Microsoft has announced that the next incarnation of Windows Mobile, version 6.5, will hit the streets on October 6. Obviously, Microsoft would like it to be a huge success and reclaim some of the lost smart phone market share, but the real prize lies in Microsoft embracing other mobile operating system platforms.
Microsoft has lost market share over the past year, much of that to Apple’s iPhone. It also faces stiff competition from RIM Blackberry, Symbian, and Google Android. It’s a tough market and Windows Mobile currently holds only about 10 percent of it.
Some have predicted that the new Windows Mobile will be essentially DOA (dead on arrival) due to a combination of waning interest in the Windows Mobile platform and the fact that an even bigger release, Windows Mobile 7, is expected less than six months later. I think it is premature to expect Microsoft to concede the mobile operating system war, but I also think that winning it should not be Microsoft’s ultimate goal.
Good, bad, or indifferent, Microsoft has a dominant share of the desktop operating system, office productivity application, e-mail server, and web browser markets. Mobile phones- or at least smart phones- are essentially miniature laptops with very tiny keyboards. Windows Mobile is the one mobile operating system capable of delivering a consistent look and feel between the desktop and the mobile device, but- if market share is any indication- that alone is not enough to convince corporate decision makers.
Other mobile operating systems recognize that many customers rely on Microsoft servers and applications and strive to provide the tools necessary to connect with and use those services. Most smart phones provide some means of connecting with Microsoft Exchange Server to retrieve corporate email. When the original iPhone came out the lack of Exchange functionality was listed as one of the primary reasons it couldn’t be used in a business context.
Mobile devices built on operating systems other than Windows Mobile also endeavor to provide tools that enable users to at least view, if not create and edit, Microsoft Office files such as Word docs and Excel spreadsheets. With an increasingly mobile workforce it helps to be able to store and work with Microsoft Office files from the mobile phone so that a laptop isn’t required or as a backup if the laptop is lost or stolen.
Even if Windows Mobile 6.5 or Windows Mobile 7 succeeds in reclaiming market share, Windows Mobile will never have 100 percent of the mobile operating system market. But, Microsoft wants enterprise customers to continue to purchase and rely on Exchange Server, Office Communications Server, and other back end platforms, which is why it needs to develop applications for other mobile operating systems and collaborate with other vendors to help provide seamless, effortless connectivity with Microsoft backend systems no matter what mobile operating system is being used.
Microsoft recognizes that it has a vested interest in cooperating with other mobile platform providers to extend integration to other mobile devices. That is why it recently entered into a partnership with Nokia to collaborate on providing integrated Microsoft Office Mobile and other productivity solutions on Nokia smart phones.
Some analysts have suggested that there is no hope for the Windows Mobile platform and that Microsoft should stop investing money in developing it. I would submit that Windows Mobile is a success in its own niche-way, and suggest that Microsoft continue to develop and evolve Windows Mobile. However, Microsoft’s ultimate goal should be working to provide that same Windows desktop experience on other mobile device platforms.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.