Monday, April 12, 2010

Microsoft Makes a bold move in Embedded Operating Systems for Mobile Handheld Devices

April 12, 2010
At the Mobile World Congress on February 15th, Steve Ballmer announced a new strategy for Microsoft® Operating Systems on mobile handheld devices: Windows® Phone 7 Series (WP7). With this announcement Microsoft clearly has distinguished their OS solution offerings between consumer/enterprise and industrial/commercial markets and has raised the bar for the competition.

Microsoft needed to do this
According to comScore®, Microsofts share of the smart phone market fell over 20% from September 2009 through February 2010. Not a good position for Microsoft in a growing market segment.

This new OS is targeted only (and strictly) at the consumer market, no industrial or cross bred platforms need apply. Microsoft has done its homework and taken cues from what has worked: Apps, Marketplace, Multimedia (Zune™), and Multi-Touch user input. They also have learned what does not work: Operating System "ish" User Interfaces, incompatible hardware and applications, short battery life, and high priced development tools.

What happens now to Windows Mobile®? Windows Mobile 6.5 has been renamed Windows Phone Classic,and is still based upon CE 5. And that is probably where it ends. Microsoft has stated that Mobile applications will not run on WP7. This means that developers now have a few decisions to make: do we stay with a dead-end OS? And, what market am I really in? If you are in a consumer market: WP7 (or iPhone®, Android„¢ or BlackBerry®) are probably the way to go. If you require a rugged device, specific peripherals, sunlight readable displays, long lifecycles, gloved operation, custom keys, true cameras, and/or a specific user experience: CE is the clear choice in the market. Windows Phone Classic (aka Mobile) will still likely be sold by Microsoft through some vertical market vendors for the near future, but in terms of improvements, it is likely at its end.

R.I.P. Mobile 2010
Until now, Microsoft has stated (well, whispered…) that Mobile is a consumer oriented OS and CE is designed for vertical/industrial markets. In practice Microsoft has allowed the blurring of the line by offering the Mobile OS to vertical market providers (albeit with some key licensing requirements). By enabling this perceived indifference, Microsoft has confused the marketplace. I can’t recall how many of our client partners have told me that “CE will shortly be obsolete and replaced by Mobile” or “we chose Mobile because it is newer and more intuitive than CE”. Both of these were clearly not the direct intent of Microsoft, but the confusion by a lack of clear differentiation is evident.

Moving On
Microsoft now has a clear strategy for consumer and industrial products. If you have not seen the demonstrations of the prototypes of WP7, I recommend you do so, you can start at the WP7 site:
The "Metro" GUI with its tiles, marketplace, and Zune multimedia experience looks like a real winner for the smart phone market. Microsoft has really done its homework.

In evaluating your OS choice for development and the marketing of your solution, you must consider what Microsoft's objectives are for their WP7 and CE products and ultimately how they will align with your market needs.

Microsoft has strategically restricted (they would say focused) the WP7 hardware platform with things such as a fixed memory model, capacitive touch panel (can't use gloves or a stylus) and only two choices of screen resolutions (320x480 and 480x800). They have stated that no upgrade path exists for any hardware currently manufactured by anyone (so much for the capital return on Mobile hardware). Microsoft has chosen to deadhead Mobile applications by stating that they will not run on WP7 . In reaction to this, key applications providers such as Adobe® and Skype™ (among others) have cancelled their developments for WM6.5 in favor of waiting until WP7 is released.

CE 6 clearly addresses the industrial market, especially with Release 3 now offering Silverlight®, Pan and Zoom Internet Explorer, Flash Lite, and other development enhancements. These enhancements give the developer an excellent user experience paradigm which allows for rich, modern, user interfaces and large data set sizes to work with and allow OEM providers, such as Two Technologies, to offer reliable, robust and extensible platforms for our clients.

I applaud Microsoft for this clear, bold move in announcing Windows Phone 7 Series. This action will continue to spur on innovation and development in the consumer and enterprise markets. With CE 6 R3 Microsoft offers a best-in-class operating system with leading edge development tools for the industrial and commercial marketplaces.

Thoughts? Comments? It would be a pleasure to gain your insight. Scroll down to leave a comment, reach me a or join us on Facebook.

Author: Eric Eckstein, President and COO, Two Technologies


  1. The Windows Phone 7 platform is supported in Visual Studio 2010 Express and comes with an emulator. I think this is mostly in response to Android which has a complete development environment that installs in Eclipse. It also probably is influenced by the number of non-professional developers that Microsoft fosters through their Coding For Fun (C4F) stater kits. If Windows Phone 7 is to compete then it needs a lot of applications and fast to catch up to iPhone and Android (I use iPhone as the hardware and the OS since they really are inseparable). Providing a low cost development environment is a good way to accomplish that goal.

    I am not surprised that Microsoft's market share has fallen. I'm willing to bet that it will continue to fall as open alternatives such as Symbian and Android gather more momentum. After all Android has more aggressive advertising from the service providers. I never see a service provider advertising Windows anything. I'm sure we will start to see Windows Phone 7 ads soon. I don't see the iPhone platform as surviving because of Apple's restrictive distribution policies (all app are distributed through the app store unless the iPhone is jail broken) despite their slick advertising.

    Yes Microsoft blurred the CE/Mobile perspective. I could not count how many times I had to tell customers of Two Technologies that Windows Mobile 6.0 was not newer than CE 5.0. That they were built upon the same kernel. The blurring was also exacerbated by "badge mania" where people have been conditioned to think that higher revision numbers are newer and therefor more advanced. Many of them did not realize that CE provided for a wider variety of hardware than mobile.

    Good blog.

    I was talking with some developers that develop for various hand held platforms. Their concern is the lack of .Net in some versions of Windows Mobile 7. However, to date this lack of support has been conjecture since Microsoft hasn't issued an official statement about dropping .NET CF support. The Zune Phone definitely does not have .NET CF support and only allows application installs via Application Marketplace.