by Shane O'Neill

Windows Mobile: Can Microsoft’s Risky Release Plan Redeem the OS?

Aug 21, 20093 mins
Data Center

Microsoft will offer two versions of Windows Mobile, but it may be too late for its mobile OS to compete.

Has Microsoft missed the boat with Windows Mobile? As the excruciatingly slow development of Windows Mobile trudges on, the iPhone, the BlackBerry and Palm Pre are capturing the mobile hearts and minds of millions.

This week, Microsoft has allegedly clarified its mobile plans. Digitimes reported that Microsoft plans to have two versions of Windows Mobile — 6.5 and 7 — going at the same time to compete with both Android-based phones and iPhones.

Microsoft is expected to launch Windows Mobile 6.5 on Oct. 1 with an upgrade version to follow in February that includes touch interface. When Windows Mobile 7 launches in Q4 of 2010, Microsoft will not terminate 6.5 but rather lower the price and keep it around to run on lower-end smartphones.

Windows Mobile 6.5 demo.

Microsoft has not confirmed the Digitimes report, which cites Taiwanese handset makers with knowledge of Microsoft’s roadmap as its sources.

But if the report holds true, starting in Oct. Microsoft will have WinMo 6.5 to go mano y mano with Android for at least a year until Windows Mobile 7 graces us with its presence in late 2010 to confront the iPhone and, let’s face it, the BlackBerry too. Yikes. Take your time, Microsoft. It’s not as if Apple and RIM are innovating at the speed of light or anything. It can totally wait a year.

It seems the job of WinMo 6.5 is to hold down the fort and stay relevant until the arrival of Windows Mobile 7, which Microsoft has said will be a complete overhaul, utilizing advanced voice and touch interfaces on better hardware.

Though it’s not an ideal plan, it’s something. Microsoft has been at a virtual standstill in the mobile space for years. It will get back on its mobile feet in phases: Phase 1: Keep Android at bay with Windows 6.5. Phase 2: Confront the iPhone with WinMo 7. But when both OSes are available at the same time in over a year from now, there’s likely to be marketing confusion. Maybe it will be as simple as WinMo 6.5 is for the low-end phones and WinMo 7 is for the big guns.

But will it matter in a year? In the speedy smartphone space, every day is like a month. What will the mighty iPhone, or the various iterations of the BlackBerry, or the fast and loose Android look like in a year? Who can say for sure, but I can guarantee they will all keep on innovating on the mobile OS, browser and application fronts.

Windows Mobile is essentially starting at the bottom of Mount Everest, and Microsoft is climbing very slowly. Ideally, Microsoft should have skipped Windows Mobile 6.5 and should be launching Windows Mobile 7 much sooner — like in conjunction with the Windows 7 client OS launch in October. It would make for smoother marketing, reduce customer confusion and provide the mobile clean slate that Microsoft needs.

What I’ve seen of the Windows Mobile 6.5 phones is impressive. The Zune-like interface replicates the PC experience better than most smartphones. But then again, most smartphones are, you know, AVAILABLE. Not only are they available, they’ve become a vital part of people’s work and personal lives.

Each day that these people are not using or thinking about Windows Mobile is a day Microsoft falls farther behind in the mobile race.

What do you think? Is it too little, too late for Windows Mobile.

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