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Is Windows Mobile's Relevance Gone Forever?

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winmo htcNearly lost in all the hubbub about the Android/Verizon (s vz) tie-up today is the news that Microsoft (s msft) has launched Windows Marketplace for Mobile. But as the superphone phenomenon gets legs, has Microsoft’s opportunity to regain relevance already passed?

Take a quick survey of the smartphone OS space: Apple (s aapl) continues to gain momentum with the iPhone, which dominates traffic on the mobile web and will soon hit the shelves in China, the world’s largest mobile market. Research In Motion (s rimm) has deftly expanded beyond the boardroom with consumer-friendly devices and is garnering praise for its new App World. Android is beginning to gain traction in a major way and — in addition to its new partnership with the nation’s largest carrier — is drawing support from a host of handset manufacturers. Palm (s palm) has introduced premium apps for its impressive webOS and is looking to get a boost from the upcoming Pixi.

So where is Microsoft? Users are having to stifle their yawns over the new (but tardy) WinMo 6.5, which was released today, and the company is still at least a year away — a year! — from releasing version 7.0. Meanwhile, HTC and Motorola (s mot) are increasingly focused on Android, and Palm is killing support for Windows Mobile entirely. Even Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer has conceded that the software giant has dropped the ball with its smartphone business.

This is not to say that Windows Mobile is dead — it’s not (although I certainly don’t buy iSuppli’s recent forecast that its market share will triple by 2013). There are simply too many hardcore enterprise users out there who depend on Windows-based systems and are willing to tolerate the mobile platform’s shortcomings for its business-centric features. But the smartphone space has changed dramatically over the last few years, and the devices are no longer simply business tools deployed at the command of inflexible IT departments. The rise of the app stores demonstrates that consumers are driving the industry now, and that employees are demanding handsets that are as much about fun as they are about productivity. Windows Mobile appears relegated to its role as a niche player for strictly business users, but when it comes to the mass market, the window for Windows Mobile has closed.

16 Responses to “Is Windows Mobile's Relevance Gone Forever?”

  1. ha ha ha, Colin when are you going to stop writing suck junk?

    So many people have lost perspective on this topic that they have forgotten that the iPhone SDK only launched 2 years ago.

    Do you know what the number 1 phone in the USA 2 years before that was….yep the motorola razor

    In 2 years from now who knows what the number 1 phone in the USA will be but there is a 50/50 chance it may not be “The Jesus Phone” and in 4 years from now people will be saying wow whatever happened to the iPhone???

    Dean Collins

    • Tom Verbeure


      The difference between Razor / 4 years ago and now is that there was no notion of platform lock in back then. Phones may have had different features, but eventually others would catch up, so upon contract renewal, it was relatively painless to move on to a different model.

      How different now. An iPhone user syncs his address book with MobileMe or iTunes. Buys at tons of apps. Syncs his photo library with iPhoto and his music library too, of course. Once you’re invested in a platform , switching is not that easy anymore. Not impossible either, but for many, inertia will keep them from doing so. Just look at the first real smartphone with a loyal following: the Sidekick. Current models have long ceased to be competitive with the current cream of the crop, but lots of people stayed with it anyway because switching over emails and contacts was just to much of a pain.

      What’s going on right now is what happened during the early eighties: a landgrab of mindshare. Only a few one will remain at the end. If Microsoft keeps up executing the way they’re doing now, WinMo won’t be one of them.


  2. The author writes: “…Research In Motion has deftly expanded beyond the boardroom with consumer-friendly devices and is garnering praise for its new App World…”

    I cry foul. You cannot make a statement like this based on a link to another gigaom story! It undermines your credibility. Besides, that linked story hardly praises RIM’s App World Store and doesn’t offer any evidence that new devices actually are selling well (beyond the “Buy one, get one free” special that Verizon and RIM have been running for months to artificially prop up declining RIM hardware sales figures).

    In fact, the linked story offers lukewarm feedback on the App World Store at best. The reality is that is states the App World service simply is “good enough.” That same story also states the App World Store is “…competent and useful…” as well as “…BlackBerry App World is functional and practical — sort of like actress Vivian Vance, who plays Ethel Mertz, Lucille Ball’s side kick in the hit series “I Love Lucy.”

    This is not what I’d call “praise?”

    It’s also suspicious when the same linked story does not mention the paltry number of Blackerry Apps that are available compared to Apple’s thousands, the lack of WiFi access to use the Apps on many RIM phones, the memory and storage limits that cripple Apps on RIM devices, or the fact that the RIM Apps only work with a very small number of recent BlackBerry phones (and not most of the older products that make up the majority of RIM’s installed base). Even then, the small Blackberry screen sizes on most of the new devices and the many different (non-standard) RIM screen sizes in use, inhibits the development of RIM Apps and further limits their usefulness.

    It seems to me the author dramatically overstates RIM’s competitiveness with the iPhone, and that he has been taken in by vendor hype. This story is not up to gigaom standards. Where is the editing?

  3. Paul Jardine

    The window has not passed. As the devices become more capable (screens, processor power etc) it will open up huge amounts of software that can be used with Windows, assuming they make that possible!
    The availability of software that people want will be the key thing that drives uptake. If Microsoft wait too long, then the primary applications will exist on other platforms and Windows will have little advantage, if any. I don’t think that time has arrived yet, as the app stores are still in their infancy, but given time…

    I really hope that Windows is too late, as we need some fresh thinking and Microsoft is way too dominant in the non-mobile area. They still have some time left though…

  4. Disagree!
    You guys used to disss Twitter in much the same way.
    Let’s look at Windows, as a great enabler.
    Having had WM from the O2 XDAII, then to Symbian, and then to the X1, albeit with Sony’s little tweaks and tricks, I must say that the strong developer base which currently exists, take the as an example.
    I mean, these guys have tweaks for just about anything on my X-1, what more does one need?
    How many phones today, have such a dedicated following who actually can make miracles happen?

  5. For now yes.
    But it can change if they act swiftly, Mobile users still do not have complex or custom built app that lock them to a platform and turnover period for mobile is 6 to 24 months so you will always have another chance.

  6. sfmitch

    The answer is Yes – Windows Mobile relevance is gone forever.

    Android is the new, preferred OS for phone manufacturers who don’t have their own OS. Their are many, many devices coming out with Android OS and 3rd party Apps is growing very nicely.

    Palm, Apple & Blackberry will, of course, use their own OS.

    Microsoft will try to release a modern, best in class mobile OS sometime next year. That puts them WAY behind Android. Additionally, Android is free while MS will charge for their OS.

    Microsoft can’t simply make a good OS, they will have to create one that is substantially better than the competition to become a player. I don’t see that happening.

    I have to question the author backing up his claim that “esearch In Motion has deftly expanded beyond the boardroom with consumer-friendly devices and is garnering praise for its new App World.” by linking to a story that says the App World is “Good Enough”. I’m sorry, but when did “Good Enough” become praise?

  7. For now Microsoft lost relevance.

    Come January 2010 , they are going to release the HTC Beast aka HTC Leo aka HTC Touch HD2
    with a 4.3 inch screen and 1 GHz processor with 512 Mb ROM.

    Did I forget the capacitative screen ?

    It all depends on how well Windows Mobile 7 performs.

    All Microsoft needs at this point is to fix the browser first. If they can do that , they are in business.

  8. Yeah, but….

    There is at least one thing that Windows Mobile does very well, as well or better than anyone else and that is integrate with Exchange. Sure, the iPhone and Pre come with at least partial Exchange support built in and Android, depending on the flavor may come with it built or or the user could use Touchdown or some similar app. BlackBerry requires funky backend stuff. In the end, nothing beats Windows Mobile ActiveSync.

    Now if I could only get my phone to stop crashing when trying to read those mails….

  9. Anonymous

    Unfortunately yes, I agree with you. I was actually a longtime WinMo user, but it just got old (and slow). Went BB and never looked back…integration with Exchange is *better* than with WinMo, which makes no sense at all when you think about it.

    • Well, your phone is actually sync-ing with BES, the Blackberry Enterprise Server, which explains how RIM can make it so robust and reliable. The BES sits ‘beside’ the Exchange server and talks server-to-server. Thus, RIM does the heavy lifting and Exch integration with big machines on the LAN, not quirky handhelds on spotty networks.

      The WinMo phones actually do more with Exchange than RIM. I have better folder management options, better on-device control of which items are sync-ed with my phone, and a few other features. Of course, the catchis that the implementation is terrible, the features are too hard for the average user to tweak, and are less frequently used than the Blackberry features. Also, as the commenter below notes, Activesync is a bear, and occasionally crashes the WinMo phone.

      If I sit my WinMo phone in weak cellular coverage for a few hours, I’m likely to get an sync error that says “winmo must erase all your contact, calendar, and emails and re-sync from the server”. Nice, with 4000+ contacts, that’s a 15minute sync over wifi. I’ll bet you’ve never seen that on your Blackberry!

      I would thus say, integration with the Exchange server is better on WinMo, but reliability and user experience is better on Blackberry. The win goes to RIM.