Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/18/microsoft_mobile_irrelevancy/

Finger crossing won't lure iPhone coders to Windows Mobile

Microsoft's miscalculation compounded

By Rik Myslewski

Posted in Developer, 18th August 2009 20:59 GMT

Apple will sell more than 82 million iPhones in 2012, teaming up with RIM and Palm in an industry that will ship 500 million plus smartphones that year and leave Microsoft out in the cold.

The trio will forge a "new world order" as smart phones become the next wave in computing according to a research report from RBC Capital Markets. RBC's report and latest numbers revised the companies' project shipments upwards.

Duly alerted, investors drove up the stock prices of each of the three companies, delighting execs in Cupertino, Waterloo, and Sunnyvale.

We can only imagine that the mood was not as upbeat in Redmond, where Microsoft continues its long, slow sag into smartphone irrelevance.

And Microsoft has brought their mobile troubles upon themselves through poor analysis and even poorer planning.

Steve Ballmer famously derided the iPhone when it was first released, telling USA Today: "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share."

He was wrong.

In an equally famous CNBC-TV interview that has garnered over 2.3 million views on YouTube, Ballmer laughingly dismissed the iPhone.

Wrong again.

Today, Windows Mobile continues to lose market share, with no real relief expected until Windows 7 Mobile appears next spring. But in that same CNBC-TV video, Balmer says about Windows Mobile: "I like our strategy, I like it a lot."

Three strikes, Steve.

Today, Microsoft has a two-pronged mobile strategy - and both involve crossing one's fingers. First, they have Windows Mobile 6.5 and the Windows Mobile Marketplace set for a fall release. However, 6.5 won't be a fully touch-based interface, which has become the de facto smartphone standard in the consumer market, and which is rapidly becoming accepted by business users.

And there's no way on God's green earth that the Marketplace will even approach the success of Apple's App Store, which surpassed 1.5 billion downloads last month, driven in large part because the iPhone is an enjoyable consumer experience. Say what you will in favor of Windows Mobile, but "fun" will not likely be part of your description.

Microsoft's second finger-crossing strategy is its attempt to lure iPhone developers into the Windows Mobile camp. Unfortunately, developing for the iPhone and developing for Windows Mobile 6.5 are two quite different animals.

Prolific competition, diverse platforms

Don't expect any mass migration of iPhone developers to Windows Mobile - at least not unless Apple continues to make their App Store experiences painful for developers, or unless Windows Mobile 7 turns out to be a dream to code for. But there are indications that Apple is learning to play nice with developers, and the jury is still out on Windows Mobile 7's environment.

Also, Microsoft has competition in its wooing of iPhone developers. Palm, for example, began accepting candidates on Tuesday for the beta version its webOS Catalog - the company's analogy to the App Store - that it plans to launch later this year.

Devotees of Google's Android are also attempting to attract disaffected iPhone coders, and with some success. Some developers, however, who left the Apple fold have returned, citing disappointment with the platform.

Even Sony is tryling to entice iPhone developers to create apps for its PSPgo, scheduled for release this fall.

To attract enough iPhone developers to Windows Mobile to help juice its sagging influence, Microsoft needs not only to give them a better platform to code upon and overcome the lure of other platforms, it needs to insprire confidence that it's a vital, expanding company.

But it isn't.

Microsoft may still be the 800-pound gorilla of what used to be called "personal computing," but its influence is shrinking. Slowly, to be sure, but the trend lines are unmistakeable.

Global PC market share numbers are devilishly difficult to calculate. One moderately well-accepted source, for example, is Net Applications, which bases its calculations on browser usage. But even their numbers are soft, and vary according to the methododolgy they use.

Using their latest methodology, Country Level Weighting, Net Applications shows Windows to be drifting slowly downward, from 94.88 per cent last September to 93.04 this July. Mac OS X, on the other hand, is rising slowly upward, from 3.73 per cent to 4.86. Linux is rising as well, from 0.86 per cent to 1.05.

These numbers, by the way, are heavily influenced by emerging markets such as India, China, and Brazil. Windows has far more - and faster growing - competition in the US, for example.

Imperial destiny

Net Applications' market share numbers for browsers are arguably more reliable. And the news isn't good for Microsoft here, either. Internet Explorer usage has sunk from 74.18 per cent in September of last year to 67.68 this July. During the same period, Firefox rose from 19.07 per cent to 22.47, and Safari from 2.82 per cent to 4.07.

All empires grow, peak, and then decline. Windows 7 or no Windows 7, Microsoft is in phase three.

The days of the desktop are winding down. Content-creation and business productivity are moving to laptops, where Microsoft still retains a significant advantage. But content consumption and business communication are moving to smartphones, where it does not. And smartphones are becoming more powerful computing platforms with each silicon generation.

And Microsoft is behind the curve. How far? Well, last week their big news was that they were going to release an Objective-C wrapper that'd allow developers to easily slip Bing search results into apps. iPhone apps, that is. ®