10 Ways Microsoft Can Turn Around Windows Mobile

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-09-30

10 Ways Microsoft Can Turn Around Windows Mobile

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.

Dont Forget the Enterprise

6. Forget everything you know about Windows Mobile

For too long, Microsoft has tried to make Windows Mobile a mini version of Windows. It needs to stop. Just because they share a name, they don't necessarily need to share functionality. Windows Mobile should be a place where Microsoft can push the envelope a little. It can do unique things that it can't with Windows 7. It needs to remember that.

7. Don't forget the enterprise

Some software developers forget about the enterprise. In the mobile-phone market, that's a major blunder. The enterprise is where much of the success Microsoft hopes to have will come from. The new Windows Mobile platform needs to be corporate-friendly, featuring options that go beyond Exchange support. Making it easy to communicate with others should be paramount. Having the ability to edit documents in an efficient way is also important. No expense on an enterprise function can be spared. It's a key battleground.

8. Focus on the keyboard

One of the places where Microsoft can trump Apple is on the virtual keyboard. Assuming the company ties its future to the touch screen, Microsoft should spend as much time and energy as possible perfecting the typing experience. It won't be as accurate as a physical keyboard, but it should be improved upon over the iPhone's virtual keyboard. If Microsoft can succeed in doing that, it's already one step ahead.

9. Simplicity is OK

Microsoft needs to remember that just because Windows is a sophisticated operating system, Windows Mobile doesn't have to be. We use computers to handle all the work we require. We use smartphones to handle some of the simpler tasks we have. Windows Mobile needs to be much simpler than it has been in the past. Look at the iPhone -- it's powerful, yet capable. Microsoft needs to remember that.

10. Learn from Apple

Microsoft can learn a lot from Apple. The iPhone has single-handedly supplanted every other major phone in the space. And its story is a case study in what to do if you're trying to compete in the market. Microsoft lost that vision somewhere along the way. It needs to regain it.

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