Windows Mobile on Life Support, Drops Behind iPhone

The iPhone has leapfrogged Windows Mobile to jump into the number two position for smartphone platforms in the United States. That news could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back for the floundering Windows Mobile operating system.

The latest ComScore report shows that Windows Mobile market share is stagnant for the year. After climbing to 7 million users in May, Windows Mobile market share dropped precipitously to 6.6 million in July, then scratched its way back to 7.1 million in October--most likely due to the release of Windows Mobile 6.5

Contrast Microsoft's struggling numbers with the fact that the iPhone's market share has gone consistently up, an increase of more than 50 percent from where it was in May, and that the dominant player, BlackBerry, has also climbed nearly 20 percent since May and the trend line does not favor Microsoft in the least.

Windows Mobile 6.5 breathed a little life into the Windows Mobile platform, but it was hastily tossed together as a stopgap for the real heir to the Windows Mobile throne--Windows Mobile 7. Windows 7 was supposed to be the big release of 2009, but repeated delays forced Microsoft to release Windows Mobile 6.5 to give handset vendors and consumers something to stay excited about.

Speaking purely for myself, I can say the life support didn't work. I have seriously considered the HTC Pure, a Windows Mobile 6.5 device, but I have held off because Windows 7 is supposed to be coming soon and I don't want to be locked into a two-year agreement with a Windows Mobile 6.5 device when it does.

Now, reports claim that Windows Mobile 7 is delayed further--possibly to the end of 2010. That could be the nail in Windows Mobile's coffin. Another year of stagnant market share will see BlackBerry and iPhone leave Windows Mobile in the dust, and Android will be threatening to knock it out of third place.

The iPhone will struggle for enterprise adoption until or unless Apple releases some control and creates some sort of iPhone Enterprise Server to rival the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and allow businesses to manage and monitor the platform internally.

Android--with devices like the Droid, Droid Eris, and rumored Nexus One--could fill that void, though. Being an open source platform, Android provides a mix of the bells and whistles that make the iPhone popular, a large and growing stable of apps, and the ability to develop tools that make it enterprise friendly. Both Windows Mobile and BlackBerry have reason to keep an eye on Android.

By the time Windows Mobile 7 gets here, the market will have moved on. Users will be locked in to service contracts for alternate smartphones, and will be heavily invested in those platforms by purchasing apps to go with them. Businesses will have chosen a platform and built an infrastructure and policies and procedures around it and will be reluctant to transition to something new.

Phil Moore, UK head of mobility at Microsoft, told Network World that Windows Mobile 7 is pushed back to late 2010. He tempered the bad news with some highlights of what to expect, saying "You're going to see a lot more on Windows Mobile 7. Giving the enterprise users and consumers what they want will be part of Windows Mobile 7. You'll get flexibility on a much easier touch UI."

Microsoft will face a steep, uphill battle just to maintain third place in the smartphone market--assuming it can hold on to third place that long. Microsoft should think carefully about the balance between getting it right and getting it out. Even if Windows Mobile 7 is the greatest mobile operating system ever developed, it may be too little, too late by the end of 2010.

Tony Bradley tweets as @PCSecurityNews, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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