Who could have predicted that the mighty brick of a phone shoved into cars so many years ago would not only develop into an almost essential day-to-day device, but also cover such a diverse range of tasks – from “traditional” to just about everything else that can be performed on your desktop. Phone calls have become a rather secondary feature to the mobile phone which now seems to handle every aspect of your personal/work life.
So lets look at PhoneWars 2010. I successfully predicted the flop of Microsoft’s Kin, championed the now hideously popular HTC and went on record (with my colleagues at work) that Twitter would be the next big thing on both the desktop and mobiles. I feel suitably qualified to write this article (or at least lucky enough in my predictions)
The current market – No desire for Microsoft?
Lets start with Apple and its iPhone. Whilst I do not use Apple products myself, those that I know who do are very happy with their experiences, so it is with interest that I watch the iPhone 4 saga with interest.
I don’t need to remind people of the already widely reported news of the alleged dropped calls and signal issues of the iPhone 4 and since its been covered in-depth so many times, we will skip on to the solution offered by Apple. It was reported at an Apple press conference on Friday 16th July that a free “bumper” would be offered for all Iphone 4’s which would solve the signal issues reported by users. Amongst many other things, Steve Jobs was reported to say:
We love our users. We try hard to surprise and delight them. We work our asses off and have a fun time doing it.
Lets hope this satisfies the customers, Apple has built itself a kingdom and for this one issue to turn the iPhone 4 into what some have described as “Apples Vista” would be rather damaging to the future customer base which is already being eyed up by an increasingly popular Android platform.
So why would I, as a FOSS advocate (amongst other things) want Apple to appease disgruntled customers when I should be using this opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of an Android phone?
The answer is quite simple and goes back a few years to my early comments on this blog. Diversity. I said many years ago (and many times since) that despite what some may imply, I do not wish to see the total dominance of any platform or product, FOSS or proprietary. I think proprietary feeds off FOSS and vice versa with the end result being greater choice for the user and better quality applications. The same would go for the mobile market, I feel a complete dominance of Android would in the long term be damaging and I would like to see a more balanced deployment of platforms. Users of the smart phones will mostly be accessing the same online apps, communicating with each other with “traditional” protocols, so the platform of their choice is mostly academic (unless you bought into the Kin!)
With one platform casuality this year already (Kin) I have to wonder what the market will be like come Xmas this year. With Microsoft rumoured to be releasing Windows Mobile 7 in the autumn, will this change the game for the current hunger for both Apple and Android based products? In my opinion no. I think the Kin, coupled with the plethora of established apps for both Apple and Android will mean Windows Mobile 7 will not get a look in and will settle for the “scraps off the table”. I said before of Microsoft, too little too late and one only has to look how Microsoft were pimping Kin until the bitter end to see that a press release from Microsoft does not necessarily reflect what users are actually thinking (and I often find myself thinking of this when I see Microsoft PR). Mysteries of Windows Mobile 7 aside, I don’t see a flock of developers to the platform and in todays 3rd party app driven market, I think a fundamental feature is already going to be absent on release day of Microsoft’s offering and that’s forgetting those burned (like me) by previous Win Mob versions, those who saw the Kin fiasco and those who have seen the Windows Mobile 7 in action making comments such as:
Except for gaming, it is ‘game over’ for Microsoft in the consumer market….It’s time to declare Microsoft a loser in phones. Just get out of Dodge
This was said by analyst Mark Anderson, the writer of Strategic News Service and he’s not alone. Notably Mozilla is taking a “wait and see” attitude with Windows Mobile 7 with this comment in respect of Firefox having a version deployed to it:
If Microsoft releases a native development kit for Windows Phone 7, we will consider developing Fennec on the Windows platform again.
and also states that development for existing Windows Mobile versions:
Firefox has stopped development for Windows Mobile indefinitely. Thank you to our contributors for their continued support and feedback
You can read a previous Openbytes article on that here. Which I think is a good indicator of current developers feelings in respect of Windows Mobile 7 and if the developers of one of the most popular 3rd party apps on the planet are less than enthusiastic, what about the rest?
Who will be the victor?
I don’t believe Microsoft have a winner on their hands with Windows Mobile 7, I think they are entering a mature market with yet another “new” product at a time when there are already two massively popular platforms fighting for dominance. I would worry about the apparent lack of developer interest in the platform (and please correct me if I’m wrong there) and think that Microsoft has missed the boat again, this time maybe instead of trying to imply people were wrong about Vista or trying to tell people that the Kin was a good idea, this particular market has slipped through their fingers. And no bad thing. We’ve seen what happens when Microsoft has dominance in a market, I personally didn’t like what I saw. If Apple (or Android) do in fact end up the victor, lets give them a shot at “top dog” instead. What reward did Windows users get from Microsoft after XP finally became a mature product? Vista. And still the Zune is offered to a market that flocked to the iPod. Bing is offered to a market which already sees Google as a household name and IE is seeing a battle for rating as Firefox, Chrome and a plethora of others battle for your usage.
What mobile market share scraps can Microsoft catch from the table of mobile users? – Like I say, Im predicting another failure for Microsoft.
If I was to lay money on the future of the mobile market (certainly for the foreseeable future) I’d go with 50% Apple, 40% Android and 10% others. Of course “others” would include the Blackberry.
I have gone from a mobilephobic to someone who couldn’t envisage life without a soppy piece of plastic and metal in my pocket. Many will say that the phone wars (in respect of Windows Mobile 7) won’t begin, I disagree and I think by Xmas this year we will have a good idea of the direction its going. Kin was the first casualty this year, which just shows how little a timeframe you have to make or break a platform. If Windows Mobile fails to grasp the imagination of both customers and developers then whilst it will probably be dragged out longer than the Kin, the signs of Windows Mobile death will be obvious come the end of December.
Finally, I’ll end on this. Putting all the issues mentioned aside, Microsoft seems to have failed to grasp the idea of “status” or “fashion” in the same way as Apple or Android. Whilst some will dismiss this as superficial, one must consider that a large section of the market buys/mod’s phone for this very purpose. How many “trendy” people do you know see a Microsoft product sticking out of their back pocket as something desirable? – I’ll let you answer that one.
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