MobileTechRoundup 183 — How Can Windows Mobile Better Compete?


MoTR_coverMoTR 183 is 35 minutes long and is a 32 MB file in MP3 format.
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HOSTS: James Kendrick (Houston), Matthew Miller (Seattle) and Kevin C. Tofel (Philadelphia)


What’s wrong with Windows Mobile and what can Microsoft do about it? We focus the entire show on this one topic and, as three long-time Windows Mobile enthusiasts, offer observation and opinion.

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I’m not sure that you guys gave this as much thought as you say you did. You claim to know what consumers are thinking but ignore the fact that most people want Nokia featurephones. The smartphone market still forms a tiny part of the worldwide mobile phone market and as a result there’s lots of room to move.

Listening to your podcast, I heard lots of doom and gloom about Microsoft but you ignored two key points:

1) Tens of millions of phones are still shipping with Windows Mobile – they’re far from dead yet.
2) Palm were able to make a comeback and they were in a far worse position than Microsoft currently are.

In fact, most of your discussions seem to be coloured by the perceived success of the iPhone and completely ignore the fact that Palm have managed to make a comeback with a phone that doesn’t do anything more than look pretty. If Palm can make a comeback with a nice UI then why can’t Microsoft.

Here’s what I think Microsoft need to do to improve their situation (in no particular order):
1) Improve WinMo’s UI.
2) OTA updates.
3) Provide realistic minimum hardware specs for their phones.
4) Ensure top-notch integration with other Microsoft services including perfect syncing capabilities.

1 and 3 seem to be coming in WinMo7. 2 should be coming with WinMo6.5. 3 is mostly there but they could always do more to improve this area. This plus some nice looking phones rather than the bricks of the past should ensure sales and a good reputation.

The HTC Leo will be released here in the next few weeks. It will probably be my next phone in which case it will be my first WinMo phone and my first WinMo device since HP released the hx4700. WinMo shines on the right hardware and I can’t wait for this phone to come out.

Kevin C. Tofel

Jake, I have to ask: have you been watching the overall market trends for both smartphones and feature phones over the past few years? The percentage of smartphones as part of the overall phone market has been growing while the overall market has been down or flat. That means your initial observation of “most people want Nokia featurephones” is invalid. And even if we pulled smartphones out of the equation, have we not witnessed Nokia’s worldwide marketshare drop from 70% to now closer to 40%? If you’re going to assume and point out that we didn’t put thought into our opinions, you’re going to have to put more thought behind your own opinions for me to consider changing mine. ;)

Yes, tens of millions of Windows Mobile phones are shipping. They’re not dead yet, nor do I recall us saying so. But the “perceived success” we have of the iPhone could easily be justified by your own very premise: tens of millions of iPhones are shipping. Same with RIM who are selling more BlackBerrys than others are selling in terms of Windows Mobile these days. What we’re trying to do here is look beyond today and evaluate the trends for tomorrow.

I also agree with you that if Palm can make a comeback (jury is still out on that in the long term) then Microsoft can too. But it has to do so through innovation beyond what its competitors offer and I haven’t seen that yet. I hope Windows Mobile 7 exceeds expectations, but I had those same hopes dashed for prior versions. Simply put: Microsoft got complacent in my opinion and that’s what kept them from being the market leader.


Hi Kevin,

I do agree that a lot needs to change for WinMo to turn things around but the impression I got from listening to Matt and especially James (not you so much, you sounded like a fairly optimistic adjudicator) was that they don’t see any hope for Microsoft. I know that Matt is a big WinMo user and, like you said, maybe he was having a bad day but the consensus view in the podcast was that WinMo doesn’t stand much of a chance. I’m a bit more optimistic and think that Microsoft can turn things around.

I’m not denying that the iPhone is selling well, especially for a single company. However, I got the impression that James was suggesting that Apple’s way of doing things was the best and that Microsoft may need to copy this approach. This is what I meant by perceived success. Apple still has a lot of problems that they need to deal with including a big problem with the profit margins their partners are making. Also, a lot of their sales are to iPod users rather than smartphone users. Phone fads don’t last that long and I think Apple will struggle to maintain their current position for too many more years, especially given that the platform seems to be stagnating a bit lately. Microsoft have done well with their ODM partners in the past and there’s no reason to change that, especially when they have some of the top phone manufacturers in the business working with them.

A lot of this comes down to perception and Palm are the perfect example of this. The Pre looks like a great phone but what does it do that no other smartphone does? It seems to excel with unifying different forms of communication but that’s its one trick. Other than that it’s a well produced smartphone that’s got lots of good publicity. And that’s what’s important – publicity. If Microsoft can get the basics right then the good publicity and sales will follow. They have one stand out feature with their Exchange/Windows Live integration and they need to expand that to the rest of their ecosystem. I hope they’ll get this right with Zune integration in WinMo7. I believe this is where the innovation will come from although I agree that there is a risk that they could cock it all up.

I still think you’re wrong to ignore the fact that most people still don’t care that much about smartphones. The smartphone market may be increasing and Nokia may have had a hard year this year but they are still giants and nobody else comes close to them. Remember that although their sales collapsed this year, nobody else stepped up to fill the entire gap. I do think the smarphone market is still young enough for different players to emerge and come and go. There’s still a lot left to happen in this market before the dust settles.

Anyway, this is getting too long to keep track of in this little box. I guess I’m just a bit more optimistic about WinMo than James and Matt were today and the people who posted above me. I agree that Microsoft have cocked this all up in the past (I remember the promise of Photon back in the WinMo5 days) but they do seem to be determined to get things right with WinMo7. They’re releasing some great products at the moment and I don’t think they’re likely to forget about WinMo – especially when they have 1000 people working on it and claim that it’s their next priority after Windows itself.

Kevin C. Tofel

Good points — better than the first ones, IMO. ;) I think we’re trying to look ahead based on the trends more than most other folks right now, which could explain some of where we’re coming from. But I’m not counting Microsoft out just yet. However, they MUST deliver with WinMo7. I’ve been burned too many times in the past waiting for the next, great thing only to see it under-delivered. FWIW: as much as I like my Palm Pre, by no means do I think that Palm is out of the woods. Apple, RIM and Google are the trend-setters right now. In another year, we’ll see if Microsoft and Palm are added to that list. :)


The key difference that Win Mobile has is the business model. The Microsoft business model is unique – it’s the only company that offers its software for license that’s not free! Apple OS X, Palm Web OS, RIM BB OS are not for sale. Android, Symbian, and the various LIMO products are free to the OEMs… Microsoft has to offer MUCH more value to get manufacturers to keep using their software. And after listening to your podcast, I’m just not sold on the premise that MS provides the value.


Well my first smart computer was a psion 3 and 5 then I moved onto an Ipag 3850 reluctantly and them many phones (including a 4700) and finishing with an Orbit 2 (Cruise). I could not wait to move to an iPhone but I did….

Love the iPhone, things just work. Which one couldn’t say with Windows Mobile. I considered myself a power user but it was such a pain in the arse to get it working like I wanted it but then it was still a pain…

Miss, multitasking but nothing else. If they can make it work then fine, but HTC putting lipstick on a pig… no thanks.

Does microsoft ever compete? I don’t think so it just goes to sleep….


I’m not sure what your e-mail is, and am not sure about making a Skype call even though I use it quite a bit myself, so I’ll chime in here.

First off, I definitely agree that Microsoft concentrated far too much on business/corporate/enterprise with Windows Mobile.

I’m a Windows Mobile power user myself, and see no other platform that can do what WM does when it’s tweaked up properly with third-party apps. What makes me different, then? I started using it in high school, and am still using it as a college student. I have yet to be employed by any such enterprise that depends on the platform. Also, my Windows Mobile devices-a Dell Axim X50v at first, now an HP iPAQ hx4700 I’m seeking to replace with a Samsung Mondi when I can afford it-are NOT phones, and I do not want them to be. I do not have the freedom in phone choice a lot of other students have. Why don’t I have something like an iPod touch instead, you ask? Format support is lacking, PIM implementations are downright pathetic, and I generally can’t use such devices as a pocket computer like I can a Windows Mobile device. In short, Windows Mobile is the most powerful mobile platform I’ve found bar none, and I have yet to see anything that convinces me otherwise-although to attain that power, I do need to install several third-party apps, most of which the average consumer wouldn’t even know exist.

Second, it’s always Exchange this, Exchange that. I have no work/school-provided Exchange Server (well, I technically do for school e-mail, but they won’t give me the credentials necessary to use it with Outlook or Windows Mobile), and the Exchange Server software itself is far too expensive for consumers like myself. Microsoft really missed a potential customer pool there. It would be nice if Outlook 2010 had basic Exchange functionality so that I can sync my PIM data between my hx4700, my TC1100, and my desktop effortlessly through the home network instead of shuttling the hx4700 and its USB cradle back and forth between the two fully-fledged Windows computers. (And, no, I am NOT putting my personal PIM data on someone else’s Exchange Server!)

One of my concerns with Windows Mobile, however, is that they may follow market trends that go against what I want with Windows Mobile 7.

Finger optimization at total expense of the stylus, touch keyboards rather than handwriting recognition, too much emphasis on the phone aspect (again, I DO NOT HAVE A SMARTPHONE AND AM NOT LOOKING FOR ONE), small screens (I expect at least 4″ VGA or 4.3″ WVGA as a minimum; anything lower is cramped), and the like.

Then again, I’m the exception to the rule as far as consumers go. Most of the other students I see around me packing smartphones make phone calls, or much more likely, fire off e-mails and text messages while using the Web browser to hit up Facebook and such. (Many of them were using Blackberries with the atrocious stock Web browser, and thus I quickly did them a favor by installing Opera Mobile.) Some had iPhones, others had Android phones (mostly G1s with one instance of that new, T-Mobile-branded myTouch Android handset lacking a hardware thumbboard), and a select few were packing HTC Windows Mobile phones. Finally, out of all the devices that can even vaguely be considered pocket computers WITHOUT phones, the only ones I found were all iPod touches.

Most of those people were actually rather confused upon seeing my hx4700, usually asking “Is it a phone?”, only for me to reply “No, THIS is my phone!” while pulling out my craptastic LG LX350 that I have to put up with if I want a cell phone at all. And then I show them what I do with it, and they’re actually impressed somewhat-especially when I point out that the device I’m showing dates back to 2004.

And, thus, I worry-if Microsoft decides to put more of a consumer focus on Windows Mobile, will it be all about them at the expense of people like me, or can they figure out how to preserve the functionality that I demand while making it easy for the average consumer to use?

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