Five Reasons Why Android Could Kill Windows Mobile

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-12-06

Five Reasons Why Android Could Kill Windows Mobile

When the Motorola Droid, powered by Google's Android OS and serviced by Verizon, made its street debut on Nov. 5, the comparisons immediately started between the new smartphone and Apple's iPhone. Fueling the argument was Verizon itself, which launched a series of head-to-head advertisements that emphasized certain Droid functionality-such as the ability to run multiple applications simultaneously-that Apple's device currently lacks.

Yet Apple may not be the company most affected by Android; as Google's operating system gains traction, Microsoft could be the one finding itself firmly in the crosshairs.   

Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system-currently in Version 6.5 but expected to upgrade to Version 7 at some point in 2010-may end up being the most vulnerable to the rise of Android. Unlike Apple and other companies, Microsoft depends on its operating system and attendant software being ported onto multiple devices offered by multiple manufacturers and carriers-something that has the potential to be a huge advantage in terms of mobile OS market share, unless a stronger competitor enters the ecosystem.

Android's Market Share Is Climbing-Fast

The Symbian operating system, present on a wide variety of Nokia phones, is not proving to be that competitor, with data suggesting that its market share has fallen from 59 percent in October 2008 to 27 percent in October 2009. That would ostensibly represent good news for Microsoft in its attempt to claim the multiple-device space-except that during the same year-over-year period, Windows Mobile has also seen its market share drop by around 70 percent, according to recent AdMob data.

Microsoft knows that it has a problem. During Microsoft's Venture Capital Summit on Sept. 24, CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly suggested that his company had "screwed up" on Windows Mobile and publicly wished that Windows Mobile 7 had already launched. Windows Mobile 6.5, released on Oct. 6 and boasting improvements including expanded touch capabilities, is supposed to operate as a sort of stopgap measure until then.

In theory, Mobile 6.5 would stop the erosion in Microsoft's mobile market share, before the newer-and-more-improved Mobile 7 comes onto the scene to do hearty battle with the iPhone and BlackBerry. But Android is putting pressure on that model, with the AdMob data suggesting Google's market share has climbed 1,000 percent in the past year.

Click here for more information on the Motorola Droid.

That sort of growth rate will attract more manufacturers to embrace Android for their newer phones. Microsoft previously announced that Mobile 6.5 will be present on 13 phones, including ones by LG Electronics, HTC and Sony Ericsson, by the end of 2010. Andy Rubin, Google's senior director for mobile platforms, previously estimated that the Android operating system could be running on 18 to 20 devices by the end of the year; even if you consider the source and chop that Android number in half-and given that everyone from Nokia and Motorola to Acer and Dell are all either building or considering Android phones, that's conservative-it still represents a substantial number of Android OS phones crowding the ecosystem.

Click here for more information on the HTC Droid Eris.

For Microsoft, it's one thing to try to improve the fort while no enemy forces are around, but it's much harder to repair your gates and restock the cannon when the enemy is busy scaling the walls.  

Its an App, App World


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.

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