Windows Phone 'Lie to Me' Edition

Last week, while watching Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s stiff introduction to Windows Phone, I wondered about his facial and body language. He didn’t exactly seem happy to be introducing Windows Phone, which launches a new brand for Microsoft and its hardware partners.

The normally animated Steve seemed anything but happy to talk about Microsoft’s “cross-company vision” around three screens, one of which Windows Phone anchors. Steve’s demeanor, expression and posture go oddly together with the importance of the announcement.

While watching Steve, I kept thinking back to lessons Fox TV show “Lie to Me” teaches about lying—how a person’s expression can reveal what he or she really means. The TV show’s main character, Cal Lightman, is loosely based on Paul Ekman, who is a pioneer reading human facial expressions.

Paul’s work is quite remarkable. In the 1970s, the University California professor identified six basic emotions—anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise—that the face can reveal. There’s a universality about the emotions and their facial manifestations that transcends environmental influences. The expressions are human, regardless of country or culture.

Steve looks rather grim if you ask me, like he simply can’t contain his anger or disgust at having to announce what he knows is a stinker product. Yes, stinker—but more on that in a few paragraphs. Obviously, I’m no expert at detecting lying, certainly not from watching “Lie to Me” episodes or taking Paul Ekman’s METT—micro-expressions training tool—practice test (I did OK, but not exceptional). Still, I couldn’t help observe some things:

  • For about 5 seconds, Steve uplifts his eyebrows when talking about partners delivering “30 new Windows Phones by the end of 2009.”
  • Microsoft’s CEO raises his eyebrows again, more briefly, when discussing Internet Explorer for Windows Phones.
  • When talking about Windows Phone’s “new experiences,” Steve lifts his upper lip, exposing his teeth.
  • Steve keeps his lips fairly tight throughout the entire three-minute, 43-second video.
  • Except briefly when closing the video, by wishing people well, Steve doesn’t smile. Even the brief smile is from tense lips.

The video is best watched at YouTube in all Steve’s HD glory. Tell me what you see behind his expression and posture in comments. Raised eyebrows and tight lips could indicate anger when Steve talks about the number of phones or Internet Explorer. Most reviewers agree that IE is substandard compared to mobile browsers found in Apple, Google and Nokia phones. The raised lip to expose teeth could be sign of disgust. Regardless, the tight expression says enough, even to a non-expert regarding Steve’s real feelings about delivering a real stinker product to market.

Yes, it’s a stinker. Numerous reviewers gave Windows Mobile 6.5 low marks last week, including John “there’s no excuse for this” HermanMatt “Microsoft disappoints me greatly” Miller, Greg “it still sucks” Kumparak and Chris “6.5 won’t win a single user to the platform” Ziegler. Reviewers dumped stink bombs on Microsoft’s stinker.

I would have reviewed a Windows Phone, too, had I been able to obtain a device. I contacted HTC PR, which indicated there were no review devices available, which was a subtle way of saying none was available to me.

It’s a wonder that Microsoft could release that stinker.What other choice did Microsoft have? Already Apple and Google are sucking up mindshare and developers. But is Windows 6.5 really better than nothing? If there’s a slim silver lining in the Windows Phone dark cloud: Microsoft has released a product that makes Windows Vista look better, maybe even good, but at least not as bad.

The CEO couldn’t deliver the stinker with a straight face. Steve is too much of a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of guy.  Could the normally animated Steve look any unhappier to be launching new Windows Phone software and hardware? Apparently not.