Monday, January 18, 2010

Reviving Windows Mobile: A Bigger Challenge Than Most People Think

Big companies fail at competitive analysis by making the challenges they face fit the framework of a normal project. Reviving Window Mobile is anything but a normal project. iPhone dominates the new generation of smartphones and Android has knocked Windows Mobile aside at many the top tier OEMs. Windows CE is not competitive with Linux as a mobile embedded OS, and the Window Mobile userland is stuck in the C++ era, despite having the C#/NETCF runtime available for years before Android was even an idea.

Colin Gibbs at GigaOm set out to list the ways Windows Mobile could get back in the game: But, for the reasons I listed above, it's going to take a lot more that . Let's look at the suggestions in the GigaOm article and see just how much more:

Make Windows Mobile free to manufacturers
Right off, we know this isn't enough. Google is giving carriers a slice of search revenue. Bing doesn't have enough revenue to share. Microsoft has to come up with a strategy to bring superior value to the carrier and OEM partners. Gibbs also says “Making WinMo free — but not open source...” But that isn't going to cut it with developers. There is no reason not to make Windows Mobile open source.

Acquire (or adopt) another operating system and ditch WinMo
Like Xerox, Bell Labs, IBM and other companies well-stocked with very smart people, but chronically unable to commercialize their output, Microsoft has more operating systems in their labs than it knows what to do with. More focus, and making the product management side of the business more compatible with the research groups would make some of those operating systems productizable. But if they start today, it will take two years to bring such a product to market. Microsoft better have a plan for the Windows Mobile kernel well under way or they won't have a result in a commercially relevant time.

Build a top-notch app store designed for business users
This will only make a difference if the apps are all C# apps for an upgraded runtime. And even such a remarkable change in the userland won't matter if Microsoft keeps the price of Visual Studio at $799 for mobile application developers. For that kind of money, buying a Mac to make iPhone software no longer seems like such a big hurdle. And the price to get into Android software development is $0.00.

Make Windows Mobile 7.0 a worthy competitor with a focus on the enterprise
That's a good suggestion, but it's a small suggestion. Better to aim at clearly identifiable value for the enterprise user: A secure connection to Office Communications Server, including for IP voice. A VPN in every handset. Data and voice security are serious, high-value issues. Microsoft can, and must in order to demonstrate high and unique value in Windows Mobile, make a big move in mobile data and voice security and in enterprise communications integration.

As Colin Gibbs says in the GigaOm article: “As we’ve said before, it may simply be too late for Windows Mobile to re-emerge as anything but a niche play for a small number of business users.” And that's what will happen if Microsoft views this as a normal project in a normal competitive environment. This isn't a new version of SQL Server. This determines whether Microsoft is in or out of mobile.

In addition to the above, Microsoft should be doing more:

Make the userland pure C#
Ditch the legacy applications. They don't matter. Google and Apple started from zero with applications. You can too. And in the end you will have to.

Use the power of OCS
Office Communications Server is revolutionizing corporate messaging and voice communication. Put it in every mobile handset. Provide a SAAS version for smaller businesses.

Don't let Apple take the handheld games business without a fight
You have in-house titles nobody but Sony can compare with. Why aren't these on your phones? Might I suggest Mobile Halo Wars?

Zune for media
Cannibalize Zune to add value in mobile. Every phone should be as good as Zune at playing media.

Buy Opera
If you can't make a better browser than Opera, buy Opera.

Don't complain about how much it will cost
How much did you spend on Danger? No excuses.

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