Microsoft has been plugging away at the mobile computing market for almost as long as Windows has been around. I'm thinking of products like Windows for Pen Computing, or the original Windows CE for handheld devices. At best, you could say that the consumers were willing but the platforms were weak.In Microsoft's case, the problem with those early devices was a stubborn devotion to the look and feel of desktop Windows. Their vision seemed to be that the Windows GUI deserved to be moved to every device, because users understood how it worked. But of course, a desktop interface isn't optimal for a mobile device with a tiny screen and lilliputian keyboard (if any). Tiny hardware platforms deserve software that's optimally designed to work with them.
Pioneering mobile devices like the original PalmPilot and the BlackBerry weren't shackled to a notion of a handheld interface that looked like a desktop, and they did very well. Then came the iPhone, a product from another maker of desktop operating systems. Apple didn't feel obligated to mimic its desktop software design on the iPhone the way Microsoft did, and users seemed to like the result.
Now, Microsoft's share of the mobile computing market is slipping away. Windows Mobile 6 looks pretty feeble next to the iPhone, which is why Windows Mobile 7 has been so greatly anticipated by Microsoft's hardware partners. Last week's news is that there has been another delay in Windows Mobile 7, and we're not likely to see it ship until late 2010.
The mobile market isn't going to wait for Microsoft in 2010; far from it. Google's Android platform is starting to make serious inroads into the market with hardware like the Motorola Droid; if the Google Phone rumors are to be believed there may be some big news in early 2010. And who knows what Apple has in store for the iPhone in 2010. In the meantime, the mobile device makers who've stuck with Microsoft and Windows Mobile are going to be tempted to jump ship, rather than wait a year or longer.