Blog: Windows Mobile Chief All Smiles in Shadow of BlackBerry, iPhone

The blogosphere has been all abuzz lately with iPhone and BlackBerry hype.

The blogosphere has been all abuzz lately with iPhone and BlackBerry hype.

In fact, you'd have been hard-pressed to visit a technology news site or blog during the past few weeks without seeing an abundance of Apple iPhone and BlackBerry coverage.That's because the next-generation iPhone is due any day now and rumors are running rampant. (Will it have 3G? GPS? A front-facing camera for video calls? An internal tazer to discourage thieves, perhaps?) And Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, the leading smartphone in the United States, is also expected to soon release its latest and greatest, the BlackBerry Bold.

What you're not hearing too much about is Windows Mobile, even though there are a handful of new exciting devices in the pipeline: The HTC Touch Pro; Palm Treo 850 and Sony Ericsson Xperia X1.

But Windows Mobile chief, Andy Lees, senior vice president of Redmond's Mobile Communications Business, doesn't appear to be as concerned as one might expect about the lack of attention. On the contrary, he sent a letter out to Windows Mobile partners-device makers, carriers, application developers-touting the platform's recent success and thanking them for their continued support.

Lees's letter is particularly timely for two reasons: 1) I recently pledged to increase my coverage of Windows Mobile for CIO.com instead of my typical BlackBerry focus and his comments make great fodder; and 2) research firm IDC last week released a report that includes some current smartphone market share numbers, as well as forecasts. And according to IDC, RIM's the clear leader in the US smartphone space, followed by Apple. The leading Windows Mobile devices makers like HTC and Palm were largely left in their dust, at least in the United States.

Here are a few highlights from Lees's letter, as well as my take on each of them:

1) Microsoft plans to sell 20 million Windows Mobile smartphone licenses in 2008

That's about 5 million devices shipped each quarter, and it's no number to gawk at, especially when you consider that Apple, which had just under 20 per cent of the US smartphone market in the first quarter of 2008, sold just 1.7 million devices during the period, according to the Associated Press. But Lees was talking about worldwide numbers and Apple's largely focusing on the United States, whereas much of Microsoft's business is overseas. (RIM refuses to provide specific sales numbers.)

2) More phones running Windows Mobile were sold in the previous four quarters (Q2 2007 - Q1 2008) than BlackBerrys

Again, this is noteworthy, but it's difficult to compare the two because Windows Mobile runs on so many more different makes and models of smartphones than the BlackBerry operating system (OS). Lees stated in the letter that there are 50 different handset makers that have built about 150 smartphones for Windows Mobile. BlackBerry handhelds are the only devices that run RIM's OS, and the company's current product line is made up of closer to 15 devices, though some of its older handhelds are also still available. Furthermore, there's only one iPhone, so it's sort of an Apples to oranges comparison-poor pun intended--to stack the three companies' number next to each other.

3) In Q1 2008, year-over-year unit growth alone was greater than Apple's total iPhone sales

Again, this could largely be attributed to the sheer volume of smartphones that run Windows Mobile. Apple sells only one handheld, so it makes sense that Microsoft could cater to a much larger audience, and therein, sell more handhelds. So though Microsoft's shipping far more smartphones devices Apple, the iPhone's much more popular than any one Windows Mobile smartphone.

Personally, I think Lees and his team need to consider the fact that the device makers creating Windows Mobile products are falling seriously behind RIM and Apple in innovation and brand awareness. So though Lees has some impressive numbers to dangle in front of Microsoft's mobile partners today, it's only going to get harder to maintain the attention of those device makers, carriers and developers with the BlackBerry and iPhone stealing all the spotlight.

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Al Sacco

CIO

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