Windows Mobile Losing Ground as Competitors Grow
Is the end in sight for Windows Mobile? A number of recent surveys show that market penetration for Microsoft’s mobile platform is stagnant, even as support for Apple’s iPhone, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, and mobile devices based on Google’s Android are growing by leaps and bounds.
New numbers from comScore show precious little interest in Windows Mobile. The platform had seven million users in May, 6.6 million in July, and 7.1 million in October. Those numbers compare unfavorably with the iPhone, up 50 percent since May, and market leader RIM, up 20 percent. Android, while still a small player, is up nearly 30 percent.
“Windows Mobile has not captured the imagination of the public and people are not buying those phones,” Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research, said in a telephone interview. “The attention is not on Windows Mobile — it has been crowded out in the press and the public mind.”
Waiting … and Waiting on Mobile 7
In the smartphone business, excitement is a key part of marketing success. The market has dramatically shifted since the introduction of the iPhone. Mobile operating systems used to create a level playing field — with manufacturers delivering hardware enhancements on top of platforms like Windows Mobile.
Now the market is controlled by companies like Apple and RIM who control both the OS and the hardware. And with the iPhone and Android supporting a rich ecosystem of third-party development, the ground has shifted again.
Microsoft may be counting on the release of Windows Mobile 7 to make a difference, but it’s still an open question about when consumers will be able to buy Mobile 7 phones. “There is no question that Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform is way behind their competitors and they need to do a lot of work if they are to catch up,” Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with Creative Strategies, said in an e-mail.
“It appears that Microsoft is putting a lot of energy behind Windows Mobile 7 and plans to make it the cornerstone of a new thrust in the mobile handheld market,” Bajarin said. “But given the competition, even if they get it to market in 2010 they will face the strongest competition they have ever encountered and will need to put an enormous amount of marketing and energy behind this platform if Microsoft wants to be a serious player in this market in the future.”
That competition clearly includes Google’s Android platform. With Apple and RIM sporting their own proprietary operating systems, Android is positioned in exactly the same space as Windows Mobile — a general mobile operating system that many manufacturers can deploy and differentiate. That means Microsoft faces a serious risk that manufacturers will jump ship to Android.
The success of Motorola’s Android-powered Droid smartphone, offered exclusively by Verizon Wireless, sharpens the software giant’s dilemma. Microsoft desperately needs a partner to deliver a “really good product” on the platform, “and there needs to be a massive marketing campaign,” Sterling said. “One gets the sense that the public is not interested and OEMs are not seeing the demand from the public or innovation from Microsoft.”
Motorola has already walked away from the Windows Mobile platform, and it’s possible other handset makers may follow.
With the momentum firmly in the Apple-Android-RIM camp, Palm is also facing a dark future, Sterling said. “Palm is emerging as a takeover target, but it will be hard for Microsoft or Nokia to admit their current strategies have failed,” Sterling said.
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