Fours years ago, Microsoft and Palm announced an alliance that would have Palm Treo phones running Windows Mobile and Bill Gates even demonstrated one in his keynote at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. Now however, the bloom is off the rose and Palm has announced that they are dropping Windows Mobile:
Another one bites the dust. A few months ago, Motorola’s consumer handset division said they were ditching Windows Mobile for an all-Android approach. In an earnings call today (transcribed by Business Insider), Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein said the makers of the Windows Mobile-powered Treo Pro and WebOS-powered Palm Pre are abandoning WinMo for an all-WebOS lineup.
Palm built their first Windows Mobile Treo, the 700w, in 2006 in an attempt to appeal to Microsoft-oriented business customers. But their most recent entries in the line didn’t get much traction in the US market. The Treo 800w wasn’t a strong performer or seller, and the Treo Pro got good reviews, but didn’t really take off either.
Microsoft isn’t running short of Windows Mobile partners, but while a few years ago Windows Mobile look like a juggernaut in the smartphone arena, it now is merely a player.
Microsoft today formally announced at 3GSM07 a full fledged Windows Live for Windows Mobile (that certainly trips off the tongue) client as well as two separate Windows Live Search options for mobile phones:
Today at 3GSM World Congress 2007, Microsoft Corp. announced three new Windows Live™ for mobile services that provide search and communications capabilities to help people access their world of relationships, information and interests from their mobile device. Now available in the United States and the United Kingdom, Live Search for Windows Mobile® and Live Search for Java provide customers with advanced local search and mapping capabilities on their mobile device. In conjunction with the availability of Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft also introduced Windows Live for Windows Mobile — a rich set of Windows Live services including e-mail, instant messaging and search — uniquely designed to work with Windows Mobile powered devices.
Live Search for Windows Mobile and Live Search for Java
Live Search is now available as a software client application on Windows Mobile and Java devices. These Live Search applications represent the latest innovation in mobile search from Microsoft, providing customers with fast, easy-way access to local listings and maps. New capabilities include a unique, category-based search, which virtually eliminates the need to type text into the phone; an option to “map all results” so several listings appear on the same map; aerial imagery; and local traffic status in selected U.S. cities. Live Search for Windows Mobile provides additional new capabilities including satellite imagery, GPS integration and the ability to send search results to a friend.
The new Live Search applications will be available in the United States and the United Kingdom to customers using Windows Mobile powered devices, Nokia Series 40 and Series 60 devices, the Motorola RAZR/SLVR family, and assorted LG and Samsung devices.
Customers interested in the Live Search for Windows Mobile and Live Search for Java applications can go to http://mobile.search.live.com to view a complete list of device availability and download the software for their device at no cost. Users can easily download the Live Search client directly to their mobile phone by going to http://wls.live.com on their phone’s browser.
Windows Live for Windows Mobile
Windows Live for Windows Mobile will provide customers with a rich set of Windows Live services, including Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger, Live Search and Windows Live Spaces, uniquely designed to work with Windows Mobile software. Windows Mobile powered devices, with their advanced software, processing power and memory, make ideal platforms for the delivery of Windows Live services. Windows Live for Windows Mobile offers one of the first industry examples of a single integrated and presence-enabled contact list on a mobile device. One consolidated list provides customers with easy access to all their Windows Live, Microsoft Office Outlook® and other contacts, as well as relevant presence information.
The Windows Live Developer Program for Mobile now supports the development tools for independent software vendors (ISVs) to create applications such as Windows Live for Windows Mobile. The developer program provides software development kits, testing guidelines and support to ISVs to develop Windows Live for mobile solutions for Windows Mobile, Java, Symbian and Palm devices, and deploy them with mobile operators. Developers who are interested in joining the Windows Live Developer Program for Mobile should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
More details by following the link, but except for the Java variant these seem like predictable mappings of Windows Live services to the Windows Mobile form factor and infrastructure. The outreach to other platforms including actually building a Java version of Live Search is reasonably prompted by the desire to not exclude any possible ciustomers and after all that is the point of a Web based service.
The ink on last year’s Microsoft Zune press releases was barely dry when speculation started about a Zune Phone egged on by CEO Steve Ballmer. Now the rumors are heating up again after John Letzing at MarketWatch spotted a likely FCC filing. However, reading the fine print reveals a strange duck that is “an orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) device to be used for ‘consumer broadband access and networking.’” The general suspicion is that this means WiMAX which is a high bandwidth wireless technology that is just getting off the ground. To add to the mystery, Google, HP, and Intel are listed as a supporters of the FCC application.
However, Matt Hickey at CrunchGear fans the flames with the speculation that a Zune phone would run on a high speed 4G WiMAX network like the one to be built by Sprint/Nextel. This lash-up could provide a mobile VoIP offering plus the likely ability to use ordinary Wi-Fi hotspots. Even better, CrunchGear’s inside sources say that the Zune phone will be announced in March and shipped in May thus neatly upstaging Apple’s iPhone.
All of this is certainly exciting, but the idea of a Zune Phone brings up the more fundamental question of where it would leave Microsoft’s Windows Mobile partners who are ready to show off their new Windows Mobile 6 handsets next week at 3GSM. Microsoft’s Zune crew apparently has license to run roughshod over other parts of Microsoft and their partnerships as evidenced by the hapless PlaysForSure partners (e.g. Creative Technologies, iRiver, Samsung) who got blindsided by the Zune portable media player itself last year. A Zune Phone in whatever form hits right at the phone vendors who have signed up for Windows Mobile (e.g. Samsung, Palm, HTC, Motorola, LG) just when it was showing signs of success, at least in the USA. Beyond the technical particulars, the real Zune Phone question then is whether Microsoft is willing yet again to shutter one of their own projects and cannibalize their partners’ markets in favor of rolling their own.
Update: Microsoft says FCC filing not Zune-related. Fair enough, but as long as the Zune Phone remains a possibility there will still be an inherent conflict with Windows Mobile.
Windows Mobile 6.0 (codenamed Crossbow) has been available to phone manufacturers since November 2006, but will get its formal public introduction on Monday according to Ina Fried at CNET:
Microsoft plans on Monday to officially announce Windows Mobile 6, formerly code-named Crossbow, at the 3GSM trade show in Barcelona. The first devices using the software aren’t expected until spring, however, with the bulk of products using the new operating system likely to come in the second half of the year.
Among the most visible changes is the ability to type in a few letters of a song, contact or e-mail subject and have the phone automatically show only matching results. The software also supports HTML e-mail. But for Exchange messages to be viewable in that form, a company also has to have Exchange 2007, the new version of Microsoft’s e-mail server software.
Windows Mobile 6 also builds in support for Windows Live instant messaging and e-mail, which enables users to see whether a contact is online and to get their Hotmail or Windows Live Mail messages pushed down automatically.
After years of struggling to make inroads in the phone business, Microsoft is starting to find its way. Its software is now on many of Palm’s Treo devices and also on new, slim phones like Samsung’s BlackJack and T-Mobile’s Dash. The company sold 3 million licenses of Windows Mobile last quarter, up 90 percent from a year earlier.
Because it uses the same core–Windows CE 5–the new mobile operating system is expected to work with nearly all the existing Windows Mobile 5 applications.
That’s also why some have called Crossbow Windows Mobile 5 Second Edition. The next big change in Windows Mobile is coming with Photon which is about a year away.
There are more details on Crossbow in the CNET report including that support for Office 2007 file formats will not arrive until the summer. Also there has been a nomenclature change:
Pocket PC Phone Edition, for touch screens, becomes Windows Mobile Professional, while Smartphone edition, for non touch screens, becomes Windows Mobile Standard. A third version, Windows Mobile Classic, is designed for PDAs without phone capabilities, an increasingly small slice of the market.
Photon is also supposed to finally unify the Pocket PC and Smartphone editions (by whatever name) which today generally require the development of two different versions of applications.
Update: Matthew Miller at ZDNet has a nice mini review and Jay Greene at BusinessWeek.com puts it all in perspective:
For Microsoft, the mobile phone business has been marked more by defeats than victories. When it pushed into the business in 2002, handset makers and mobile phone carriers balked, worried that the software giant would try to marginalize partners, squeezing the lion’s share of profits for itself just as it has in the PC business. What’s more, its software was clunky, and a battery hog to boot, making devices running it unappealing.
The turning point came in September, 2005, when Microsoft convinced longtime rival Palm to put Windows Mobile inside its popular Treo device. Microsoft Senior Vice-President Pieter Knook calls it a “watershed moment” for Windows Mobile’s legitimacy. Over time, the company became more willing to let handset makers and carriers define the customer experience, as long as users tapped into e-mail servers running Microsoft’s Exchange software.
Those improvements, along with the global familiarity with Microsoft’s software, helped it leapfrog BlackBerry. IDC’s estimates for 2006 worldwide market share for so-called converged devices—mobile phones that can handle e-mail and surf the Web—put Microsoft’s share at 9.8%, compared with 7.3% for BlackBerry. Still, BlackBerry held the U.S. lead through the first nine months of 2006, with a 49.4% share versus Windows Mobile’s 29% share. And worldwide, both significantly trail Nokia-backed Symbian, the mobile-operating system that’s huge in Europe and Japan.