Microsoft finally jumping head first into smartphone market with phone of their own?

by Mike
Posted April 28th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

The iPhone has enjoyed complete dominance in the younger crowd because of its tight integration with a music download service (iTunes), a very successful App Store, and a UI and device functionality that many manufacturers still have some time before they catch up on. Since the dawn of the iPhone, Microsoft has been included in many rumors telling of an impending Microsoft/Zune phone. Time and time again, Microsoft has countered that they are a software business and leave the hardware desging and development to the companies which do it best. Microsoft instead sells licenses to its wholey mediocore Windows Mobile operating system. Even giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and rounding up, they only make around $300 million per year, mere pocket fuzz when you take into account that they are projected to earn over $70 billion this year! Now you see how little they make on Windows Mobile. Could Microsoft finally be looking to jump into the hardware side of things and bring in some much needed mobile revenue?

The WSJ is reporting that Microsoft is in talks with Verizon to bring to market an iPhone competitor to market. A software and cellular giant teaming up…who woulda’ thunk? Microsofts track record in the mobile market isn’t so hot. Windows Mobile is a prime example of this. The reason they have a large market share is simply the sheer number of devices that can purchase Windows Mobile. I’m sure if Mobile OS X or the Blackberry OS opened up, we would see a huge chunk of Microsoft’s market move elsewhere. Besides the sadness that is Windows Mobile, the fact that jumping into a mobile operating system race now would leave the newest contender drastically behind the others. Further evidence of “mobile device hardware” not being Microsoft’s forte is nicely depicted in the Zune. While it is a nice device, portrays a very minimalistic and sleek look, and flat out works, the key word here is that it was nice four years ago. **I realize it hasn’t been out for four years…however the standards to which it is currently built combined with the feature set makes this seem like it is older than it looks**. It’s ok if we disagree, I expect it. However one can’t argue with the mediocrity that has stagnated Microsoft’s mobile division.

Again referencing the Zune, when was the last time Redmond added a feature that was truly a leader in the market? If you’re having trouble thinking of anything you’re correct…that’s because there isn’t one. Some may call me an Apple fan boy, and that’s ok, but when the iPod Touch was announced, it was truly unique and was several years ahead of the competition. So where is the Zune’s progress a year and a half later? Still back in 2007, that’s where. Microsoft’s old claim to fame was its dominating share of PC/Windows users that still to this day is a pretty big share. However, it has been slipping as of late as more people turn to more modern and less buggy operating systems such as OS X and Ubuntu (the more publicized and media hyped Linux distro). When Microsoft entered the mobile market many years ago, many people assumed that because of their large desktop presence, they would simply carry their success over to the mobile market. As we can see, while their market share is by far the leader, when was the last time you heard anyone drooling over the latest Windows Mobile firmware update - not the hardware…the software? I sure haven’t. Please enlighten me and prove me wrong. Give me a reason to like Windows Mobile. With as many 3rd party vendors behind it as they have, there has to be some truly unique stuff out there.

In regards to Windows Mobile and how it operates and the user navigates through it, getting a software designed to operate smoothly, quickly, and in this day and age, carry a fair degree of eye candy, (who wants to stare at Windows 3.1 in your hand all day?), is by no means a small task, and Microsoft has done a good job getting the underlying structure of Windows Mobile to be fairly productive and useful. However, intuitiveness isn’t quite it’s strong suit, nor is eye candy. Throw hardware into the mix and you can easily get overwhelmed. According to the same report as linked above, Microsoft is also said to not be directly making the hardware themselves, but will be “extremely influential” in the design of the hardware for their “phone”.  This approach shows how it really does take a fair degree of knowledge to design a mobile device that not only looks very attractive and sleek, but is also functional and practical. (This is where Apple haters/practical minded people would interject with some comment about Apple’s product containing more flair than substance or practicallity…for the record…many times they’re right). For some reason, Microsoft can’t seem to build a piece of hardware that people actually want to buy (Zune), or software that is truly unique and leads the market (Windows Mobile). Again, the Zune was very promising, but Microsoft simply has brought forth any new innovation with it. They’ve let the brand stagnate and become just another media player that blends in with the crowd.

This current year is bringing some big updates to the mobile operating system world such as the iPhone 3.0 OS, Android 1.5, and probably Blackberry OS 5.0. The three of these mobile operating systems in my opinion (and I’m sure many others’) are at least one to two years ahead of even Microsoft’s latest and still *officially* unreleased Windows Mobile 6.5. With Windows Mobile 7 not slated to ship until early next year at the earliest, and a major iPhone update that is almost now garunteed to come next summer as well as steady movement in the Android and Blackberry camps, does Windows Mobile even have a chance to compete with the others? Sure business users and more function over form users still use Windows Mobile because it is functional and gets the job done (you know who you are…you’re still using Windows 2000 and Internet Explorer 5 because it simply gets the job done…I see you on my site statistics…I know you’re out there). But the same comparison can be made between a Model T and an Aston Martin. Both do the same thing, transfer you from point A to point B, just one does it in much greater style, speed, and money. Though this type of thinking is hardly what Microsoft wants to fall into, a “just to get you buy/get the job done” image.

With larger groups of younger users (<25) moving to the mobile web and mobile internet devices, marketing crap such as Windows Mobile 6.5 is hardly going to win them over. They need to take the digital bull by the horns and trully own this segment. They have more money than many of the other mobile OS players in the market do combined yet they still are sorely lacking feature wise compared to the others as well as having several years to go to catch up to current specs. Answer me this - How old are you and as of this very second, if you were in the market for a new smartphone, based on the operating system, which one would you choose? Compared to 3-4 years ago when I bet a majority would have answered “Windows Mobile”, I’m sure many more answers would go to the other big players mentioned. Microsoft’s size has simply rendered it unable to innovate like the other players either for political reasons or others not known. Again, feel free to argue all you want below. I even invite it, it brings ideas and views out into the open and keeps all of our minds open.

What do you think Microsoft could do with Windows Mobile or even the Zune to make them more successful? Should they blend the two? (Of course they should). What other great ideas do you have that Microsoft could do to get some much needed improvement to their aging image? Let’s hear it folks.

Source: Alley Insider, *Image Source*

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