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Hey Microsoft, forget MIX, focus on Mobiles

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It is hardly a surprise that the more en vogue and exotic MIX ’07 is overshadowing a strategically more important event hosted by Microsoft – the 2007 Mobile and Embedded Devices Conference also being held in Las Vegas.

Given that mobiles are supposedly the platform for the next billion – aka a market Microsoft has to play in – it is a surprise that Microsoft and its vast press corps failed to send us a single alert about this conference, and instead chose to spend all their attention (and some serious dollars) on MIX 07. Such apathy is contrary to the progress Microsoft has made with Windows Mobile, which is one of the two future platforms of growth for the company. (Xbox is the other.)

05-01bach_msft001_sm.jpg“Today we already outsell RIM Blackberry in the marketplace, something most people don’t know,” said Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division in his keynote, promising that Microsoft will sell 20 million Windows Mobile 6 units in 2008.

(Good luck, but the competition is going to be fierce, especially from some flavor of mobile Linux, Symbian and just maybe from iPhone.)

That’s not a lot. Every year, roughly a billion mobiles are sold. Twenty million also doesn’t compare favorably to Nokia’s 2006 smart phone shipments of around 38 million. But to put it in proper context, five years ago, Microsoft had one device, one operator and a UI that behaved like the dwarf-cousin of the real thing, aka Windows.

Today Microsoft can at least boast that there are almost 150 devices that run Windows Mobile for mobile phones, 125 operators that sell those devices made by about 50-odd handset manufacturers. The user interface has improved, but it is still a work in progress.

While it is unlikely that I would switch to Windows Mobile anytime soon, I have seen how some friends of mine like the platform. In fast growing mobile societies like India and China, Windows Mobile devices are popular despite their high price tag. Many use Windows Mobile (and other phones) for what we view as computing tasks in the US. It is their computer.

Microsoft has to work hard with device makers to bring the prices down to $100-a-pop range, and see its market share zoom. Microsoft’s relevance (and more importantly future profits) in these new mobile societies are going to come from mobiles, not PCs.

9 Responses to “Hey Microsoft, forget MIX, focus on Mobiles”

  1. Jesse Kopelman

    I have a XV6700 too. Trust me, OS is a contributer to battery life. Designing for hardware efficiency has never been Microsoft’s strong suit. Given that WM has potential to be a much bigger deal than XBox and possibly even desktop OS, I think Microsoft’s efforts have been quite underwhelming. WM5 is about as good Windows 3.1. Even if WM6 gets us up to Windows 95 level, and I don’t think it does, they really need the mobile equivalent of Windows XP. Maybe iPhone will give them the kick in the ass they need. I’m not optimistic, considering how long the Mac predated a useful version of Windows.

  2. I have a windows mobile phone from Cingular (the Cingular 2125 – it’s an HTC rebranded).

    Great phone – for reception & signal strength.

    Data – okay.

    Web – good BUT there are sites which totally halt the phone. Halt to the point that the POWER OFF button does not work – the only resort is to unplug the battery.

    Furthermore I have never been able to get the phone to update the time from the network – have to set it manually (first phone I’ve had in many, many years that doesn’t do this)

    And don’t get me started on the “autosync” software used to sync the phone – beyond useless – to the point that I actively avoid trying try sync the phone.

    Plus this version of Windows Mobile I have does not allow for the use of the miniSD card to store applications (such as Java apps I download) or to store things like the browser cache etc. Instead I’m restricted to relatively small <64mb of memory built into the phone – meaning that trying to have more than one app running is annoying (as is the UI to close/halt apps)

    Windows Mobile is okay – but needs a LOT of work to clean up the many still rough edges – and the serious reliability problems.


  3. The reboot problem is a recurring problem in most of these new devices. My E61 is acting like a bitch ever since I upgraded the software (OS). I think Windows Mobile 6.0 is going to improve the stability issues.

  4. I had the T-Mobile Dash (WM device manufactured by HTC) for several months before my company standardized us on Blackberry. I liked the WM device, but it does not compare to the BB in terms of stability (i.e. very few reboots on the BB). Also, I wonder about the effect of the OS on battery life. I’m getting much better performance now than with the Dash.

  5. My experience with the N70 & Symbian has been nothing short of shocking. Slow, confused file management, glitchy and reboot-alicious. I won’t be sticking with Symbian for my next phone. I’ve looked at several new smartphones, and WM seems to reside on my preferred models – it’s a shame to hear I might have to expect another poor mobile OS experience.

    Let’s hope that MS start taking more care over promoting WM – they might find it’s more important than Silverlight.

  6. najeeb

    Sadly, reboots have become sort of a constant phenomena on many of the smartphones. The good thing about Palm is that reboot is so fast that you hardly notice it. But on the UI front though, i think WM is easy to get around than Symbian/Nokia UI. It drives me crazy looking for settings on symbian, it is just too obscure..

  7. I think MS has a good initiative in Windows Live which can work good in Mobile domain. It could offer one stop shop for IM/Search/Local etc on mobile devices. If only they could up the Live hooplah on devices too (as they are doing on web and desktop).
    As for the OS itself, I agree with the reboot, but mostly the reboots that I do are only due to some softwares I install on the device. Same goes for the battery, some softwares tend to drain the device out, but that aint MS fault. Actually I consider myself a crossover from Symbian to WM, and it is working good for me in terms of usabiulity, standardization (I dont want to follow multiple UI standards on desktop and device.).

  8. I use a XV6700 and the Windows Mobile works well for me. I think the big advantage it has over other types of platforms is the easy integration with the Exchange Server. For the business consumer, that is pretty important.

    Still, not sure if I like having to reboot my phone every once in a while. I also have more of a problem with the battery of the devise than I do with the operating system.

  9. Amen, brother.

    My last two phones have been Windows Mobile but when my contract is up in November I’m going to look for something else. I’m really sick of having to reboot the stupid thing, and the innovation I had expected from the fact that WM is an open platform just isn’t happening — in all likelihood because Microsoft isn’t doing squat to foster a WM developer community.