Windows Mobile 6.5 phones arrived Tuesday, but fresh speculation that Microsoft's top-secret "Pink" smartphone project could be in danger has greater potential significance for Microsoft's mobile strategy.
In a Monday report that quoted a source with knowledge of Pink, TechCrunch claimed that the project is in an advanced state of disarray and could soon be scrapped.
According to TechCrunch's source, Pink is about two years behind schedule, has a poor user interface and battery life, and isn't being designed with its own separate own App Store, as some industry reports have suggested.
Making matters worse, much of the team from Microsoft's 2008 acquisition of Danger, developer of the software and services stack for the Sidekick, has either left the company or been fired, and the Danger staffers who remain have developed a profound resentment of Pink, according to the TechCrunch report.
Much of TechCrunch's report matches what sources told Channelweb.com back in May, when word first began trickling out that Pink might not be proceeding according to schedule. According to Channelweb's sources, Pink was supposed to utilize the underlying technologies of Windows Mobile 7, but repeated delays forced Pink developers to turn to other Microsoft technologies that require more work to implement.
Microsoft in May had its first-ever companywide layoff, and many of those cuts were former Danger staffers who'd been working in Microsoft's Premium Mobile Experiences (PMX) team, the group responsible for developing Pink, one source told Channelweb.com this week. Microsoft's inability or unwillingness to tap into the Danger talent is especially baffling given Danger's experience with the Sidekick, a device that has attracted the type of loyal following that Microsoft craves, the source said.
Microsoft has been rumored to be developing Pink for Verizon, although one has to wonder how the reports of internal discord will affect the carrier's confidence in Microsoft's ability to deliver. Indeed, if Pink is Microsoft's effort to hit a mobile device home run at a time when it desperately needs one, its failure would further underscore the impact of its Windows Mobile development difficulties.
Windows Mobile is a subject that CEO Steve Ballmer and Robbie Bach, president of the Entertainment and Devices division, have both addressed in frank terms in recent months, with Ballmer recently telling a conference of venture capitalists that Microsoft has restocked its Windows Mobile talent and won't allow Windows Mobile to stall again.
Mea culpas aside, Microsoft seems to think it's just one big hit away from getting back in the mobile game, as evidenced by a job listing that appeared in March explaining its vision for Windows Mobile 7 in glowing terms. "We aren't just building a me-too iPhone or RIM competitor; we're changing the way customers use and experience their device," the job posting read.
Microsoft's Windows Mobile struggles take on an extra layer of significance when one hears company executives talk about the "three screens" of PCs, televisions and mobile devices, all complemented with cloud-based services. It's an interesting goal, but no matter how compelling the Microsoft story is around the PC and television, it's hard to argue that the mobile screen isn't very much out of focus at the moment.