Microsoft’s Huge Mobile Gamble

The mobile market has come full circle from multitasking to single-tasking

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and its predecessors distinguished themselves as an operating system which are very desktop-like when compared to devices like a Blackberry or Palm VII. At the beginning of the last decade, Palm was at the top of its game and it was soon facing a brutal battle with the iPaq from Compaq which delivered a more laptop-type experience and a bright full-color screen. And my favorite iPaq feature was multitasking which allowed me for example to download a document while emailing. The response to the Compaq threat from Palm was to tell us that customers want a PDA, not a flashlight. While this comment was cute and somewhat accurate, it showed Palm wasn’t thinking about where the smartphone market was headed.

Palm decided instead to bet the future on fighting RIM and thus picked up Treo so they could have a device which also had a real keyboard.

Just as Palm saw Microsoft beat it in the market, Microsoft is seeing Apple do the same to it. Who would have thought this would be the case five years ago? Moreover, from a gadget which doesn’t allow multitasking and has a closed application store?

Now we see Apple has changed the market so much that Microsoft

has a new Windows Mobile OS – Windows Phone 7 which is not


even compatible with the prior operating system meaning all apps have to be rewritten! Forgetting about backwards compatibility is a huge change at Microsoft and also a huge risk. Perhaps the company decided it had little to lose.

Another surprise is the fact that in the computer realm, Apple got slaughtered because its hardware was tightly coupled to the software. Similar to early Fords which only came in black, you could choose any hardware manufacturer you liked, as long as it was Apple. In the mobile market this doesn’t seem to be a problem for either RIM or Apple. Seems the more closed you are the better. Gartner logically predicted some years back that the opposite would be true. Sadly this probably cost its customers hundreds of millions of dollars in incorrect product choices.

Now, Microsoft has a new OS which seems even simpler and potentially less flexible than Apple. And one wonders if Apple’s current litigious mood will make it inclined to sue Microsoft if this phone is too much like its own iPhone and iPad.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Google with Android, an open-source OS which any hardware company can use.

If you are a developer, you have more choices than ever and the new Windows phone is slated to hit shelves around the holidays meaning you have additional reasons to explore alternative platforms if they want to generate revenue now. The question will be of course, is the new Microsoft mobile OS good enough to overcome almost a year of absence from the smartphone market the company helped create?

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