Microsoft's Windows Mobile Share Dropped at End of 2009

Microsoft saw its share of the U.S. mobile OS market dip slightly between September and December 2009, to 18 percent, even as it launched Windows Mobile 6.5 in an attempt to stop its mobile market erosion. Microsoft has already begun incremental updates to Mobile 6.5, but the next big date to watch for is Feb. 15, when the company makes an announcement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that could be the rollout of Windows Mobile 7. One of Microsoft's main smartphone OS rivals, Research In Motion, also experienced a slight dip during that three-month period ending 2009.

Microsoft saw its share of the U.S. mobile operating-system market fall slightly between September and December 2009, the period during which the company launched its Windows Mobile 6.5 update in an attempt to slow or halt its market share declines.

According to ComScore's Feb. 8 report, Microsoft's share of the U.S. mobile operating-system market declined exactly 1 point, from 19 percent to 18 percent, between September and December 2009. Research In Motion also experienced a 1-point drop, albeit from 42.6 to 41.6 percent, and Palm suffered a 2.2-point drop from 8.3 percent to 6.1 percent.

By contrast, Apple gained 1.2 points during that period, claiming an estimated 25.3 percent market share, while Google climbed 2.7 points to reach 5.2 percent of the market.

Microsoft attempted to position Windows Mobile 6.5 as a chance to begin anew in the smartphone OS space, where it had seen its longer-term market share decline in the face of stiff competition from the likes of Apple, RIM and other competitors. "It's the right time to take a look at the brand, the new capability that we built in and the new business experience," Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Windows Mobile, said in an interview with eWEEK on the eve of the operating system version's release.

Windows Mobile 6.5, Sullivan added at the time, 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."

Microsoft's overall strategy centered on releasing Mobile 6.5 on a variety of smartphones, including ones by HTC, Sony Ericsson and LG Electronics. Microsoft also pushed to create a mobile application ecosystem for Windows Marketplace, designed as a competitor to Apple's App Store. While Microsoft executives had dangled the hope that third-party developers could build enough programs for its storefront to launch with 600 apps in place, Marketplace ended up launching in October with some 246 applications from more than 753 ISVs (independent software vendors).

When contacted by eWEEK on Feb. 4 and asked how many applications are currently in the Marketplace, a Microsoft spokesperson responded: "In November we announced over 800 applications in Windows Marketplace for Mobile, more than three times the number we offered when Marketplace launched just a month before."

In addition, the spokesperson added, "We've estimated that there are around 20,000 applications available for the Windows Mobile 6x platform, although it's important to note that Windows Marketplace for Mobile is not meant to aggregate all available mobile applications."

That spokesperson declined to offer the number of applications in the Marketplace as of February, saying, "We don't release the exact numbers for applications because it changes all the time." Counted by hand on Feb. 9, the Windows Marketplace for Mobile Website listed 718 mobile applications, in 14 categories, for U.S.-based Mobile 6.x smartphones. A pulldown menu on that Website gives access to mobile-application pages for other countries and their native languages, including Italy and Korea; a number of those countries, however, have only a small handful of programs listed, suggesting that the worldwide total of Mobile 6.x applications is not exponentially higher than that of the United States.

By contrast, Apple's App Store expanded to more than 100,000 apps in 2009, with research firm IDC predicting in a Dec. 3 research note that the storefront will expand to around 300,000 apps by the end of 2010. That note also predicted that Google Android's apps could expand "by a factor of five or more" over the next 12 months.

Microsoft is planning a major smartphone-related rollout at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress on Feb. 15; general online consensus seems to be that Microsoft will either introduce a totally new Mobile 7 or a largely revamped version of Mobile 6.5.

Minor updates to Mobile 6.5 are already circulating in the wild, with the Feb. 2 debut of the Sony Ericsson Aspen running Windows Mobile 6.5.3, a version with tweaks including capacitive touch-screen support, a horizontal scroll bar in place of tabs, touch support for legacy applications and a platform for enabling multitouch.

If Microsoft does choose to announce Mobile 7 on Feb. 15, for a rollout either later in 2010 or early 2011, then questions may arise over the company's road map for supporting multiple operating systems running on a variety of devices.