Microsoft‘s Windows Mobile 6.5, the newest version of its smartphone operating system released on Oct. 6, is the company’s attempt to start afresh in the mobile space, according to a Microsoft executive.
Windows Mobile 6.5 represents “a restart of our efforts in the mobile space and a continuation of the work we’ve done in the past, with new capability delivered in a much more frequent way,” Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Windows Mobile, said in an interview with eWEEK. “It’s the right time to take a look at the brand, the new capability that we built in and the new business experience.”
Click here for more information on Windows Mobile 6.5’s full capabilities.
Microsoft has spent the past few months heavily promoting the release of Mobile 6.5, attempting to reverse a trend that has seen Microsoft’s mobile operating system market share decline to 9 percent in the second quarter of 2009, according to an estimate by research firm Gartner. There has also been pressure for Microsoft to provide the same sort of functionality and mobile applications offered by its competitors, the most robust of which include Research In Motion’s BlackBerry line, the Apple iPhone and the Palm Pre.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking to a crowd of investors at the Venture Capital Summit on Sept. 24, allegedly suggested that Redmond had “screwed up” with regard to its Mobile strategy.
In his eWEEK interview, Sullivan defended the unit’s marketplace performance. “There are tens of millions of phones that run our software. People underestimate the reach of Windows Mobile because it doesn’t coalesce around one phone, but we have a lot more phones on the market than people realize.”
Part of the company’s attempt at a comeback revolves around launching Mobile 6.5 on a variety of smartphones, including ones by HTC and Sony Ericsson, three by LG Electronics, and two HTC devices offered by AT&T. Some 13 Windows phones are expected to make their debut by the end of 2010.
There has also been a giant push within Microsoft to create a mobile application ecosystem for Windows Marketplace, Microsoft’s competitor to Apple’s App Store. During the summer, executives suggested they wanted 600 apps available through the Marketplace on Oct. 6, although Sullivan declined to say whether the company had met that mark.
In order to encourage developers to design applications for the Marketplace, Microsoft has encouraged them to price their mobile applications at a higher price point than 99 cents, a very common price on Apple’s App Store. That strategy will also place the Marketplace in more direct competition with RIM’s BlackBerry App World, which tends to price its mobile applications at a more premium price of $2.99 and above.
“We would definitely want to promote that you make more money selling applications than selling your application in a dollar store,” Loke Uei, senior technical product manager for Microsoft’s Mobile Developer Experience Team, told mobile application developers in Redmond, Wash., on Aug. 19. “But 99 cents, come on, I think your app is worth more than that.”
Mobile 6.5 will supposedly boast improved touch capabilities, for easier navigation of those applications via taps, swipes and finger flicks. In addition, it will include a new version of Internet Explorer Mobile, which can render Web pages on a smartphone in a richer desktop-style manner.
Microsofts Larger Ecosystem Strategy
Sullivan asserts that Mobile 6.5 plays into Microsoft’s larger ecosystem strategy.
“It’s a nod to the broader platform strategy with Windows in general, where we think about the services we deliver as not about the PC or the phone, but about the three screens and the cloud,” Sullivan said. “It’s really the beginning of these notions that the phone is elevated to peer status on the broader platform level along with the PC and the Web, and to some degree with the TV through Xbox.”
Because of that perspective, Microsoft is at least publicly unconcerned about the porting of its mobile functionality onto competing mobile operating systems. In August, Microsoft and Nokia jointly announced a deal that will make the mobile version of Microsoft Office available on Symbian, Nokia’s mobile operating system. Analysts asked by eWEEK at the time suggested that the move could potentially harm Mobile’s market share potential in the long term.
“I don’t think the news necessarily hurts OEMs who have historically produced [Windows Mobile] devices, except that they can now expect stronger competition from Nokia,” Chris Schreck, an analyst with IMS Research, told eWEEK in an interview. “If an OEM was wondering what platforms to support five years from now, the argument for continuing to pay royalties to license Windows Mobile just got a little bit weaker.”
That’s not the case, according to Sullivan, who says the porting of Microsoft programs onto other mobile operating systems is similar to the presence of Microsoft Office for Mac.
“We think about this long term, and the ability for people to build on an open platform,” Sullivan said. “We don’t rely on platform exclusivity and lock-in. You could make the argument that platform exclusivity arrangements have benefits, but we look a little longer term.”
Microsoft is already planning to debut the next version of the operating system, Mobile 7, by the end of 2010.