Preparing for the Multi-Platform Mobile Opportunity

Smartphones will grow exponentially in the coming years. If you're betting on one mobile platform, you may want to rethink that strategy.

Anticipating a bright future for the Microsoft Windows Mobile platform, Mort Rosenthal launched a systems integration business aimed at helping enterprise customers connect smartphones with their back-end systems. As a "strategic" Gold Certified Partner, Enterprise Mobile Inc. had an inside track in developing software that would help IT managers administer their Windows Mobile phones.

Not only did Enterprise Mobile help Microsoft develop Mobile Device Manager (MDM), an extension of the Microsoft System Center management platform, but the start-up solution provider worked with some early-adopter MDM customers. That was in 2007, when Microsoft's only key target was for Windows Mobile to overtake the Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry, the corporate standard. The Apple iPhone was only a few months old and was all but ignored by enterprises. The Google Android hadn't hit anyone's radar and many experts wondered if it would ever be a factor.

At the time of its launch in 2007, Rosenthal believed MDM would become a key component of the Microsoft solution stack. "It's a product that customers want to understand," Rosenthal said at the time. In a follow-up interview last month, Rosenthal, Enterprise Mobile's chairman and CEO, had a different take. "It has not taken off," he said. "It was probably too much for the market because it only solves Windows Mobile problems right now."

There was a time when solving Windows Mobile problems appeared to be a promising niche. Details on the next generation of Windows Mobile will emerge shortly, but even Microsoft's strongest proponents are skeptical of its prospects. Others are downright pessimistic.

"Windows Mobile 7 will be interesting if it sees the light of day," says Craig Mathias, a principal with Farpoint Group, a consultancy specializing in mobile computing and wireless communications. "I don't think Windows Mobile survives long term."

After a long wait, smartphones based on Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 are just coming to market. Most officials describe the new release -- the first update in more than a year -- as a marginal improvement over its predecessor, while some call the initial entries buggy.

Observers were hoping to hear more about the future of Windows Mobile at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference 2009 (PDC09) in Los Angeles. But Kurt DelBene, senior vice president of the company's Office Business Productivity Group, told attendees in his keynote address that an update will come in March at the annual MIX conference in Las Vegas.

Though there's much speculation, little is officially known about what Microsoft will deliver with Windows Mobile 7. It's expected it will finally support Microsoft's Silverlight rich interactive media runtime environment, allow for multi-touch gesturing and have an improved interface. But with the timeframe and deliverables unclear, critics say at best it may be too little, too late.

Huge Smartphone Growth
Smartphone sales were projected to grow 29 percent to 180 million units last year. They're slated to jump 48 percent to 267 million units this year, and 50 percent to 400 million units next year, according to Gartner Inc. The average smartphone now has a 500Mhz processor, 512 bytes of memory and high-resolution displays.

Meanwhile average selling prices are likely to plummet from $350 to $230, according to analyst experts cited by Gavin Kim, vice president of enterprise enablement at Samsung, speaking on a panel during the recent Interop New York conference. "I'm actually predicting they will be much cheaper than that," Kim says.

Yet only 7.9 percent of smartphones sold in the third quarter of last year were equipped with Windows Mobile, down from 11.1 percent in the same quarter of 2008, according to a Gartner report released in November. By devices, 3.2 million were Windows Mobile-based, down from 4 million.

It appears Windows Mobile is also losing ground to the Google Android platform, which had no market share last year -- it was not yet released -- but accounted for 3.5 percent last quarter based on 1.4 million units shipped in the third quarter.

The Apple iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry are similar in that they control both the hardware and the software. Android, like Windows Mobile, is available to multiple handset makers that can offer a multitude of form factors with the respective OSes. However, Android is free, and it has leapfrogged Windows Mobile in feature and developer support.

"Android has shown a lot of potential in the consumer space, and that's where Microsoft has been struggling the most," says Gartner Research Director for Mobile Devices Carolina Milanesi.

Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at twentysix New York, a Gold Certified Partner, tried the Windows Mobile phones but had nothing but frustration. After a few years with no improvements, Brust, who is a columnist for RCP sister publication Visual Studio Magazine, threw in the towel. He purchased the Motorola Droid, the first mobile device to support the Google Android 2 mobile OS. He also considered the hugely popular Apple iPhone, but that was not an option because he had to stay on the Verizon network.

Brust put the Droid through its paces and reviewed the device and platform in a recent blog posting. The Web interface was unsurpassed, he noted, and he liked the overall design of the device -- its touch interface, external QWERTY keyboard and strong app support.

"Although the Exchange integration is feature-poor, I will say that getting basic sync connectivity working on the Droid was actually much easier than on the two Exchange push-enabled Windows Mobile phones I've owned," Brust noted in his blog.

But it has plenty of room for improvement. "The Droid hardware is an abomination," Brust wrote. "But I bet Droid 2 will be far better."

That Brust -- a Gold Certified Partner who is also a Microsoft regional director and an early and enthusiastic adopter of Microsoft technologies -- abandoned Windows Mobile is not a good sign for the platform.

Early indications suggest that momentum for Android will continue, at the expense of Windows Mobile. A number of handset vendors once committed to Windows Mobile -- including Motorola, HTC Corp., LG Electronics and Samsung -- have started adding Android phones to their mix of offerings.

The Google Android offers more favorable license fees than Windows Mobile, as does the Nokia Symbian, which also is moving to an open source model, Milanesi notes. "This leaves Microsoft at a cost disadvantage," she explains.

Motorola, whose handset business has struggled in recent years, placed a major bet on the Google Android, shifting all of its focus from Windows Mobile to Google's product. The new Droid device that Brust purchased from Verizon Wireless is the first based on Android 2 and has initially been well accepted, raising further questions about whether Motorola will invest in Windows Mobile.

"We haven't said we're not doing Windows Mobile," says Elizabeth Altman, Motorola's vice president of business development. "But our core focus for now is Android."

Advantage iPhone
Meanwhile, the Apple iPhone, which singlehandedly redefined mobile computing over the past two years, continues to grow at a rapid pace. Now that it supports Microsoft Exchange Active Sync and has new security features -- including the ability for IT to wipe the device if lost or stolen -- it has gained acceptance among enterprise shops.

"The iPhone has been an important catalyst for upgrading the mobile experience," Rosenthal says, explaining his decision to move from a Windows Mobile -- only business to a model that supports all key device platforms.

The iPhone accounted for 17.1 percent of market share with more than 7 million shipped during the third quarter, compared with a 12.9 percent share based on 4.7 million units in the comparable 2008 quarter.

The BlackBerry remains a strong player as well. RIM shipped 20.8 percent of smartphones in Q32009, compared with 15.9 percent in Q32008. Some 8.7 million BlackBerry units shipped in the third quarter, up from 5.8 million in the same period in 2008.

Microsoft's share decline should stabilize as more smartphones based on the company's newest OS upgrade, Windows Mobile 6.5, hit the market, Milanesi says. The first phones were released in September. Among the newest entries is the Samsung Omnia II, a touch-based device that also comes with the Opera 9.5 browser.

Samsung is among those not ready to count Microsoft out. "Windows Mobile happens to be one of the bets we have to drive enterprise adoption," says Samsung's Kim.

Noting Samsung's partnership with Enterprise Mobile, which was announced in October, Kim says his company will be continuing its channel outreach in 2010. "We work with our carrier partners as they go to market with their own infrastructure for selling into the enterprise," Kim says. "We've also started adding systems integrator partners that we're working with to drive solution development support and services -- and we're partnering with these guys to get our devices to market in the enterprise," he adds. "We're still early."

In a positive turn for Windows Mobile users and developers, the Microsoft Windows Marketplace for Mobile is now available to users on phones running Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1. Previously, the Marketplace was only available for those with Windows Mobile 6.5-based phones. Windows Marketplace for Mobile is based on the model of Apple's iTunes App Store, which has become the de facto standard for offering mobile applications. The iTunes App Store now hosts 100,000 apps and claims billions of downloads.

Opportunities for Solution Providers
As a result of these trends, systems integrators, solution providers and VARs must presume any enterprise will have a multi-OS and multi-device strategy moving forward. While some enterprises will provide devices for their employees, it's very common that they allow users to purchase and pay for their own devices while giving them access to e-mail, and, in a growing number of cases, line-of-business applications typically offered on PCs. That might include field-service apps, or customer relationship management and business intelligence capabilities.

"The trend is very much toward the individually liable device," says Phillipe Winthrop, an analyst at Strategy Analytics who focuses on enterprise mobility. "The era of the homogenous, all-BlackBerry shop is over." Customers this year are very much inclined to invest in better managing this environment, according to Winthrop.

"I think with the economy improving, you're going to see spending go up. Organizations are also recognizing that, with the increased individually liable devices out in the market, they're going to need to do something about them," he says.

Solution providers can capitalize on this by understanding the benefits and liabilities of the various device platforms, and how to connect them seamlessly but securely with appropriate enterprise applications and resources.

That also means solution providers should assess and understand their customers' mobility requirements and make sure they're in line with their overall IT policies. Solution providers should also partner with companies offering mobility-management solutions.

There's a slew of vendors who offer middleware and management consoles to support the multitude of mobile device platforms. Among them are Sybase Inc., MobileIron, Tango Mobile SA, Trust Digital, Zenprise, Visage Mobile, BoxTone and Odyssey Software Inc.

For his part, Rosenthal has partnered with Mobile Iron. "They have some degree of consistency across multiple device platforms, which certainly makes life easier," he says. "And we work with them to provide BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange] services."

Like many suppliers of mobile-management solutions, Mobile Iron, founded in 2007, is looking to extend its partner reach. Including Enterprise Mobile, it currently has 10 partners, says MobileIron CEO Robert Tinker. "We're seeing a huge amount of interest," Tinker says.


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