Its an App, App World

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-12-06 Print this article Print


It's an App, App World

Microsoft originally planned to have 600 applications available for Windows Marketplace's October launch. It ended up with a shade fewer than 250, although that number has expanded to 800 nearly two months after the operating system's release. Some 1,000 ISVs are currently registered to build mobile applications for the storefront.

Considering the massive head start of the other players in the space, mobile applications were always going to be something of an Achilles heel for Windows Mobile. Even so, with the exception of Apple's App Store and its 80,000 apps, Windows Mobile's 800 apps make substantial inroads against RIM's BlackBerry App World and its 1,000-plus apps and overtake Palm's 350-and-counting mobile applications.

All those competing devices, however, bind their operating systems-and by extension, third-party applications-to proprietary hardware. Google Android is the open-source exception, and for that reason was always slated to be something of a wild card; if the operating system was shunned by phone manufacturers, then the Android Marketplace would likely not climb far beyond the 2,000-plus applications currently available. If Android maintains its growth, then there's a high potential for the number of Android-centric applications to explode.

If that happens, more manufacturers will feel compelled to load their devices with Android, which in turn would squeeze the market for Windows Mobile even further.  

Lack of Other OS Competitors

On Oct. 21, the Symbian Foundation announced that it was working to adapt the Symbian OS as an open-source platform. The platform microkernel, EKA2 (Epco Kernel Architecture 2), has been released "nine months ahead of schedule," according to the Foundation, and includes a supporting development kit under the Eclipse Public License. 

As previously mentioned, though, the market share of the Symbian OS has been falling drastically over the past year, along with that of Windows Mobile. That leaves a lot of open territory for Android to theoretically seize-especially given that there are no other major competitors, either proprietary or open-source, trying to port an operating system onto mobile phones in the United States.

The Hardware Pairing

Google Android has been paired to two pieces of hardware-the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris-that some early pundits cited as potential "iPhone killers." While reviews of the actual devices were a bit more tempered in their praise and Apple-eating potential, the fact remains that Android is now associated with an instantly recognizable device, which is good for its brand. During its first week on sale, Verizon Wireless and Motorola sold 250,000 Droids, substantially less than the 1.6 million iPhone 3GS units moved during its own first week, but viewed by many analysts as an impressive showing for the new smartphone.

Windows Mobile lacks such a device. For a long time, rumors have circulated about "Project Pink," a Microsoft-Verizon smartphone-or smartphones-that could make its debut early in 2010. In September, Engadget postulated the devices would have a slider form factor, while 9to5Mac suggested the devices would be developed hand-in-hand with subsidiary Danger.

But until Microsoft finally confirms "Pink's" existence, or one of the phones leaks into the hands of journalists, the project remains vaporware, and Android gains further mindshare with each passing week that Droid advertisements plaster television, Web page banners and bus sides. If Google issues its own branded smartphone before Microsoft, this mindshare will only accelerate.

Windows Mobile 7 Is an Unknown

Microsoft has promised that Windows Mobile 7 will be a substantial update, even as it continues to keep details closely under wraps. Once the curtain is whipped back, if the mobile OS' update fails to impress the general public, Microsoft could find itself in an almost untenably weak position within the mobile space. That would give Android the opening it needs to ingratiate itself even further among smartphone users, and Mobile-in many ways already on the proverbial ropes-would find itself in very serious trouble.

Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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