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5 Ways Microsoft Can Get Back on Track in 2013: Build a Better Ecosystem

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If there's one thing Microsoft could learn from Apple, it's how to manage its products.

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Editor's note: This is Part 3 of a 5-part series that will be published over the course of this week. Stay tuned!

If there's one thing Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) could learn from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), it's that having a seamless ecosystem of products can go a long way in increasing consumer loyalty. iTunes lets users take advantage of content on iPhones and iPads, iCloud syncs MacBooks with other Apple devices, and AirPlay connects other iOS devices to Apple TV. Simply put, all of Apple's devices and services work better together.

Last year, Microsoft made some progress toward building an ecosystem by using SmartGlass to integrate Windows and Xbox and linking the company's SkyDrive service with Office. However, the company has its fingers in a lot of pies and not nearly enough is being done to connect its products and services in meaningful ways. As this article on the Windows Phone 7.5 details, the company still makes great products but its devices and services often seem too disparate. So if Microsoft is going to get ahead of Apple and its other competitors, it has to get creative in how it incorporates its products.

Microsoft has made significant progress with its integration of Skype with Groupme and Yammer with Office, but there's still room for improvement. For instance, Kinect's potential seems almost lost by focusing it on the Xbox hemisphere. I'm sure that by trying to link it with computers or projectors it would be possible to use simple hand gestures to browse through webpages or command presentations.

When it comes to hardware, if the rumors of a 7-inch Xbox tablet or a Surface smartphone become a reality, Microsoft will have an opportunity to link their functions with others in its product families to maintain a sense of cohesion among brands. The company also needs to work on a sense of consistency between its software because the subtle differences between Windows RT and Windows 8 were largely confusing to consumers.

Although the unity between its products is weak, Microsoft's app library is probably where the company is suffering the most. I've talked this topic to death before. But to date, the Surface RT still lacks Twitter, Spotify, and even Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) apps in its library. (A Dropbox app was just added.) At first, these absences seem caused by competitive pressure, or a lack of developer appeal, but the fact that even Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), a company that Microsoft owns 1.6% of, has declined to build an app for its system makes it look like a lack of effort. Simply put, if Microsoft wants to compete in the smartphone and tablet markets, then it needs to bolster its app library with the most popular programs, or help market the titles that can replace them.

Perhaps fixing the ecosystem of its programs and hardware and attracting more users to adopt its systems will lead more developers to want to produce apps for Microsoft's devices. If that doesn't work, then it may be time for the company to offer an even greater sales cuts or ad placement deals for developers that decide to work with it. Regardless, if Microsoft is determined to become a bigger player in the devices industry, building a stronger ecosystem is a must.

Be sure to check out the rest of this series here:

5 Ways Microsoft Can Get Back on Track in 2013: Release the Xbox 720 Early

5 Ways Microsoft Can Get Back on Track in 2013: Break Up the Company
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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