Microsoft Mobile Strategy – Clear as mud?

It would be of little surprise if I voiced my horrific experience of Windows mobile as I often cite it as a reason I will never have a Microsoft based phone again.  I think its safe to say that even the people who didn’t suffer it on a mobile device would have read the numerous complaints and bad press about it.  That was then, although it did take Steve Ballmer a considerable amount of time to finally be reported as saying:

Microsoft screwed up with Windows Mobile….

going on to say:

….This will not happen again.

You can read a report on that here although I cannot help but feel we have heard this all before.  “It will be better next time”?

That in itself wouldn’t be so bad, but forgetting some had to suffer the OS itself we also had the Microsoft Advocates telling us we had it all wrong (in the best of cases) and from the more dubious Microsoft faithful that we were merely liars and Microsoft haters.  I hoped that when Ballmer made the confession of sorts those Microsoft faithful would make an apology.  We didn’t get it of course, since they are far too busy doing the same thing with the latest product Microsoft is wanting to sell.  This is the issue here, whenever you see “zealot”, “hater” or similar, keep in mind that it could be because there is no counter argument and its merely an exercise in trying to deflect toxic comments away.  We saw it with Vista and we all know how that story played out.

I have often said that Microsoft is currently firing numerous projects in all directions, shooting in the dark if you will in the hope that it hits on success with one of them.  Look recently at the article I wrote on the Kin, and its the mobile strategy of Microsoft which I want to look at today.

Where are we today?

So we’ve moved on from Windows Mobile and today we are consuming Apple and Android based phones with a veracious demand, equalled only by the amount of applications developed for the platforms.  I think that the key to a successful mobile product it todays market is a diverse catalogue of 3rd party apps and (at least) perceived complete customization and personalization of the phone for the consumer.  Todays world seems to have (in many cases) the mobile phone being a creative expression of its owner, be it ringtones, wallpapers or anything else.  The article on the Kin posed the question that firstly a phone allegedly designed for a social generation seemed to lack some key features, but also to me the personalization of what was touted as being a “social phone” was not part of its feature.  The Kin also brought up the issue that it was another OS that Microsoft had developed for the market and it doesn’t appear to offer support for either the upcoming new Windows mobile platform nor the older version either.

The Microsoft product catalogue is now adding a another member (albeit in eventually two different versions), this time under the name Windows Embedded Handheld.  As is the way with Microsoft products, it’s not immediately clear what it is, what it does, who it is for or why, but as I’ve said many times in the past I think Microsoft believes if they can make something sound impressive people will believe it is, this was never more evident when we saw the early promotion of Windows 7, where we had some very fancy sounding names for what were essentially old features that already had 3rd party alternatives or in some cases already existed natively in Windows.

So back on topic Windows Embedded Handheld is Microsoft’s latest offering which is apparently designed for devices which could be such as shelf stacker’s in supermarkets to log stock.  Sound ok so far?  Well yes, lets forget about yet another mobile platform (to add to Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Mobile 7 , Kin’s OS and to a lesser extent the platform Zune runs on) and just consider that true to form with Microsoft, its not as straight forward as all that.

It’s reported that there will be two versions the first reported to be best thought of as an updated version of Windows Mobile 6.5 for business and then it will follow with a second later in the year which will be based from Windows Embedded Handheld 7.

Great stuff?, another two platforms and I expect people would be more confused if Microsoft merely had a simple release since clarity doesn’t seem to be the Microsoft way.  Just look towards the take-away style menu of Windows 7 or Microsoft’s office application?  Its this first “new” implementation of Windows Embedded Handheld going to be Microsoft’s last stab at getting some money out of Winmob 6.5 at the expense of the end user who may purchase it now?  To me that would see the case, although with the 2nd version coming later this year based on Windows Mobile 7 technology, you may find yourself a guinea pig on a brand spanking new Windows platform.  One only has to cast ones mind back a few years to Vista to remember how that felt.

Cnet are reporting that Microsoft will be offering a “migration path” (yep we remember those) but it still seems in the case of XP, users are not particularly keen on treading it since they don’t want to pay the troll who lives under the bridge for passage.  Cnet had this to say on the subject:

Microsoft has promised some “migration path” between the current Windows Mobile 6.5 and that software, but isn’t giving details.

Which should come as no surprise to anyone.

Ina Fried, a writer who I not only have much respect for but find her work very interesting goes on to say:

All of these different operating systems create a headache for Microsoft watchers and maybe for some businesses trying to figure out where to spend their time.

To which I add (as this comment was said in the context of business) its exactly the same for the home consumer, Microsoft does seem to love it’s complex menu of options for a single package.

The future of Microsoft on mobile devices

Of course in the meantime, we are awaiting this new Windows Mobile platform.  Although who the “we” is, is anyones guess as Apple and Android phones increase in popularity daily.  Regular readers of this site will remember me often saying (in respect of Microsoft) “too little too late”.  I said it when they tried to jump on the iPod fever with the Zune, I said it when they tried to have some of Google’s success with Bing.  I recently said it when they tried to “be cool with the kids” with the Kin and I am saying it now in respect of Microsoft’s entire strategy:

Microsoft, your mobile strategy is a mess.  You are throwing concepts/idea’s against established and respected brands, your reputation proceeds you and whilst you may have the funds to keep the ideas coming, it is your investors and your global reputation that will continue to suffer.

That’s just the opinions of (me) a writer in my small part of cyberspace, but since I am potentially a customer, isn’t it about time Microsoft starts getting a little direction to try to win back (and in an honest way) the consumer who is as disappointed as they are confused with Microsoft’s product range?  I am sure detractors would like to claim that I am a “hater” so I never intend to buy Microsoft products, so to them I would ask, please correct anything in this article you feel is wrong.  I would welcome such correction.

I could have it all wrong, if I have I would love to hear your views, but lets take a look at how the impending Windows Mobile is being seen by other potential consumers over here.

I think the fact that it’s even a question being asked is an indicator of how WM in general will be more or less overlooked by the consumer once there are all those versions to wade through…


I’m somewhat reserving judgmental on WP7 since there is very little known about it, but suffice to say not everyone is jumping up and down happily and waiting for this thing to come out. Sure, Microsoft finally gave us something after all these years and it looks half-decent to pretty, but for me personally, I can’t imagine how I could have been less underwhelmed by the announcement. There is nothing ‘Microsoft’ or even totally unique about WP7, it’s just a slight evolution of the social network OS paradigm we’ve seen before from the competition in the last two or three years.

or how about the writer of the article, who talks about Photon screenshots says:

As far as I can tell, they just look like WM6.5 with a new layer of paint on top….

But then anyone who read the numerous articles about Vista/7 will be no stranger to the allegation of “lipstick on a pig”.

Do Apple or providers of phones with Android have anything to worry about from Microsoft’s mobile offerings?  I don’t think so.  Want proof?  Find an ex-Windows Mobile user and ask them if they would consider going back.  Ask the person who is after an Android or the Apple customer.  Its hard to see how Microsoft will ever make an inroad here again and I find myself repeating….too little too late.  The question is, how much longer can Microsoft afford to “shoot in the dark” with the hope of striking on a product that the masses want?

What is Microsoft’s mobile devices strategy?

Goblin –

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the Openbytes statement, here.


27 thoughts on “Microsoft Mobile Strategy – Clear as mud?

  1. I don’t care what Ballmer chooses to rename his various failed versions of CE, Phone, ZunePhone, Embedded Bob, Mobile, or the MS phone os thingie. Ballmer may get away with all this confusion and renaming, as far as phone, where this is going come back and bite MS in on the ARM Smartbooks/Tablets being sold with some aweful version of CE on it with an interface made for a phone, and few apps/games designed for a pnone and not a computer. Whiile salesman Ballmer may thinks he put another one over on the consumer, what he does not know is how many more people will get mad and try to get back on MS. And making CE look like XP or Desktop 7, could put MS in another court battle.

    The confusion over the naming and the startegy, will hurt in the smartbook/tablet market. Another problem for CE users, is no upgrade path as of yet. And apps/games have to be rewritten/ported between most, if not all, versions of CE and their aliases.
    Microsoft’s mobile ambitions suffers from fragmentation overload

    Quote from the link: “To me, Microsoft’s mobile ambitions seem confused. Sure, there are a lot of cool products both already out of the door and on the way, but it’s hard to see how they come together as part of a strategy. It seems like Microsoft is throwing as many platforms as the wall as it can muster so it can see what sticks.
    For consumers, enterprise and developers, that approach sucks.”

  2. Epic Ballmer Failure

    The Rumor of only 500 Kin phones sold. Not sure I believe that, but since MS is not coming out and denying that, it stands to reason, that its a flop.
    Microsoft Kin One & Two Phones Sold To Date: 500?!

    Quote: “The Microsoft Kin One and Kin Two have not been the most popular of smartphones. As a matter of fact, calling them a smartphone was alone a far stretch. However Microsoft and Verizon managed to muck this up as well by pricing the smartphone on the higher side, making us wonder if any parents would consider purchasing one for their kids. Now, according to Business Insider, we may have been right as the website rumors only 500 Microsoft Kin One and Two handsets were sold. This is shocking as Verizon has close to 100 million subscribers. With the amount Microsoft spent on marketing both handsets, we would have expected the company to atleast ship a couple of thousand of these funny phones.”

  3. I agree. I certainly don’t think the cost of developing the Kin will be met by demand…infact I would expect those silly enough to buy one will be left with an obsolete and unknown product within a couple more months. Except for the people who have been talking about the Kin (the IT commentators, most of whom certainly don’t want one) no-one else seems to even know what a Kin is.

    And even if they did, as the other news outlets have commented, its a social networking phone which is lacking some essential features.

    I would say its a failure, but the people who suffer will be the investors since its another Microsoft shot in the dark….. Its ok for Ballmer, he will walk away from Microsoft a rich man.

  4. “Its ok for Ballmer, he will walk away from Microsoft a rich man.”

    Last figure I seen is ol sweaty is worth about 16 billion USD, most of it in MS Stock. Between him and Bill G, its hard for concerned stockholders to get someone in to replace him.

    However you look at it, Ballmer is the man in charge that needs to provide oversite on these projects. Ask why Robbie Bach stayed running XBox360 when MS had to pony up over a billion to replace the overheating problem consoles? Any company would have canned Bach on the spot for that, but not MS. Could it be tha Bach was not the guy that made the decision to release a product too soon without adequent testing? If it was Bill and or Steve, then that reasoning follows. Most likely they made that decision, and also decided to continue flooding the market with defective Xbox360’s instead of redesigning them with problem free devices.

    Bach did not get replaced (well, he says he quit, Allad too) until HP bought out Palm for WebOS (linux) and the Kin came out. One has to wonder where the ultimate responcibility for these failures lay.

    1. Yep, agreed. Though what my point was…… Why should he care? When/if he walks away, he will do so with (i’d expect) a rather large cash sum. If Ballmer is overseeing the mobile direction, maybe this is why it is shooting in the dark….its run by a man who will win whatever happens and the wreckage left behind when he walks away from Redmond will be no concern of his.

      Just an idea.


  5. Maybe there’s some small hope for Joe Wilcox yet. He seems to be slowly coming around to reality somewhat from his MS Watch days.
    By Joe Wilcox

    “This just isn’t my week for being right. On Tuesday there was confession: “I was wrong about Apple iPad.” Today, I make another: I was wrong about Microsoft’s CEO. Yesterday’s Windows Embedded Handheld announcement shattered my remaining confidence in Steve Ballmer. About three weeks ago, I asserted: “Steve Ballmer is the right man to turn around Microsoft mobile.” If yesterday’s announcement is indicative of Microsoft’s mobile strategy, then I was wrong. He isn’t the right man, and I must now question if he should even continue leading Microsoft.”

    Now if Joe Wilcox would only learn something about GNU/Linux so he would know how to blog on that, and not be afriad to use the “OpenOffice” word.

    1. As you know, I always liked Joe Wilcox…. I think its a big shame he left MS-Watch which was one of my favorite meeting places….

      Its where I met you and many others! – Great times!

      Kind regards

  6. Tim, you say you respect Ina Fried ??? Merciful Jeezus… That “Woman” once came to Brazil only to spread lies about our government program “Computador para Todos”(government subsidizes computers with Linux OS to the poor folks here) . She wrote everyone was buying computers with Linux to install pirated winblow$ XP versions in the computers. “She” is not reliable. Well, “she” is not even “she”, to begin with… 😉

    1. Respect yes, agree with her opinion…no…not always. If you read some of her posts I think she often is far from complimentary about Microsoft. Does she have an agenda? Maybe, but she is a very coherent writer and even if I don’t agree with her article, I enjoy reading it..

      I can’t comment on the Brazil incident, since I don’t know.

      Kind regards

  7. Microsoft is running a big risk with “Windows Phone 7”. They’ve slit the throat of all Windows Mobile legacy development, in effect, and forced an entirely new, and hitherto-unseen, environment on developers and users. Given the wide uptake, among both users and developers, of iPhones, and to a lesser extent, Android devices, it’s not at all clear to me that the new platform offers enough to really take off. Time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet in its favor as things stand now.

    1. Agreed,

      and in the case of users like me they are also facing bitter previous experiences.

      Regardless of if Mobile 7 is the greatest mobile platform or not, when I look at the battles it will have to fight in order to win “hearts and minds” I really cannot see that happening and I think maybe Microsoft missed the boat, just like with Bing and Zune.

      When one looks at Kinect one does have to wonder if conceptually their recently contributions are merely just adaptions of anothers sucessful innovation and unfortunately for them it just has worked out.

      Microsoft in my opinion killed off a product that not only had a cult following, but also was a shining example of a quality package (Flight Sim) maybe if Microsoft concentrated on making customers happy rather than just more bling upon bling with their products we might not see so many others taking their small piece of Microsoft pie.

      Kind regards

      1. Well, all I can say, is look just how well a completely parallel strategy worked out for Palm. I don’t believe the “Kin” phones have really taken off in any significant way, either (speaking as someone who spent an hour goggling at the literally-three-quarter-mile-long line of people waiting to (hopefully) get an iPhone 4; and those were the folks with reservations.)

  8. The Iphone has no doubt made a big impact on phones, and so will the version 4 as well. The impact that it has made is felt keenly at Redmond. But Android lurks and can even be a larger problem for companies like Microsoft in phones, and on smartbooks/tablets.

    MS might not be the only company feeling discomfort in the phone market. Rumor is, that Access Company, a cellphone software Limo maker which Lefty works for, is not happy with Google. Access is also pulling out of the Gnome Foundation since they raised their fees by twice. Is this a cost cutting measure on Access part? Is Access Limo cellphone version with the funky web browser in danger against the free Google Android? Will Access survive? Unlike MS, Access doesn’t have a couple of cash cows in reserve.

    1. “Brandon Lozza might not be the only person feeling discomfort in this discussion. Rumor has it that ‘Chips B. Malroy’ is not happy with it, since he doesn’t understand it, and nobody is willing to explain it to him. ‘Chips’ is abandoning even the slightest shred of an appearance of conducting an adult discussion. Is this because he has an unreasoning hatred for ACCESS? Is ‘Chips’ venom directed at Lefty, who regularly shows ‘Chips’ faulty reasoning and trollish tendencies? Will ‘Chips’ make sense? Unlike Lefty, ‘Chips’ doesn’t have two neurons to run together.”

      See how easy that is?

  9. I’m not sure where you get your information, “Chips” (and don’t push your luck with me, please: my politeness here is purely out of respect for Tim, since I actually have none whatsoever for you).

    In fact, back in March at MWC, ACCESS announced a version of our Netfront browser for Android as well as some other things for that platform. We’re a mobile software company, not a political party: we make software for platforms that get put into phones that people actually buy. We do it for Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Linux-based platforms, not to mention “feature phone” RTOS’s.

    Our leaving the Advisory Board was not a “cost-cutting” measure: we’re talking $20,000 for the membership and a company with $250 million in revenues.

    ACCESS has been a thriving concern for a quarter of a century, which may well be longer than you’ve been sentient. We expect to continue to be for (at least) another quarter of a century, which may be longer than you remain sentient.

    So please take your idle rumors and write a fiction book or something: don’t attempt to present them as facts here.

  10. Some folks might recall that, in response to my debating various points on, “Chips” here became so incensed that he posted contact information for my employer, and he was going to call up my manager and complain about me, in spite of the fact that my posting to that site was not in the least bit work-related. When I called him on this behavior, the extremely peculiar form of back-pedaling he settled on was to mumble that he hadn’t really intended to call himself, but was hoping that someone else would do it.

    “Chips” is a harasser, and a thoroughly cowardly one, to boot.

  11. LOL. It doesn’t take much to set off Lefty does it. But then it seems that Access has fallen on hard times, so maybe that understandable.

    Be careful of your new friend here. Wish you the best.

    1. Well, thanks for dodging the responses, “Chips”, after having raised the questions. Thanks as well for the admission of your obvious trolling.

      Once a coward, always a coward. If you’re incapable of contributing to the conversation in an adult fashion, why don’t you go play in traffic or something? G’wan. Get lost.

    2. I don’t know how to answer that and all ill say is I take as I find and am careful of any online friends and that’s something that everyone should be doing anyway.


      1. I think one can come to a bit of an assessment by noting that “Chips” is too cowardly to actually engage me on his various “claims” here, but runs right over to Roy’s IRC channel where he can talk smack without the inconvenience of anyone taking issue with him.

        Tim, as I say, people who imagine “enemies” will start to see them everywhere. I predict that folks like Roy and “Chips” here will begin viewing you with greater suspicion (in fact, from the IRC channel, it seems as if Roy already has begun) for the “sin” of not having fallen into lockstep hatred of me along with them.

        One thing folks like “Chips”, Roy and Brandon Lozza demand is complete conformance with their views. Say a positive word about Apple, Microsoft or “Lefty”, and you become an “enemy”, too, and with surprising speed.

        It’s a little cult-like, really. “There is no OS but GNU/Linux and Stallman is its Prophet!”

    1. Lol, yep..
      I’m writing a summary article encompassing more of Microsoft innovation and then subsequent failure.

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