Leader: A 500,000 Microsoft device deal – so what?

Why Microsoft's big numbers don't necessarily add up to much
Written by silicon.com staff, Contributor

Why Microsoft's big numbers don't necessarily add up to much

The US Census Bureau revealed it will be equipping its census takers with Microsoft devices - all 500,000 of them.

It's the biggest ever device deal for Windows Mobile and it certainly looks like one of the largest publicly announced enterprise rollouts of mobile devices. Doubtless, Microsoft's execs are high-fiving each other at the news the operating system which currently makes up just a few per cent of the world's smart phones is starting to get noticed.

So what does this all mean for the device big boys like Symbian and BlackBerry maker RIM?

Both companies keep their cards close to their chest on the biggest enterprise rollout of their devices. When asked by silicon.com, Symbian declined to give details and RIM had yet to supply any numbers.

Still, we'd doubt they're too concerned about Census Bureau announcement. After all, the Bureau said that all the whizz-bang features that make a smart phone worth having – email, internet access and even voice – won't be used by their staff at all. The census workers will just be using the handhelds for data entry.

Essentially, this may be a smart phone rollout but there won't be much phone – or smart for that matter – being used here. The devices will be replacing pen and paper and, let's face it, choosing Microsoft has always been the choice of the cautious tech buyer.

It's also worth noting that census takers tend to be older and therefore likely to be less tech savvy than the population at large. Again, it's not a surprise then that the Census Bureau has opted for Microsoft, given the general belief that Microsoft phones will engender familiarity in users that have been raised on Redmond's desktop software – which is just about everyone.

To anyone who's used a Microsoft smart phone, that's a bit of strange one – just how much similarity can a desktop really bear to a phone? - but there's undeniably a certain logic to the 'we've rolled it on the desktop, the phones can't be too hard to deploy' stance. So what have Microsoft actually won here? A phone deal that dwarfs all those who've gone before it? No – there's no real mobility element here, so Redmond has just got to supply a large amount of handhelds to run a very simple application.

This isn't taking Microsoft into new ground, it's taking them back to the old days of PDAs. Don't expect RIM or Symbian to be losing any sleep about that.

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