The future of Windows Mobile; Is there any?

logo_bmightyThis month, yet another big handset maker (Sony Ericsson) decided not to continue further with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile as the standard operating system for their handsets. Clearly, the once dominant operating system for smart phones as fallen behind on the competition. Paul Korzeniowski from the site Bmighty.com gives an excellent analysis of the situation. For the original article click here.

A collective yawn was heard when Microsoft announced the upcoming delivery of the latest version of its Windows Mobile operating system. Call it a hunch, but I don’t expect to see long lines of potential users or reporters interviewing excited customers when the new devices powered by Windows Mobile 6.5 hit store shelves next month. Microsoft has clearly fallen behind competitors, so businesses may want to pause before buying more Windows handsets.

Microsoft stated that the latest release features a new operating system V. 6.5, which includes a redesigned Internet Explorer Mobile browser, a new engine, and built-in Adobe Flash Lite support.

Drab And Ho-Hum

In sum, the new release seems pretty drab compared to recent announcements from competitors such as Apple and Google. Microsoft is clearly lagging the market leaders in “Buzz” factor. The company is finally ready to open up its Windows Marketplace, a centralized online store where people can download applications directly to their phones, but it too looks like a cheap imitation of Apple’s iTunes-based App Store.

The timing of the ho-hum feature set is troubling because Microsoft needs a boost in the highly competitive handset market. With about 15% to 20% market share, Microsoft had represented a serious threat to Nokia’s market dominance. But recently, Redmond has been losing steam and market share. The company claimed that it would increase unit shipments from 11 million in fiscal 2007 to 20 million in fiscal 2008. However, the vendor fell 10% short of that goal and is in danger of falling behind RIM and even Apple whose new product launches are generating considerable buzz. And coming up along the rail is Google’s Android OS, which is off to a good start in the handset space.

Name Change = Desperation
Even Microsoft seems to know it is in trouble. One clear sign of a failing product line is a name change. After using Windows Mobile since the operating system’s launch at the turn of the millennium, the company decided that phones running version 6.5 of the operating system will be known as Windows phones, a subtle but telling distinction.

So where will Microsoft go from here? The company has put a lot of time and money into its mobile OS. Because of its tight connection with Microsoft Office desktop applications, the operating system has had significant appeal to small and medium businesses. But that integration also carried a price in terms of ease of use and performance. And the market seems to be saying Office compatibility may no longer be enough to compete with faster, sexier, and easier-to-use smartphones running on other operating systems.

Can WinMo Come Back?
Can Microsoft turn back the tide and regain its lost momentum? Even trying would require ground-breaking thinking and significant capital expenditures. And success would also depend on a hefty helping of luck. In effect, the vendor needs to develop a new line, one opening up new possibilities for users, a la Apple with its iPhone. Traditionally, Microsoft has followed rather than led the technical parade — making a (rather good) living popularizing other’s innovations.

While it is never wise to totally count out the Goliath in any market, Microsoft does seem to be teetering toward irrelevance in the highly competitive, rapidly changing mobile phone space. The smartphone market has too many smart, creative, and well-heeled vendors vying for a market that has begun to show signs of constriction. Consolidation has to be expected, and one can certainly envision Microsoft as one of the casualties of that .

Whatever you think of Microsoft and Windows Mobile, such a development would be very bad news for small and midsize businesses who have outfitted their executives with Windows phones.

If your company has yet to invest in Windows Mobile, now might not be the best time to start. And if you’re already a Windows Mobile user, the uncertainty should make you cautious about extending your reliance on Microsoft’s mobile products.

Sure, you can expect Microsoft and the hardware vendors to continue to support WinMo-powered devices for the near future, but long-term competitive development may not be in the cards.

It might be time to start hedging your bets by taking a closer look at alternatives and perhaps incorporating new phones and new mobile operating systems into your corporate network. Just in case Microsoft eventually decides to stick a fork in its Windows mobile line.

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~ by sendvideotomobile on September 11, 2009.

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