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…

or

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 – bytes4free@googlemail.com

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