Microsoft has scored a coup versus rivals Apple and Symbian in the mobile space, getting Sony Ericsson to make smart phones that run the software giant’s Windows Mobile operating system.
The two companies will unveil the first gadget in what will be a Windows-Mobile-based smart phone line Feb. 11 at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Scott Rockfeld, group product manager for Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business, told eWEEK before the event.
Rockfeld said the first Sony-Microsoft smart phone, whose name is being closely held for the launch, will be a consumer device with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, touch screen, music and photo services running on Windows Mobile.
The smart phone line will be rolling out to retail stores all over the world in time for Christmas later this year, he said.
The introduction of the Sony-Microsoft smart phone will likely attract a lot of attention at Mobile World Congress, along with applications that run on top of Google’s Android mobile operating system.
The pact gives Microsoft four of the top five mobile phone makers in the world making gadgets with Windows Mobile: Samsung, Motorola, LG and now Sony Ericsson. Nokia is the largest phone maker in the world, selling devices with the Symbian OS.
According to Gartner’s most recent statistics, 18.7 million smart phones and PDAs shipped with the Symbian OS, compared to 4.5 million for the Windows Mobile OS in the second quarter of 2007.
By landing Sony Ericsson, which ships roughly 100 million phones a year, as another launching pad for Windows Mobile, Microsoft could expect to increase its market share and perhaps even find more real estate for its mobile applications.
A Psychological Win for Microsoft
Most of Sony Ericsson’s current phones run the company’s own operating system. The gadgets are popular in Europe among consumers who appreciate the joint ventures’ camera and music-oriented phones. The company also sells Symbian-based phones with productivity and collaboration tools for professionals.
By partnering with Sony Ericsson, Microsoft will be better positioned to challenge Apple on the consumer side and Symbian on the enterprise side, Jupiter Research Vice President Michael Gartenberg told eWEEK.
“This is very big news for Microsoft as they begin to not only court the enterprise and the business customer but also recognize they need to go after the mainstream consumer in much the way Apple has,” Gartenberg said, noting that Sony benefits from teaming with a credible maker of mobile software, an area the phone maker has been a tad weak in.
He also said getting Sony Ericsson, traditionally seen as a player in the Symbian camp, to now be a Windows Mobile licensee is a psychological win for Microsoft.
However, the ball is in Microsoft’s court to execute with Sony Ericsson by selecting the right devices, forming carrier relationships around the world, and coming up with the right marketing so consumers know about the phones.
Assuming those challenges are met, Sony Ericsson and Microsoft need to bring the devices they create to market. This is no guarantee at a time when so many new prototypes are introduced at shows such as Mobile World Congress and 3GSM that never make it to retail or online stores.
Gartenberg won’t venture a guess as to how many units Sony will ship with Windows Mobile, noting that it will depend on factors such as what the devices look like and what features Sony Ericsson builds into them.