Microsoft's mobile strategy: Can it thread the prosumer needle?

Microsoft unveiled Windows Mobile 6.5 with a prettier user interface that will play well with touch devices, a Web synchronization service dubbed My Phone and an applications marketplace.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Microsoft unveiled Windows Mobile 6.5 with a prettier user interface that will play well with touch devices, a Web synchronization service dubbed My Phone and an applications marketplace. But questions hover even as Microsoft rolls out these new services: Can Microsoft move fast enough to keep Windows Mobile fresh and can it thread the needle between business and consumer needs?

Windows Mobile 6.5 (statement, Techmeme) looks like an improvement, but Matthew Miller notes that Microsoft's latest Windows for phones doesn't advance the custom interfaces already implemented by partners such as Samsung. Gizmodo has a more positive take.  Matthew's biggest hang-up is that new devices with Windows Mobile 6.5 won't hit the market for nine months or more. That's a big problem. Why? The mobile world will look completely different in nine months and Windows Mobile 6.5 may just look dated--again. 

Also see: Windows Mobile 6.5 disappoints, where’s the beef?

I noted previously that the rapid development cycle in the mobile market is killing Windows Mobile and it's unclear whether Microsoft has addressed that issue. That said, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did make a very important distinction during his Mobile World Congress 2009 keynote in Barcelona: He said that Windows Mobile isn't just about the business user anymore. 

Instead, Windows Mobile is going the prosumer route. Here's what Ballmer said (transcript):

People do not want a phone for work and a phone for their personal life; they want a single phone that they can use to access all of the information and people in their lives that are important. They want a phone that is connected and integrated with all the other sources and places where they use information. At Microsoft, our vision is to deliver one platform that extends across the PC, the phone, the TV and the web, and that connects us all to the information and people that we really care about. That platform is Windows in various forms, some of which exist today and some of which we still need to bring to market.


We need to take our Windows Mobile business to yet another level. The time has come for us to start bringing the full Windows experience to mobile phones. It starts with a recognition that the phone is more than just an address book with a microphone and a speaker; it is more than a digital camera and a device for texting friends; and it is even more than just e-mail and a calendar. It is your instant connection to all of the people and information that you care about most. We have to make it a Windows phone that benefits from and picks up the experiences that people expect on bigger-screen devices. A Windows phone has to be your phone, because it is unique to you. Windows phones have to come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so that each individual can pick the hardware that is right for them. Whether you want a touch screen or a keyboard, a big screen or a little screen, or whether design or size matters, we have to ensure, with our partners, that there is a Windows phone that meets your needs.

It's hard to argue with anything that Ballmer said. If Microsoft is going to be a mobile player it needs to do those aforementioned items. And Windows should be Windows whether you're on a PC, smartphone, TV or netbook. However, it's unclear whether Microsoft can thread this needle. Microsoft's challenge is that it has to be everything to everyone. It needs to woo consumers, but it also needs to make sure it doesn't screw up businesses. Rivals like Apple don't have to worry about that tug-of-war between consumer and professional needs. Is Microsoft capable of meeting the needs of two types of customers with one mobile operating system?

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