The Windows Mobile 7 mystery movie is becoming a mini-series. When Microsoft offered no insights about WinMo7 or its release date at this month’s CES (consumer electronics show), impatient industry watchers and journalists went digging for answers and got nuthin’ concrete from the Redmondians.
I tried to get some WinMo7 release date info through a Microsoft spokesperson and got the same old line: “We are not talking about future generations of Windows phones at this time.”
But everywhere else, speculation ran wild about release dates and design tweaks. This tends to happen when a vendor keeps mum about an upcoming product. Rumor, speculation and hints from anonymous sources about WinMo 7 will work in Microsoft’s favor as it will build anticipation. Microsoft is learning from Apple here.
Windows Mobile 7: Can Microsoft Reinvent the Mobile Market
Slideshow: Seven Features in Windows 7 You Probably Don’t Know About
Slideshow: Windows 7 in Pictures: The Coolest New Hardware
Most would agree that if Windows Mobile 7 has a prayer against the iPhone, BlackBerry and increasingly popular Android phones, Microsoft must improve the design, UI and touchscreen features as well as make it available on more devices and market it aggressively.
Microsoft is taking a stubbornly deliberate approach to Windows Mobile 7’s release. Congress moves faster than this. A recent story from tech news site Bright Side of News, citing unnamed sources at smartphone manufacturers, says WinMo 7 will be delayed until 2011 because phone manufacturers are still swooning over Google’s Android OS.
2011? That’s too slow by miles. But take that news with a grain of salt. Most reports have said WinMo 7 will see the light of day late this year, which is still too late given pace of smartphone innovation. During CES, Engadget reported that an exec from phone manufacturer LG let it slip that WinMo 7 will release this year.
Microsoft could hush criticism that it doesn’t surprise people anymore by releasing WinMo7 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did say in his CES keynote that, “We will have a lot more to say about phones at next month’s Mobile World Congress.”
Veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley thinks that translates not to a WinMo7 launch but to a Windows Mobile 6.6 launch — an interim version designed for capacitive screen phones. This would be like showing up to see Frank Sinatra, and getting Frank Sinatra, Jr.
But despite the tedious wait for Microsoft to get its mobile act together, Redmond has admitted its mobile mistakes and is setting expectations high for Windows Mobile 7. It is investing significant money and marketing and engineering talent into its mobile business. Entertainment and Devices chief Robbie Bach told financial analysts at CES that the next iteration of Windows Mobile will be “something that looks, feels, acts and performs completely different.”
Those are strong words, but they’re just words. If Microsoft wants mobile users to believe that WinMo 7 is a brave new world, then it’s time for serious demos at Mobile World Congress next month and the Mix 2010 show in March, followed by a general release this fall.
Red-hot Android phones were everywhere at CES, and Windows Mobile was nowhere. CES frequently sets the tone for how markets and technologies will evolve that year. Microsoft still has time to bring Windows Mobile 7 to life, but the clock is ticking.
Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.