By Patricia Resende / CIO Today. Updated January 13, 2010.
For months, mobile-phone users have heard rumors that Windows Mobile 7 might be delayed. However, Microsoft's mobile operating system may be in the hands of users sooner than expected.
Industry observers expect the software giant to introduce the updated platform next month at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which is where the company launched its latest version, Windows Mobile 6.5.
Microsoft wouldn't say much about the platform during talks at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, but Microsoft's Robbie Bach, entertainment and devices division president, did say Windows Mobile 7 will set the bar higher. The operating system is the fourth most popular mobile operating system with 7.9 percent of the global market, according to Gartner.
"We certainly have to expect more from 7," said Carolina Milanesi, research director of Gartner's Mobile Devices team. "Microsoft needs to make a drastic change to the user interface rather than evolving from the existing user interface, as was the case for 6.5 from 6.1."
Windows Mobile had seven million users in May. In July the number dropped to 6.6 million, but increased again to 7.1 million in October, according to comScore.
By contrast, rivals such as Apple have seen increases in the number of smartphone users. Apple's iPhone gained 50 percent from May to October, and Research In Motion had a 20 percent increase. Google's Android mobile operating system has done well with a 30 percent increase.
Windows Mobile 6.5 became available in October 2009, too late to have an impact on the third quarter, according to Gartner.
A Winning Formula
Microsoft needs to focus on making Windows Mobile 7 stand out from the crowd.
"Simplicity and richness are key," Milanesi said. "Sometimes reaching the right balance between the two is not easy, but this is certainly the winning formula. Microsoft also needs to revamp the brand with consumers, as today Windows Mobile is very much synonymous with enterprises."
While version 6.5 has not had the same success as its competitors, Microsoft will likely put a lot of budget dollars behind marketing Windows Mobile 7 to hype the platform. But along with marketing, Microsoft needs to make the OS available sooner than later.
Last year Microsoft introduced Windows Mobile 6.5 at the Mobile World Congress and released it to manufacturers in April, but did not make it available to mobile-phone users until October. If Microsoft follows the same pattern, Windows Mobile 7 will be in the hands of users in October.
That may be too late, analysts said.