While small—run by Mika Krammer, director of Windows product management, it currently consists of fewer than 20 people—the groups existence signals a shift in thinking and emphasis toward mobile computing at the software giant.
As the worldwide markets for notebook PCs—expected by IDC to expand from 65 million units in 2005 to about 148 million units, or close to half of all worldwide PC shipments, in 2010—and for cellular smart phones continue to grow, Microsoft has begun to add some more mobile-friendly features to its operating systems, such as the forthcoming Windows Vista.
"Its time for Microsoft to play a bigger role in mobility … in terms of increasing mobility, educating and driving trends in the marketplace," Krammer, in Redmond, Wash., said in an interview with eWEEK. "We need to have a coordinated story and a coordinated strategy … in how we help our customers be mobile. That involves the spectrum from your phone and to your desktop replacement [notebook] and everything in between."
Thus far the team has put forth some broad goals, including pushing toward more feature-packed mobile computers in the UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC) space and the ultraportable notebook PC category as well as in full-sized or desktop replacement notebooks. The group also aims to ensure that Microsofts Windows operating system for PCs and Windows Mobile OS for handhelds can work more smoothly together.
The formation of the team in April 2006 marked the first time Microsoft has looked to address a broad range of mobile hardware types, as opposed to segmenting its efforts into different areas and operating systems, Krammer said.
One of the groups first assignments is to help develop themes for marketing Windows Vista notebooks. One theme, "staying in touch," involves tying together the communications capabilities inherent in Vista with add-ons such as WWAN (wireless WAN). A "collaboration" theme will emphasize Vista features such as MeetingSpace, which allows notebook users to use Wi-Fi radios to connect their PCs and share files or stream presentations and thus collaborate on the fly.
Emphasizing mobility is a fairly straightforward strategy for Microsoft. Put simply, thats where the growth in the PC industry is at the moment, analysts say. But some wonder if the company shouldnt be doing even more.
Microsofts new groups aim "makes a lot of sense. A lot of the [PC industry] growth is being generated from the mobile market right now," said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC, in San Mateo, Calif.
"Its about time [Microsoft] came up with a mobile-specific operating system, or at least more aggressive [mobile] features … beyond just the basics, like better power management," Shim said. Mobility "should be something thats on the minds of everybody there."
But the mobility marketing group has larger long-term goals. Its seeking to form new partnerships with hardware and software makers, as well as to ferret out mobile users feedback on Windows XP and Vista in an effort to devise new mobile-oriented features. "My team is also looking at the future operating system," Krammer said.
One more near-term partnership project the group is undertaking is to further the development of VOIP (voice-over-IP) software for SMBs (small and midsize businesses), Krammer said.
However, she indicated that separate development done by this partnership wouldnt prevent Microsoft from possibly adding more VOIP features to future versions of Windows.
The group also has a hand in the future of the UMPC, where Microsoft hopes to make a bigger splash later in 2006 by adding new partners.
The company expects to expand its stable of UMPC manufacturers and to work with those companies to lower the price of each UMPC unit, while upping battery life and introducing a broader range of form factors. At the same time, Microsoft is seeking to assist developers who are interested in writing software for UMPCs.
The UMPC "fits into our overall portfolio of what were trying to do with mobility. Its an important form factor because it demonstrates innovation and use of a PC in a different way," Krammer said.
Thus, "Were thinking of which partnerships do we need to make to create a better experience out of the box," she said. "If we look at out entire portfolio there are guiding principals and target markets were going to appeal to in each of those [mobile product] categories."
Microsoft is looking to partner with ISVs that can deliver applications for UMPCs. One such application could turn a UMPC into an in-car navigation device for consumers. Another business-oriented application might use WWAN service to send orders to field service personnel.
"Were serious in that were looking at assisting ISVs … to get their software to run efficiently on UMPC," Krammer said.
Indeed, much of the groups focus will be on forging partnerships and offering marketing assistance to partners that plan to offer Windows Vista on their machines.
Vista, due in January 2007, will come in several different editions for both for businesses and consumers. Another new feature, dubbed Slideshow, offers an auxiliary display on the outside lids of laptops running Vista. The small display can be active even when the laptop is powered off.
It will take some work to write applications that can take advantage of Slideshow to allow users quick access to e-mail or instant messaging, however.
"Now we need to work together with our OEM partners and IHVs to be able to deliver that experience to market," Krammer said.
As for researching new Windows features, the mobility marketing group is likely to have some time. Aside from Vista service pack updates, the next update to Windows, "Fiji," isnt expected until at least 2008.
Still the groups work "should be a signal to our customers and to our partners to say were putting a lot more focus on what were going in the mobile environment … on mobile PCs," Krammer said.