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Microsoft's Mobile Mess

If anyone attended, or tuned into Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show last night for news on Windows Mobile, they were surely disappointed, though probably not shocked.

With Windows Mobile 6.5 not due out until later this year and Windows Mobile 7 not likely before 2010, apparently there was little to say, other than the announcement of an agreement with Verizon Wireless to offer Live Search on all phones shipped by the carrier in the United States. Perhaps Ballmer is saving his arsenal of news for next month's annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where he is slated to speak?

There was no Zune Mobile platform at CES and the only new capability showcased by entertainment and device president Robbie Bach for Windows Mobile was the ability for users to organize their Netflix queues of television shows and movies from their devices and allow users to present those the Xbox.

Still, Microsoft has some key challenges to fix its "Mobile Mess." In the current issue of Redmond magazine, Mary Jo Foley offers some suggestions but, perhaps most pointedly, she suggests Microsoft has to get customers more excited about the future of Windows Mobile.

Last month's numbers from Gartner were not encouraging for Microsoft. Apple with its iPhone, and Research in Motion with a new cadre of Blackberries, clearly have the momentum on their side. For example, the market share of Windows Mobile for the third quarter dropped from 12.8 percent to 11.1 percent while RIM's share jumped from 9.7 percent to 15.9 percent. For the first time, iPhone sales out sold those of Windows Mobile, Gartner noted.

That's not to say Microsoft's Windows Mobile business is all shabby. Millions of devices are shipping on Windows Mobile and there is no sign that that's falling off a cliff. In singing the praises of Windows Mobile, Ballmer last night pointed out that there are 11 mobile phones that have sold one million or more units, and that suppliers have released 30 million new Windows Mobile-based phones over the past year. But by Ballmer's own account, a billion mobile phones are shipped each year, half of them are smart phones.

Nevertheless it's Apple, RIM and Google with its Android platform, that are showing the growth, and appear to be getting all the love from developers these days. Apple's App Store, released this summer, clearly has reshuffled the deck. Perhaps first Microsoft needs to capitalize on the eroding market share of Symbian and Palm.

Microsoft's strategy to bridge PCs, the Web and phones through its Windows Live services is a compelling goal. But that strategy clearly will need to play beyond Windows Mobile. For those who are developing to Windows Mobile, what's your take? What's the case for developing to Windows Mobile? I'd like to hear your issues as well as your success stories. Drop me a line at [email protected]

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/08/2009

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