5 Ways Redmond Can Fix Its Mobile Mess

Microsoft should learn a couple of things from its Vista missteps.

An IT contact recently said that Windows Mobile was on its way to becoming the "Vista of the mobile world." Ouch. He's probably not far off the mark. Like Windows Vista, Windows Mobile has been steadily veering off track.

What should the 'Softies do to keep Windows Mobile from suffering the same sluggish adoption rate as Vista? Here are five suggestions based on what Microsoft should have learned from Vista:

1. Don't sell a Microsoft-branded phone.
There is a strong contingent inside Microsoft pushing for a Microsoft phone. Such a move isn't unprecedented. Microsoft has the xBox and Zune. A Microsoft phone could offer users a better end-to-end, out-of-the-box experience, including better integration and a steadier stream of OS upgrades. But is that worth losing all the phone partners that might bail if Microsoft competes head-to-head?

2. Speed up rollouts of the Windows Mobile OS.
Windows Mobile is on an uneven delivery pace. Windows Mobile 7 has slipped to 2010, with a hastily added 6.5 update due in the latter half of 2009. Microsoft won't talk officially about the features of these releases -- which might keep competitors off guard, but is doing nothing to get customers excited about Windows Mobile.

3. Decouple consumer and business mobile services from the OS and get carriers excited about them.
While officials won't talk specifics, Microsoft is known to be working on a set of consumer-focused mobile services, including one for music downloading and sharing (code-named "Pink") and several business-focused ones, such as integration with corporate IM systems (code-named "Rouge"). I've heard the company will market and sell these services independently of the Windows Mobile OS, a smart move in my opinion. But the 'Softies should take this a step further and sell these services on non-Windows Mobile phones, too.

4. Don't let Apple (or RIM or Nokia) tell your story for you.
Microsoft's $300 million Windows marketing campaign is supposed to be about all things Windows-related. But in reality, the "Life Without Walls" campaign is seen primarily as a last-ditch Vista marketing program. Redmond is falling further behind Apple, RIM and Nokia in features and sex appeal and is doing little to counter that downward spiral. With Vista, Microsoft let Apple talk more about Windows than Redmond itself did, and the results were predictable.

5. Don't throw everything but the kitchen sink into Windows Mobile.
When I'm in the market for a new mobile phone, I ask the carriers which phones are best -- which have the fewest customer-problems and lowest rates of return. Whether I'm talking to Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile, I hear the same criticism of Windows Mobile: It's too complex, with too many problems, too many moving parts, too many unhappy users.

Microsoft is figuring out that what makes a good business phone doesn't necessarily make a good consumer phone, but isn't applying that knowledge. Instead, Microsoft keeps talking about the "consumerization of IT," and how users only need a single phone for both home and business use.

Any other suggestions for the 'Softies to keep the Windows Mobile team from repeating the same mistakes the Vista team made? Let me know at [email protected].

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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