Earlier this month, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) released Tossup, a new mobile app for Android and iPhone designed to simplify the process of making plans with friends. Although Tossup isn't likely to affect Microsoft's earnings in the near future, it does serve to highlight the direction the company is taking in terms of its approach to mobile computing.
Organize outings with Tossup
Tossup is a relatively simple app, one that seeks to offer an alternative to long-winded email chains and confusing group text messages. Users can create polls (Where should we go for lunch?), ask questions (Should I buy the new Xbox?), and schedule events (Meeting at 7?), then prompt their friends to respond. Unfortunately, everyone must have the app installed to take full advantage of its features, but if they do, there is little friction.
Microsoft is not directly monetizing Tossup: the app is completely free. But it does integrate with some of Microsoft's other services -- contextual information, like restaurant hours, are pulled from its Bing search engine, while dates for planned events can be added to an Outlook calendar. If Tossup were to catch on, it could drive some additional use of these services, though it would likely be incremental.
Microsoft's changing mobile ambitions
More interesting is what Tossup says about Microsoft's greater mobile ambitions. Tossup is available to owners of Android handsets and the iPhone, but users of Microsoft's own Windows Phone cannot get it -- at least for the time being, there is no version of Tossup for Windows Phone. With Windows Phone's global market share hoovering in the low single-digits, many third-party mobile developers understandably avoid the platform. But it's somewhat surprising that Microsoft would do so as well.
Yet, it's not the first time that a Microsoft-made app has skipped Windows Phone. Tossup is a product of Microsoft Garage, a sort of start-up within the tech giant aimed at creating innovative products and software. Garage has existed for years, but last October, Microsoft announced that it was changing into an incubator for consumer-focused, cross-platform apps -- not just for Windows, but also Android and iOS. To date, Microsoft Garage has launched more than a dozen apps. Some, like Reach me, are exclusive to Windows Phone. Others, including Next Lock Screen and Torque, are Android-only. SNIPP3T is an iOS exclusive.
Last week, in an interview with ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella explained how the company planned to approach mobile.
I want to be able to be present on every mobile endpoint. That's a very explicit core goal. It's not (just) the notion of having our application endpoints, Skype, Outlook, Wunderlist, Sunrise, on every one of the two billion devices. We want to have Microsoft experiences, because to me that's a platform play. It's not like, oh, they're just application endpoints. Guess what is behind those applications? It's One Cloud. It's Office 365, either for the consumer or for the enterprise. There's MSA (Microsoft Account) in there.
Nadella didn't mention Tossup, but it serves to underscore his point. Even if a user is on an iPhone or Android device, Microsoft still aims to tie them to its platform. Although Microsoft's operating system may not be relevant in the world of mobile computing, if it can release enough popular mobile apps, it may still be able to succeed.