. They need to work even faster!
  • You can thank Nokia for #2 and 3.
  • Yeah, because the 8S didn't exist for months before... GTFO!
  • The 8S doesn't fall into number 2 (not available on any US carriers that I am aware of), and as far as number 3 goes, it's still running upwards of $300, while Nokia handsets run in the $125-250 range.
  • Vote Microsoft no.1
  • #teammicrosoft hard work will pay off guys. Lets keep up the good work
  • Daniel, has traffic at wpcentral gone up recently? I noticed a bunch of how-to articles targeting new users lately.
  • Traffic is constantly going up, as we do about 1.5M uniques a month. Part of the how-to's though is about strategy and having more writers to carry on tasks ;)
  • 1.5 million a month!? That is huge!
  • Holy crap. That's a lotta WinPhans
  • That's a lot! I'm guessing WPC is the most popular mobile nations site. Is that so?
  • Microsoft really is doing a LOT to really push for better/more high quality apps on the Windows Phone platform, and even with all the crap that we as WP users have taken for the last couple of years, there's one thing we can all admit: We have one HELL of an awesome development community. I'm part of the Florida WP/Win8 developer groups and they're some of the most dedicated people I've ever met. We see a lot of this coming from all over the world, too, with apps like Itsdagram, MetroTube, 4th and Mayor, etc. Sure, getting the ecosystem going has been really slow to start, but one thing is for sure: Microsoft wants this platform to succeed, and with their support and the support of a strong and ever-growing community, it's just a matter of time. Frankly, I'm pretty damn excited to see what happens in the next couple of years.
  • +1
  • Hey Zack!
  • *waves* :D
  • I'm curious as to which other apps has Microsoft received C&D letters
  • I do not agree with the tactics. Microsoft is blatantly defying the law and defying capitalism. I am surprised with the talents of this day and age someone, or a group, is not trying to compete with YouTube by offering a better alternative. By the way, great article. I would love to see more like this one.
  • Well there is Vimeo which is better in many ways, but hindered in the ways that makes YouTube universal.  However, I don't think you understand the scope and scale of Youtube.  One does not simply make another YouTube.
  • it's more about all the content that's already on youtube, not the service itself
  • +1
  • Yeah one does not simply replace MySpace either.... Oops!
  • Once a technology service becomes achieves a certain level of dominance US jurisprudence tends to see attempts to prevent other technology companies from accessing it as an attempt to monopolize the Industry in a way that is anti-competitive and not in the public interest. This will often outweigh the ownership rights of the Owner and lead tons required free and fair licensing/access requirement. Remember how MS used to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows and make it the default browser, and go further to try and make it impossible for other browsers to be employed? Same principal here. MS clearly owned Windows, but their dominance was deemed to be distorting free choice for the Public, so limitations were placed on their ability to do so. Lets face it, Google is doing the same thing with YouTube, that's why they haven't served MS with a lawsuit, cause they're afraid they will end up with less control over YouTube, not more.
  • I hear that. And it took a while for legitimate I.e. Alternatives to show up strong. Now, I use a chromium based browser called Rockmelt. Also, YouTube would be very hard to catch up to let alone replace.
  • " Remember how MS used to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows and make it the default browser, and go further to try and make it impossible for other browsers to be employed?"
     
    Wrong - this simply NEVER happened.  MS never impeded the ability either to install or use another web browser.  I used alternative web browsers on WfWg 3.11, Win95, Win 98, WinNT 3.51 and 4.0, Win2000, WinXP, Vista, Win7 and Win8.  Some folks I knew back in the Win95/NT4 days only used IE to go and easily download Mosaic or Netscape (much better than having to download a set of browser install files over FTP).
    The incredible level of complaining by browser competitors who were not only making but even hoping the charge for web browsers (e.g. boxed retail Netscape) made a lot of uninformed folks assume that MS was blocking other browsers, but not only did this never happen, it was never even proposed or intended.
  • I totally agree. They always made it sound like it was IE or the highway. I never had a problem installing Netscape or that Mozilla crap. I only do it because my employer refuses to embrace html 5. I never understood the big brouhaha over windows 98. I thought that it was great an me was the worst os they ever put out.
  • I thought the problem in MS anti trust cases wasn't that they didn't allow other browsers, but that they didn't allow the REMOVAL of IE because IE was integrated so deeply into the Windows Explorer shell etc that it was required for Windows to function.  In other words, two seperate products competing in two different markets that could not be decoupled.  At least, thats what is in my rusty memory.
  • Defying law and capitalism? Do you know how much tax google pay on their profits? If we all paid tax like google do it would be less than 3% overall. Is that fair or egalitarian? Then there's this question of platform dictation, which is effectively google aggressively stating that WP gets no support so if you want our services on a mobile platform you must be on android or be as powerful as apple so we can't deny you as a revenue source. This is such a steaming pile of hypocrisy on their part and they should be called out for what they are. Greedy and aggressive tax dodgers.
  • As far as YouTube goes, I can't see how google wins in this scenario. If Microsoft is willing to make the app for them, they can't talk about not being able to commit resources to it. If they don't offer up the necessary API for Microsoft to make it in compliance with their terms, they will be forced to admit they are deliberately snubbing WP. Despite what some people believe, YouTube does have a monopoly on online video. You can't just "switch to vimeo" because we're talking about access to *other* people's content, not your own like would be the case switching from gmail to outlook. Because of that, and because of how entrenched youtube is in society, I don't see how this couldn't result in antitrust action if they are obviously trying to prevent competition.
    While not nearly as deliberate as google, the same logic could go to instagram etc. as far as Microsoft looking the other way while 3rd party apps use unauthorized APIs. If they got any sort of request to have itsdagram pulled from the store, they would just call them right out and say their options are release an official app, open the API, or admit they are screwing over their own users and deal with whatever backlash may ensue.
  • Agreed. It's obvious that Microsoft is in the underdog position when it comes to mobile and the big boys are screwing them over. If this was any other company it would have already resulted in huge fines for the evil big companies involved (mainly Google). However this is Microsoft being screwed over so there is some poetic justice in there. But at the same time Google has become the very thing it swore to destroy :P
  • I'm just glad to know that Microsoft isn't just gonna "roll over and die". Gives me faith as a WP fan.
  • First phones, then tables, then the WORLD!  Muh-hahahahaha!
  • Can those tables be redwood or mahogany? 
  • I like Cherry. Oak and Maple are also acceptable.
  • I think he's talking about the original surface that was like a coffee table ;)
  • We prefer birch in our household.
  • Nothing wrong with sandal wood, or teak if your into a nautical theme.
  • Oh and SAVE THE REDWOODS!!!
  • Is Microsoft committed long term to making WP a growing profitable business?  If it takes 5 more years and a lot of losses and bumps in the road to gain 20% of the market - Is Microsoft willing to think long term versus what next quarter looks like?  It's easy to talk tough.
  • Of course Microsoft looks long term vs. the next quarter. If they didn't the original Xbox would have never succedded. Look where that business is now. They're probably taking a somewhat simliar path with Windows Phone. 
  • With the investment of people and money needed for Surface and Windows 8 to succeed I'm hoping that Windows Phone stays a high priority. There is a lot on the line at MS. We all know that Apple and Google are not going to give up any ground without a good fight. Just the new technology and improvements over the next few years will be exciting to watch. The article displays hope for the WP future - Thank's for the insight.  
  • They have enough cash to wait as long as it takes, it doesnt hurt that they get paid for most Android devices sold
  • I remember when Microsoft first announced the Xbox, the industry had just witnessed the fall of Sega after many years... They asked "is there really room for a third player" well look at them now, #1 and growing. WP will follow suite I believe, its one thing that outsells PC at the consumer level, so yeah, they have a severe interest in making it happen.
  • Has Microsoft really ever been the company to think short sighted? Zune hardware is the only example I can drum up. It was a great product but bad timing and weak marketing lead to its short life cycle I think.
  • cough *kin* cough
  • Microsoft failed with the Zune that much is true. But I think it also had to do with Microsoft no longer believing in the importance of the music player market. And true enough these days most people just put their music on their smartphones. So its no longer important to have a role in that market. So Microsoft dropped out willingly. It's not the same with phones and tablets. If Microsoft doesnt gain a strong position Google and Apple will gain too much mindset and in the long term Microsoft's PC imperium will crumble. They know this so as long as phones and tablets are important Microsoft will continue to compete. But I do think that if WP8 doesnt show enough growth by end 2014 we will see a major change to the platform. it might not even be called Windows Phone but whatever it will be Microsoft will continue to be active in the phone market.
  • The Zune devices were a failure, yes.  But one advantage of that work is that MS can now launch a "new" Music/Video service with a full catalog.  (I know it's not "new" and only a rebranding to XBox but also arguably bringing to new devices.)
     
    It's easy to forget the days when Apple and iTunes would annually tout how many songs were in their respective music stores - numbers grew every year.  Now it's not even really an issue.  Because of their long-going Zune Store, MS can start XBox Music with a full catalog.
  • I look at Zune as more of an interface test bed than a complete failure.  All Zune owners were beta testers...  The ZuneHD was, I believe, the 1st itteration of the "Metro" interface.  It moved over to Windows Phone and was expended on from there.  While my ZuneHD now sits unused for media consumption in favor of my Windows Phone it is still a device that I love and I'm proud to own one.  And every once in a while I do pick it up and play around with it.  Ya know...  for things like AudioSurf which have yet to see new life on Windows Phone.
  • Heh, my daughter, who has an ip###e 5, uses my old Zune 80gb for music.
  • Xbox is a MS success story. We'll see if Wp will be the same. Persistence pays off.
  • It may seem childish and silly to get excited about this, but I've been following Microsoft for years now, and it makes me very excited to think they're sticking it to the proverbial man. This isn't the compan it was a decade, or even five years, ago.
  • I agree and I believe that can be attributed to the shift in they way consumers, consume.
  • I've been waiting for Microsoft to start being bold again since they were hit hard by the DOJ and EU in 1999/2000. This time around there's no monopoly to get scolded for, and there's tons of competition. I love underdog Microsoft.
  • I definitely agree with this. Underdog Microsoft is how I would like to see every big company act.
  • I have often wondered why Microsoft spends so little in Lobbying. It's time to start throwing their weight around, esp with US Carriers.
  • I feel like we're part of a rebellion with WP and it's so fun
  • Han Solo. Called it!
  • I agree. I always end up on the side if the underdog. I had a Helio way back when and I was in Bb7 for a while. WP8 is the overall best IMO especially if you add Nokia support. Go MS and Lumia devices.
  • Haha. ^This
  • So when did Google buy Twitter and decided to restrict access to it and not develop WP8 apps for it?
  • Um, not sure you read the same article I wrote. Twitter didn't' do that, but they did lock down their API waaay after they threw it open to 3rd party devs. Now that there are numerous businesses who were viable making Twitter apps have had the rug pulled from underneath them. Ask any Twitter dev what they think.
  • It’s an interesting debate regarding services such as Twitter and YouTube and access to them. While Google has a right to make money off of said services, it’s up for examination as to the point at which such access (or denial) becomes a problem
    it's more about your