The view from the top of IT with TechWorld Editor Rohan Pearce
As I’ve discussed previously, Microsoft has an up hill battle to gain market share in the mobile operating system space with the iPhone and Android well and truly out the door. But if this week’s announcements are anything to go by, it’s prepared to muscle in anyway. What’s interesting about mobile Windows is how the market shifted away from Microsoft so rapidly.
Sure the mobile space is a fast-moving industry, but Microsoft was already at the forefront of smartphone operating system development when out of nowhere the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and, to a lesser extent, Symbian drove it into obscurity, prompting a paradigm shift with Windows Phone 7.
Even Microsoft’s long-time mobile OEM partner HP decided to go it alone and acquire Palm for its webOS technology.
It’s totally unlike Microsoft to be in a leading position and drop the ball the way it did. So what went wrong?
There’s not doubt the main reason lies in improved usability and the rich computing experience offered by the modern smartphones.
Windows Mobile was certainly more feature rich than many of its contemporaries, but it was an attempt to shoehorn the Windows experience onto a mobile device.
What mobile devices needed was a new way of thinking about user interfaces and iOS and Android provided that.
Then there’s the apps and content side. The popular smartphones made it easy to download applications and content to satisfy many more use cases than previously afforded by a phone.
Windows Phone 7 puts Microsoft back in the game, but the question remains whether it can rise to prominence in a market increasingly fractured by competing developments.
Don’t forget there’s webOS, MeeGo and a revitalised Symbian all looking to get into the roaring smartphone market behind iOS and Android.
If you consider Phone 7, webOS and MeeGo to all be at the same starting point, their relative success will depend on two main factors – how much adoption there is by handset makers and what content ecosystems they develop.
Sure Microsoft has the muscle and the market share to achieve both, but it’s also competing with open source alternatives, one of which has a million-mile head start.
In the case of MeeGo, at least two OEMs – Nokia and Intel – will be getting it out on their devices and work is already underway on an app store.
As always, Microsoft has its PC market advantage which shouldn’t be underestimated.
Both the iPhone and Android require third-party software for synchronisation and device management, so Microsoft will no doubt look to make working with a Phone 7 device on Windows 7 a breeze for non-technical consumers.
In that sense Phone 7 has more of an advantage over Android than the iPhone. Android’s advantage is it’s a dream for handset makers.
I won’t do many more speculating as to how Microsoft might claw its way back into the smartphone market. All I’ll say is the market is going great guns and there is room for another big player.
Whether there’s enough room for another OS to grow to the size of the two leaders remains the question.