10 Ways Microsoft Can Turn Around Windows Mobile

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-09-30 Print this article Print

NEWS ANALYSIS: Microsoft is upset with the direction of its Windows Mobile division. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Microsoft and its team of mobile engineers can't turn things around. The software giant has the opportunity to do so, and compete effectively against Apple, Palm and the RIM BlackBerry. It just needs to remember a few things.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said earlier this week that his company made some mistakes with Windows Mobile that he hopes to address (and fix) going forward. According to reports, Ballmer told those he was speaking with that Microsoft "screwed up with Windows Mobile." He also indicated that he had wished Windows Mobile 7 would have been made available this year, rather than Windows Mobile 6.5.

It's a tough time in Redmond for Microsoft's mobile team. The company's platform, which had at one time enjoyed great success in the enterprise, is now a shadow of its former self. And Apple, the single company that Microsoft probably never expected to make a splash in the mobile space, is now dominating it.

But not all is lost. In fact, Microsoft can do quite a bit to turn things around. And with a little bit of luck, it might also be able to compete on the same level as Apple and its iPhone. Here's how:

1. Commit to touch

Whether Microsoft likes it or not, the future of the mobile-phone market is rooted in touch screens. The company needs to develop a mobile platform that's based on a touch screen. If it doesn't, Microsoft loses a key portion of the end-user base that not only expects, but requires a touch screen to be included in their devices. Apple has set the pace, now Microsoft needs to catch up.

2. Consider open source

It might not be in Microsoft's DNA to immediately look towards open-sourcing software, but doing so could substantially improve not only the platform, but Microsoft's standing in the tech industry. Google's open-source Android platform has been relatively successful so far because of its partnership with other companies in the Open Handset Alliance. It has helped improve the software. Maybe Microsoft should consider following suit.

3. Focus on an app store

A key success factor in the mobile space is to have a well-stocked applications store. Right now, Microsoft doesn't have anything of the sort. Granted, the company is planning to release a store, but for now, it's not even in the game. That's a real problem that must be addressed as soon as possible. And when the app store is finally released, Microsoft needs to do everything it can to work with developers to get as close to Apple's 85,000 available apps as quickly as possible. If it doesn't, it'll be just another also-ran in the space with a few thousand applications to choose from.

4. Ensure reliability

One of the biggest issues with Microsoft's mobile platform is that it isn't nearly as reliable as users might want. Whether someone likes the iPhone or not, they know that it will work as advertised. They will be able to swipe across the screen. They will be able to use the "pinch" feature. Microsoft's Windows Mobile needs to provide that same reliability. It needs to do what Microsoft promises it can.

5. Remember intuition

One of the most important things any company should remember when developing a mobile platform is that intuition plays a major role in the success of that platform. Does it make sense for users to perform a particular function to open an app? Is that really the most intuitive way to zoom in on a particular area of the screen? Answering those questions should be paramount during software design. If a product doesn't react the way users expect, it's a real problem.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.

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