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Windows Mobile delays are causing Microsoft to fall behind in the mobile market and they're also casting the future of Microsoft's top-secret Pink touch-screen smartphone project into doubt. If Pink represents Microsoft's attempt to compete with the iPhone and consumer-focused BlackBerry models, its failure would underscore the difficulties Microsoft has had in recasting Windows Mobile as something other than a business tool.
Microsoft hasn't said anything about Pink, but sources familiar with the project say it was intended to be a combination of Windows Mobile 7-based software running on a third-party device that Verizon would launch on its network early next year. But Windows Mobile 7 has been repeatedly delayed and devices aren't expected until spring of 2010, forcing Pink engineers to use other, less advanced development tools.
But even if Pink does get scrapped, Microsoft still holds a significant portion of the smartphone market. In terms of sales to end users, Windows Mobile had 11.8 percent of the market in 2008, compared to 8.2 percent for the iPhone, 16.6 percent for BlackBerry, and 52.4 percent for Symbian, according to Gartner.
The problem for Microsoft is that the iPhone and BlackBerry both have much more momentum than Windows Mobile on the strength of their consumer appeal, something that Microsoft has yet to achieve with Windows Mobile. The BlackBerry Curve surpassed the iPhone in the consumer smartphone segment during the first quarter, according to the NPD Group.
"Although Microsoft's target market is business, they know they can't rule the world of mobility without winning over consumers," said Matt Makowicz, principal at Ambition Consulting, a Somerset, N.J.-based solution provider. "That's a lesson that Apple teaches every day with its marketing and advertising."
Microsoft insists that its Windows Mobile strategy, which centers on providing a software platform for device makers and carriers to use, offers customers the broadest range of choices, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer often notes the advantages of this approach to the iPhone's proprietary architecture.
But some solution providers say Microsoft will have to adjust its approach or risk falling even further behind in the fast-moving mobile space. "Microsoft is sitting there with a wide variety of device manufacturers, but they're still losing ground," said Ken Winell, CEO of ExpertCollab, a solution provider in Florham Park, N.J.
Next: Drawbacks To The Windows Mobile Model