America First: A policy that continues to hurt Microsoft

If you’re one of the many Neowinians that doesn’t live in the US, you’ll have seen many great looking tech-products launch in the US, only to be told that you can’t have one. It happens with phones and PMPs, consoles, software and very commonly, services. Perhaps the worst perpetrator is the world’s biggest technology company, Microsoft.

The latest version of Windows Live Messenger (beta) is a good example of that, offering Facebook chat integration to those in the US (and a handful of other countries), but not to the rest of the world – and it looks like we might not get it until the product is out of beta. But it’s a trend that Microsoft’s been following for a long time now. Windows Live Services often launch in the US first, Bing’s still in beta in most countries, the Xbox 360 took over six months to get to reach many smaller markets, and then there’s the infamous Zune platform – with no hardware or services launching outside of the US and Canada to this date (excluding weak Xbox-only movie services).

Buying a Zune through Microsoft is hard, unless you live in the US or Canada.

If you were to take a look at what some of Microsoft’s competitors are doing, you’ll notice that they see the ‘outside world’ differently. Let’s look at, for example, Apple. Sure, it took some time for Apple to establish the iTunes store throughout the world – but in recent years, international release dates were very often within a month or two of the US launch. The iPhone 4 was available in most countries within a month of its US launch. Apple has also shown that international pricing doesn’t have to mean that the rest of the world pays up to twice the price that their US-brethren pay – i.e. Microsoft Points, Windows, Office, Xbox, etc.

With this year’s holiday season looking massive for Microsoft – with Xbox Kinect and Windows Phone 7 launching – the question that a lot of people are asking is: will this be another case of a solid US launch, followed by lackluster international launches?

So far, Microsoft’s plans for the Kinect launch seem solid. Microsoft has the infrastructure in place to ensure that a variety of titles launch around the world alongside the new ‘controller’, and current pricing shows that non-US customers will only be gouged around 15-20% more for Kinect. With Sony launching PlayStation Move at a similar time, Microsoft has to make this launch work in all major markets.

But then there’s Windows Phone 7. This could be the most important Microsoft launch since the original Xbox, with Microsoft attempting to go head-to-head with Apple, RIM, Google, Nokia and Samsung – coming from a near non-existent position. Yet this is also the area that Microsoft’s strategy seems most confusing. The launch is close, yet the services behind Windows Phone are nowhere to be seen in many countries: Zune music services are only available in the US and Canada, Zune video services are poorly updated and are still Xbox-exclusive in most countries, and Bing (an integral part of the Windows Phone experience) remains as a beta product in most countries. Again, compare that to an Apple launch. Would the iPhone have come out with beta search features, and no music/video ecosystem? Isn’t the ecosystem (apps included) Apple’s biggest card? Many believe that without such an ecosystem, Windows Phone cannot equal the iPhone’s success internationally. Rumor has it that Microsoft may rely on carriers to dish out music and video to its Windows Phone customers outside of the US – a strategy that doesn't seem complete.

We reached out to Microsoft for more information about the range of (or lack of) services that would be officially launching alongside Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft declined to comment.

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