HTC's HD2 smartphone, which runs Windows Mobile 6.5, goes on sale in the U.S. on March 24. While the device contains many software and hardware features that could give it substantial appeal in the consumer market, the potential lack of an upgrade to Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series could have a negative impact on sales. Windows Mobile 6.5's share of the overall smartphone market has been in steady decline over the past few months, pressuring Microsoft to do something radical to boost its presence, but also putting current users of Windows Mobile 6.5 and the existing Windows Marketplace for Mobile at risk of being left behind by a radical upgrade.
When the HTC HD2 smartphone goes on sale in the U.S. on
March 24, it faces the same vexing question as a number of other
recently-released devices running Windows Mobile 6.5: will consumers flock to
purchase one, knowing that Microsoft intends to release a totally new
smartphone operating system, Windows Phone 7 Series, by the end of the year?
With no clear upgrade path between Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7, and news
from the ongoing MIX 10 conference that applications developed for Windows
Mobile will not be transferable to the new smartphone OS, the possibility
exists that sales of Windows Mobile devices could be adversely affected.
The HTC HD2 is heavily reminiscent of devices such as the
Apple iPhone and Google Android, particularly HTC's own Droid Eris, with its
4.3-inch capacitive touch-screen. The device itself measures a slim 2.64 inches
wide by 4.74 inches tall by 0.43 inches thick, and weighs 5.54 ounces with the
battery. HTC is emphasizing the smartphone's social networking abilities, such
as its Facebook integration and HTC Peep widget.
Other high-end features include a 5-megapixel camera with
auto-focus and a dual LED flashlight, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, integrated
GPS, and an estimated talk-time of between 280 and 320 minutes, depending on
whether the device is running on GSM or WCDMA interface standard. Users will
also be able to download e-books courtesy of Barnes & Noble's e-book storefront.
But the HTC HD2 also enters a market where its operating
system, Windows Mobile 6.5, is in decline. Although Microsoft has publicly
stated it will continue to support Mobile 6.5 following the release of Windows
Phone 7 Series sometime late in 2010, the question emerges over whether
third-party developers will want to continue creating applications for a
platform due to be eclipsed.
Click here for more information on the HTC HD2.
Microsoft's mobile-applications store, Windows Marketplace
for Mobile, currently contains just north of 718 mobile apps for U.S.-based
Mobile 6.x smartphones, a small number when compared to the apps available
through Apple's App Store or Google's Android Market. While Microsoft
executives had hoped for 600 apps at the time of Marketplace for Mobile's Oct.
6 release, the actual number ended up being less than half of that.
During the ramp-up to the Marketplace for Mobile rollout,
Microsoft attempted to attract developers by encouraging them to offer their
products at a higher price point. "We would definitely want to promote [the
idea] that you make more money selling applications than selling your
application in a dollar store," Loke Uei, senior technical product manager for
Microsoft's Mobile Developer Experience Team, told mobile application
developers in Redmond, Wash., on Aug. 19. "But 99 cents, come on, I think your
app is worth more than that."
Following the release, Microsoft
also made a number of tweaks to the storefront
, such as allowing phones
running Windows Mobile 6.0 and Mobile 6.1 to access the Marketplace. Microsoft
engineers also upgraded the store with additional anti-piracy protections and
PC-based shopping and account management.
Nonetheless, the market-share for Windows Mobile 6.5
continued to dip, with analytics firm ComScore estimating a 4-percent slide for
the period between October 2009 and January 2010, a few weeks before Microsoft
unveiled Windows Phone 7 Series at a Feb. 15 press conference in Barcelona.
According to ComScore, Microsoft's share of the smartphone OS market now stands
at around 15.7 percent.
Microsoft might have doomed its Mobile 6.5 market-share even
further, though, by denying devices currently running the operating system-in
addition to its apps-the ability to upgrade to Windows Phone 7 Series. Windows
Marketplace for Mobile, furthermore, will be replaced by a new mobile-apps
storefront, branded Windows Phone Marketplace.
"We do recognize that there are a lot of folks who have been
writing apps for Windows Mobile for some time," Larry Lieberman, senior product
manager for Microsoft's Mobile Developer Experience, told eWEEK in a March 15
interview. "But we recognize that the landscape has changed, and as we've been
looking at stuff, we had to drastically change our game, and really the only
way to do that was to look at what we were offering and what we could do to
address this in a competitive accelerated manner."
The lack of an upgrade path for applications, Lieberman also
noted, was at least partially due to the schedule for delivering Windows Phone
7 Series to market: "If we'd had more time and resources, we may have been able
to do something in terms of backward compatibility."
Microsoft also seems determined to enforce a strict set of
hardware requirements for running Windows Phone 7 Series, including one that
stipulates that such devices will be limited to three mechanical buttons. The
HTC HD2 has five (Talk/Send, Home, Start, Back, End/Power). Microsoft has
officially refused to confirm that Mobile 6.5 devices that fit requirements for
the new operating system will be upgradable, while
some of its executives have indicated that the HTC HD2 will not, in fact, have
an upgrade path to Windows Phone 7 Series.
If the HTC HD2 proves un-upgradable, and if developers shift
from writing applications for Mobile 6.5 to Windows Phone 7, it has the
potential to negatively impact sales despite Microsoft's assurance that it will
continue to support both versions of its smartphone operating system. The sales
numbers for the new smartphone after its March 24 release will paint a clearer