Microsoft talks mobility

At its Mobility Developer Conference held in Toronto recently, Microsoft Corp. demonstrated key areas of its new wireless offerings while discussing the past, present and future of the mobile industry to an audience of developers.

The Pocket PC 2003 and the Microsoft Smartphone were the highlights at the conference. Microsoft’s Mike Wehrs, director of technology and standards for the mobile device division, called the mobile industry “a new computing environment that is basically taking over.”

But Microsoft faces an uphill battle to gain acceptance.

Michelle Warren, a market analyst with Toronto-based Evans Research Corp., said a steady install base is a key factor keeping the PalmSource Inc. OS on top, but that in the next couple of years Microsoft will be greater competition to the company.

“Palm represents the lion’s share of the market…as an organization [Palm has] extremely strong brand recognition and brand acceptance. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out,” Warren said.

She added that Microsoft has tested the wireless market much like Dell tests and judges the PC market before jumping in.

Once the market had proven itself, Dell would step in with a lower price point and its brand recognition with plans to entice users to its offering, Warren said.

Microsoft is taking a similar route, except for the fact that the Redmond, Wash.-based company is no stranger to the mobile market. It has, however, enhanced its offering and rebranded its operating system, she added.

“They’ve been there for quite some time, it’s just there’s more of a push on the wireless space right now,” Warren said.

Wehrs said that with the new security systems associated with data connectivity, customers have new expectations from smarter devices that are now available, and demand more out of them.

“When developers can add more and more value to (mobile devices) then what I expect, what my user experience is going to be is dramatically better and different than just being able to place a voice call,” Wehrs said.

When describing today’s mobile industry, Wehrs said “we have the good and we have the things that we didn’t do quite as well as we would have liked.”

Cameras and storage were highlighted in the “good” area as being technologies that have changed dramatically over the past year, while Wi-Fi deployment, Web services and mobile data services rounded out the unsatisfactory category.

According to Mark Quigley, a telecom analyst with Ottawa-based Yankee Group Canada, extending applications to wireless devices is “certainly of strategic importance” to Microsoft.

“They have been busy in the wireless space coming out and building as many partnerships as they possibly can….There has been a tremendous amount of work, whether it’s introducing Microsoft Instant Messenger to wireless carriers or what have you, to make sure that they have as much presence as they can in those segments of the market,” Quigley said.

Wehrs said that of all the challenge areas Microsoft is trying to address right now, the ability to move from one network type to another – the concept of multi-network capability or “automatic handoff capability” – is at the top of the company’s list.