By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 12:09 pm
Between yesterday’s news about Flash on phones and today’s Google-Verizon deal and announcements yet to come from the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment show in San Diego, it’s a big week for phone-related developments. But the release of the first phones with Windows Mobile 6.5 is going off with a whimper, not a bang. (That’s the HTC Pure, available from AT&T, to the right.) The title of John Herrman’s review of Microsoft’s new phone OS over at Gizmodo kind of sums it up: “Windows Mobile 6.5 Review: There’s No Excuse for This.”
The fact that Windows Mobile 6.5 is blah and uncompetitive with iPhone OS and Palm’s WebOS isn’t news. Microsoft’s massive problems with its phone OS were apparent the moment Steve Jobs removed the first iPhone from his pocket at his Macworld Expo keynote in January of 2007, and they’ve unfolded in slow motion ever since. The company unveiled the new version back in February at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, and it was clear then that the update was going to be an unsatisfactory stopgap. This week’s only new twist is that the unsatisfactory stopgap has finally reached consumers.
I’m trying to think of another example in tech history of a major player moving quite as slowly to react to the changing world around it. The ones that come to mind involve the major developers of productivity apps for DOS–products such as Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect–and their delayed reaction to the transition from DOS to Windows in the early 1990s. Both Lotus and WordPerfect eventually came out with perfectly respectable Windows versions. But it took way too long, and the products were never the same.
Microsoft is in no danger of becoming the next Lotus or WordPerfect anytime soon. Long-term, though, there may be nothing more important to the company’s future as having a competitive mobile operating system. Even if Windows Mobile 7 turns out to be dazzling, it going to be a latecomer to a party that’s been going on for years. Speculation has it that the first WinMo 7 phones may not show up until the end of next year, around three and a half years after the first iPhone arrived.
That might just be too late. And even if Microsoft stages a dramatic comeback in the phone biz, it may have more than a year of additional slow-motion woe–and degradation to the Windows Mobile brand–ahead of it.