While the smart phone headlines have been dominated by Google

OPINION: WinMo 7 needs a

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer opted not to talk about his company’s soon-to-be-expected Windows Mobile 7 OS during his keynote address at last week’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

 

Considering the huge media profile the show attracts, the lack of a sneak preview from the Microsoft chief was seen as a little odd by many media pundits, with many around the blogosphere proclaiming Microsoft’s silence as another step backwards with the Windows Mobile platform.

 

Even though Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, told financial analysts later on at CES that Windows Mobile 7 will be “talked about” at February’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, the damage was already done and many wireless junkies left the show disappointed.

 

I can’t say I blame anyone for jumping to this conclusion.

 

Its initial 2009 release date was pushed back to sometime this year and many surveys suggest Windows Mobile is losing market share by the bundle. A flood of new Android-based phones, such as Motorola Inc.’s Droid and Google’s own Nexus One, isn’t doing Ballmer and company any favours in this respect either.

 

The Redmond, Wash. giant also didn’t help matters a few months ago when it made a big deal over nothing at the Windows Mobile 6.5 launch event. Mark Tauschek, a lead analyst with London, Ont.’s Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., memorably compared the release to “putting lipstick on a pig.”

 

I’d recommend Microsoft put away the lipstick now and instead trade it in for some ChapStick.

 

If the software giant ever wants to be a mobile device giant, Microsoft will need to start kissing up to developers.

 

Because CES isn’t a mobile-focused conference, the decision to stay silent about Windows Mobile 7 could end up being a good move. Microsoft’s new OS — which many consumers either haven’t heard about or don’t care about — would have been lost in the shuffle at CES.

 

What the company needs to do is show up at MWC 2010 and spent a lot of energy appealing to the developer community, who should be a lot more numerous in Barcelona than they were in Las Vegas last week.

 

People seem to forget that in addition to running devices, a mobile OS is also a platform for developers to create. Microsoft needs to recognize that users are not important at this stage of the game.

 

The company has failed with the Windows Mobile community and even somebody who doesn’t follow this space can see that after one trip to the Windows Mobile app store.

 

Instead of spending millions on ineffective “The Windows phone was my idea” ads (this hasn’t happened yet, but can’t you already see it?), Microsoft should be doing everything possible to woo developers to its new platform.

 

Take a chunk of that advertising money and starting funneling it into the hands of developers. Give them incentives to actually start developing cool new apps by running big contests.

 

If I was Microsoft I would create a contest called “The Search for The Million-Dollar App” and literally give out a million bucks to the best app. I don’t care how stupid this might sound on paper; just imagine how good that app will probably end up being.

 

This would be an unprecedented show of interest to developers and might even create some major buzz in the media.

 

If the company really has to start an ad campaign, it should be focused on developers and the killer apps they’re creating. The Apple “there’s an app for that” TV spots were so (and still are) successful because users love apps.

 

In the video game industry, it’s not the console that appeals to users, but rather the games themselves. The whole reason that Microsoft got off to a blazing start with Xbox 360 was because it was a lot easier to develop on the platform than Sony’s PlayStation 3.

 

The same will be true for mobile apps. People are going to come for “The Million Dollar App.”

 

This battle for smart phone supremacy is just beginning. This isn’t a market that Microsoft can afford to underestimate anymore.

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