Will Microsoft's limiting of devices allow them to react faster in the mobile space?

Will Microsoft's limiting of devices allow them to react faster in the mobile space?

Summary: Regular readers know that I use devices from all the mobile operating systems and am pretty flexible on what I am using day-to-day. I keep falling back to Windows Mobile devices (mainly my Palm Treo Pro and HTC Fuze) because I find the Exchange experience to be superior to ANYTHING else on the market and I like having such a broad choice in form factor. As I wrote last Fall this expansive choice of devices may also be a weakness in today's market due to expectations people now have for their mobile device that is primarily a result of the iPhone's methods for upgradeability and ease of usability. At CES, a Microsoft representative stated that they plan to start limiting the number of devices running Windows Mobile in order to improve the value of the license.

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Will Microsoft's limiting of devices allow them to react faster in the mobile space?Regular readers know that I use devices from all the mobile operating systems and am pretty flexible on what I am using day-to-day. I keep falling back to Windows Mobile devices (mainly my Palm Treo Pro and HTC Fuze) because I find the Exchange experience to be superior to ANYTHING else on the market and I like having such a broad choice in form factor. As I wrote last Fall this expansive choice of devices may also be a weakness in today's market due to expectations people now have for their mobile device that is primarily a result of the iPhone's methods for upgradeability and ease of usability. At CES, a Microsoft representative stated that they plan to start limiting the number of devices running Windows Mobile in order to improve the value of the license.

There are pros and cons with the current Windows Mobile environment. With around 140 current devices running the operating system the end user has a vast choice of what size, form factor, and price they want for their selected mobile phone. This vast number also makes it virtually impossible for Microsoft to even consider offering upgrades across the board. I think the current landscape also makes it difficult for Microsoft to respond quicker to changes in the mobile space and with the iPhone, Android, S60, and Palm WebOS improvements coming in 2009 Microsoft needs to get going sooner rather than later. I think BlackBerry as an OS is quite stale like Windows Mobile and their saving grace is the previous adoption by the enterprise. Steve Ballmer is giving a keynote at Mobile World Congress next month where he will be talking about the future of Windows Mobile so stay tuned for that.

Unlike Larry Dignan, I don't feel sorry for anyone running Windows Mobile because I think it is still a solid operating system that has a lot to offer. Thankfully, companies like HTC and Samsung have stepped up to improve the user experience on the platform, but I am starting to think Windows Mobile is becoming more of an operating system for those who like to dive into the details and tweak things to their heart's desire (the mobile geek). With help from sites like XDA Developers you can do quite a bit to optimize and customize your device where the more popular devices today are quite locked down and limited. However, this need for tweaking to get your device to perform how you want isn't something the general public or mass consumer wants or needs in a phone and should not be expected of them.

There has been some debate about whether or not Microsoft should move to a model similar to the iPhone where Microsoft controls Windows Mobile closely. They could do something like they have with the Zune or Xbox 360 and make the Microsoft Phone with the aquisition of someone like HTC. Honestly, I do not think this will happen at this time, but may be something they have to consider in the future if their present plans for the future don't work out as intended.

I personally think that Microsoft could have easily been the leader in the mobile space and generated excitement like the iPhone is garnering if they would have offered a solid out-of-the box hosted Exchange service for consumers (just like RIM does), had a single on-device application store (they have tens of thousands of developers with a ton of 3rd party applications), offered a fun user experience (like how HTC and Samsung do with devices or even how Spb Mobile Shell can do with software), and not thought of the phone as a Windows computer with a Start menu. Adding these types of things now will be seen as "doing what the iPhone already does" and may just not generate the enthusiasm for the platform that is needed to compete today.

The mobile space is indeed huge and growing so I do think there is room for all the players (S60, RIM, Apple, Nokia, Google, Palm, and Microsoft) and I honestly do not think one or two companies will knock everyone else out for at least the next few years. I do think the Microsoft needs to figure out how to respond faster and think ahead and implement faster in the future and with all of their money I have to say I still do not quite understand why it takes them so long to roll out updates. Hopefully, by narrowing their focus they are able to act quicker in the future.

Topics: Mobility, iPhone, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Operating Systems, Software, Wi-Fi, Windows

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3 comments
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  • Windows mobile is half-done

    I have iPaq with Windows Mobile 5 and it is pretty bad as a mobile system. First it is unresponsive. Turn the device on and it takes a few seconds. Switching between tasks is slow. It takes at least couple of seconds if system has enough available memory. If memory is low then good luck. Task switcher may appear after a minute or not appear at all. It is faster just to reset the unit.
    Overall hardware seems to be fine and there are some really nice programs for the platform but the main point of handheld device is lost when you cannot take a note or lookup the calendar because the system just decides to go for lunch for 30 seconds.

    That said I am not sure if limiting devices would really help Microsoft. Mobile systems should be designed with mobile users in mind. Devices should be fast and responsive and that may require re-design of windows mobile and not simply porting desktop stuff to the mobile platform.
    paul2011
  • RE: Will Microsoft's limiting of devices allow them to react faster in the mobile space?

    Matt, you nailed it when you said that they are going about mobile development all wrong. Why do their phones still have start menus (yikes!). I don't want an ugly list of all of my programs. And, how am I going to press the right item in the list without a stylus? Although Apple's solutions aren't always the best, they did show us some time ago that users would prefer to use icons on a phone when possible because they are touch friendly. However, where Apple got it wrong was thinking that users work on one thing at a time. That's where Palm comes in and invigorates the mobile scene with a brilliant multitasking solution.

    Microsoft continues down the path of pivot driven UI's, cluttered today screens, and a mostly anti-touch design history.

    Microsoft has the money, the entertainment services (Zune, XBOX), and the cloud ecosystem (Live Photos, Hotmail, Mesh) to make the best mobile phone on the planet. The question is, can the software giant and their slow and clumbsy update process ever get this mythical perfect phone out the door. There is no reason that Microsoft should have let Apple become the first mobile developer with a successful end to end mobile/cellular gaming story either. Also, there is no reason why mobile integration wasn't on the top of the list for zune's goals when they first created the platform.

    MS has all the pieces...it just seems they don't know how to put them together. Or worse, they know how to put them together, but it'll take them 5 years to do it.
    sportsunit
  • What will come first?

    1) microsoft abandoning ("limiting") its partners

    2) its partners leaving WM for better and free Android

    Doesn't matter. The result is the same...
    rynning