2009: The Year Ahead – Mobile

iphone Lots of changes in mobile in the past year, unfortunately not many of them related to Microsoft.  Yes, Windows Live for Mobile offers some real advantages for Windows Mobile phones, but the iPhone turned the mobile world on its head.  In fact just about everyone but Microsoft has made significant advances in the mobile space in the past year.  Apple has the iPhone, Google jumped in to the fray with Android and the G1, Blackberry is keeping pace with the Storm, and even Palm is prepared to get back in the came with the Nova.

skyfire_startup_3 What we know about Microsoft’s mobile offerings coming up aren’t inspiring.  A mobile browser, yes, but based on IE6, which is sure to drive early adopters away in droves.  IE6 is hated among the tech-savvy crowd, and their vociferous disdain has had a big impact on IE’s steady drain of market share, down at last count to less than 70%.  In fact, a post today on the Windows Mobile team blog, while playing up the 3rd party opportunities for Windows Mobile, pointedly shows the lack of a Microsoft mobile browser solution, and Robert McLaws has gone so far as to boycott IE Mobile, switching instead to Opera.  Windows Mobile 7 has been delayed and probably won’t make an appearance this year, and a pig-with-lipstick interim version, 6.5, probably won’t do much more than draw yawns and drive more share to the iPhone.  Microsoft seemingly made a bet on keeping the corporate market while Apple went after a small and not so lucrative consumer market.  They weren’t counting on a game changer like the iPhone, especially when it’s quickly gaining ground in the corporate world.  Mary Jo Foley, in a recent article for RedmondMag.com, quoted an IT contact as saying Windows Mobile is becoming the "Vista of the mobile world".  As she says, ouch.

zunelogo However news isn’t all bad, and hints of a mobile version of the underused but really quite good Zune software may be coming sooner rather than later.  Couple that with wider adoption of Live Mesh for Mobile, which really could be a game changer for mobile picture taking (it has certainly changed the way I think about a camera in my phone), and Microsoft’s cool factor in the mobile market could creep up a bit.  In fact, Microsoft’s best bet seems to be a “sum is greater than the parts” play, with Live Mesh tying Zune, Mobile, Xbox, and Windows Live all together.

So what to expect?  Not enough to change the game back in Microsoft’s favor, from the looks of it.  We could be wowed by Zune Mobile, but let’s be real – between iPhone + iTunes and Zune Mobile + Windows Mobile, it’s not even a contest.  In this economy people are going to use what they have, and that’s iPod.  More promising is Live Mesh Mobile, which if it starts to blur the lines between Apple and Windows, syncing up devices no matter what they are, we may yet see some light far down the tunnel.  But an underwhelming point release of Windows Mobile, a sad excuse for a browser (that will only work on new phones, at that), and a stick in the mud attitude about competing in an upended mobile world just ain’t going to cut it, this year.  We’d love to be proven wrong, though, and we’ll be paying close attention, starting with Steve Ballmer’s keynote at CES.  (Watch the keynote live 6:30pm pst Wed Jan 7 100k 300k 750k (thanks, Long!!))