Yeap. It’s an honest-to-god column. My current life/schedual doesn’t allow me time to do proper news reporting, so I reasoned the best way I could contribute to this site was by setting down my crazy thoughts on the mobile tech world. Oh, and apologies for the terrible image. And the fact that I appear to have seriously overused the poor innocent semicolon. It’s almost a crime against English.
Windows Mobile is losing marketshare. That’s just a fact. The smartphone market is getting more cluttered than ever; Microsoft, RIM, Palm and Nokia (the old, previously powerful companies who defined the market) are losing out to shiney new OSs and devices from Google and Apple. Windows Mobile has always never really been “cool”; Apple, on the other hand, have a pedigree of making devices which appeal to the “Starbucks” crowd, PCs and PMPs which were shiny and easy to use. Google, on the other hand, are a household name, widely know as the company that does no evil, that doesn’t charge the end user and yet manages to be constantly innovating and improving.
The iPhone OS, for all its good points, can’t stand against WinMo in certain areas; open application use, customisability, multitasking. But Android can, and Android is developing far faster than Windows Mobile. The market is moving, and Windows Mobile is being left behind.
As much as I like Windows Mobile, its got its flaws; dated UI, bad default browser… you know the list. It doesn’t sound good. I’d argue it’s still a definite player in terms of the corporate market (along with RIM), but the problem with this is that the corporate market of today is ageing. The next generation of smartphone users are today’s youth; a demographic I am a member of. And Microsoft have practically no mindshare within the youth of today; or rather, they don’t when it comes to mobile devices. Everyone knows Windows, but in my experience almost nobody has heard of Windows Mobile. On the other hand, pretty much everyone knows Android, either by name or because they’ve heard of “Google phones”
Take my school as an example of a mainly middle-class public school. Being a phone enthusiast, I tend to notice what people are using, and I’ve noticed an increase in the number of smartphones. To take the elephant in the room first, there’s six or seven iPhones that I know of; One first generation, and five or six 3Gs or 3GSs (It’s externally impossible to tell them apart). There’s also one Palm Pre, a single N97, and a number of Blackberries, mostly recent Bolds. But as to Windows Mobile and Android… aside from my own Touch Pro2, I think the only Windows Mobile device is a TyTN II recently bought by one of my year (A surprising choice, considering its age. I used to own one myself). Android is much more strongly represented; Three G1s and two HTC Heros. You also notice a difference in the mindset of the users; the Android and iPhone owners are far more likely to wax lyrical about the benefits of their chosen OS. There’s also greater hype around Android; several people came up to me and mentioned the Nexus One, mentioning its (admittedly impressive) spec sheet. I started trying to tell people that it was just the HD2 with a smaller/AMOLED screen… and of course nobody had heard of the HD2. Android is stealing WinMo’s marketshare because it has Google behind it, and it’s seen as cooler. The iPhone is doing the same, for much the same reasons but also because it’s considered so much easier to use. As much as a lot of the hype around the iPhone is just exactly that, hype, its certainly knocked the rest of the market for hype.
Google have used their stranglehold on the search market to hype up their other projects; visiting YouTube or Google in anything but Chrome results in a message telling you to get Chrome. As much as Microsoft tries to advertise Bing! in Windows Live Messenger (Which EVERYONE still calls MSN, no matter how much Microsoft tries to rebrand it), they’re ultimately failed to create a strong brand for Windows Mobile, although there has been recent moves in that direction. Android started differently; a coordinated advertising campaign from HTC, T-Mobile and Google immediately got Android, and the concept of a Google Phone, into the public mind. On the other hand, Android has now become spread out across various handset manufacturers, multiple UIs (MotoBlur, HTC SenseUI) and even other devices like PMPs and microwaves. This is not in itself a bad thing, as it means Android is getting far more attention from handset manufacturers, mainly because of the way they can use it however they like; Motorola alone are suggesting they’ll be making up to thirty Android phones this year alone. Google seem to have realised that becoming spread out can have negative consequences, especially when you’re getting no revenue from it at all, and are making another push for brand awareness with the Nexus One; the height of what Android is capable of that his point, on some of the best hardware around. This is really what Microsoft should be doing; getting powerful devices like the HD2 and really pushing them, using the entire weight of Microsoft’s marketing machine.
Apple have used their iTunes ecosystem to push the iPhone; applications, music and media shared across devices, making use of the full weight of iTunes and the iPod brand. Google have also done this to a lesser extent, focussing on Gmail integration and contacts and documents shared across devices. WebOS is also designed from the ground up to pull your contacts from multiple sources. This is another area Microsoft have missed a trick in. They already have a near-complete monopoly on the PC market, and a huge share in the games console market. Windows Mobile could easily support over the air syncing and integration to a much greater level than it does now. Exchange is all very well, but in an ideal world my devices should just work together, especially if they’re running software made by the same company, and Microsoft are uniquely placed to offer that to most of the world; what if every one of your Windows devices simply shared its information automatically? What if your PC could remind you of your missed calls, your phone alert you when your PC software installation or download had finished. What if the emails you read were then marked as read, but still present, on all of your devices?
Mobile gaming is another area Microsoft has fallen behind in. Apple have been making use progress into this market, and Microsoft haven’t really done anything. They already have over 39 million Xbox 360 owners, a little more than half of which are using Live. Why aren’t Microsoft making a serious effort to push cross-platform gaming and communication, especially when many Arcade titles could quite easily have mobile variants? That’s a feature that could seriously give Windows Mobile a boost among young people.
Windows 7 was a dramatic shift by Microsoft; the advertising has changed, and the focus of the OS has changed, making up for the ultimate letdown that was Vista. This is precisely what Microsoft need to be doing with Windows Mobile 7; make Windows cool again, stop people complaining. The iPhone OS is seen as a stripped-down version of OSX, and that’s a huge marketing boost. Make Windows Mobile 7 related to Windows 7 in more than just name. There needs to be UI elements shared across them, they need to work similarly and be very obviously related. That’s the only way Microsoft are going to stop the constant bleed of users towards Android.