Well at much as you could expect anyway!….. ….Microsoft has lost a lot ground in the Mobile Operating System market but has finally broken its silence regarding the next steps of its beleaguered mobile strategy. They’re not saying all that much about the OS itself, commonly known as the “Pink Project” at this time but what they are saying is that there will be an offering of two different versions of its operating system next year. Microsoft has decided that it aims to sell Windows Mobile 6.5 to a large variety of handset makers, whilst working more closely with a more selected set of manufacturers to sell phones built on the new version 7 of Windows Mobile that has been several years in the making. Windows Mobile 6.5 is a fairly interim update to the mobile operating system that was a knee jerk reaction to the iPhone and RIM effect that has hit Microsoft hard in the past 2 years. It’s due to sell mostly as an upgrade to WM 6.1 devices at first and we’re not sure how it will plug into the rugged market as yet.  Meanwhile Microsoft has been working to make WM 7.0 more radical, overhauling the operating system massively with the aim of matching the kinds of user experiences seen on the iPhone and Android. They’re doing this by using more advanced voice and touch interfaces as well as ensuring higher-end hardware is available to maximise the user experience. Microsoft demonstrated Windows Mobile 6.5 at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. and the interim update to Windows Mobile will start arriving on phones in the autumn, whilst the radical WM 7 incarnation is penned in for launch early 2010. I’m not particularly sure about this myself, running 6.5 and 7.0 along side will definitely make things harder for the developer community and will surely confuse the market further in my view but it will be interesting to see how it pans out. What is definitely clear is that Microsoft has this one shot at getting Windows Mobile right now if it hopes to live up to its mobile ambitions. For years, the company has made too modest updates to the Windows Mobile operating system, which still has its roots firmly placed in the pre-phone Pocket PC PDAs so what is clear is that change needs to happen and soon. In the last 2 years we’ve seen Palm go back to the drawing board, reinventing itself with the Web OS-based Pre, as well as a few follow-up phones already ear-marked for launch in the US.  The iPhone and Google Android have entered the market with nothing short of a storm and add to this Research In Motion has arguably done more broadening its already dedicated and loyal business user base and successfully capturing the consumer market and overtaking Microsoft in the process. OK, so lets not forget that Microsoft is more than capable of getting back in the game and so far they’re doing it the right way. Key people have been moved into the mobile division including ormer server executive Andy Lees who is “Very” responsible for all those little Intel and Microsoft badges you now see in your server rooms, but probably most importantly former Mac Business unit chief Roz Ho has been poached and is apparently running a top-secret “premium mobile user experience” team responsible for some of the “Pink” work.  Microsoft also purchased Danger, a company that understands the teen-centered mobile market and successfully created the T-Mobile Sidekick for it.  Lastly lets not forget that the “Tell Me” voice recognition unit has also been heavily involved with the Mobile team as Microsoft see voice recognition as a key element to the Mobile user experience. <h2>Hardware Strategy</h2> Microsoft has finally conceded that the user experience is key to success in this market and it seemingly has the right people and right thinking onboard. However they also need to commit to a launch and stick to it as well as at least delivering on any promises made and this means that hardware will also be a key element to their success. Most of their competitors have favoured a more locked in hardware strategy but Microsoft took a much more “Desktop Approach” to their hardware, preferring to outsource to key players whilst dictating a minimum requirement or specification for each version of Windows Mobile. Some of these hardware manufacturers have worked out and some haven’t but if we look at the success stories more closely (namely Samsung and HTC) we’ll see that they still all heavily customised the interface to the point many consumers don’t even know they have a Windows Device. We’ve all heard rumours from more than a few people that Microsoft is looking to enter the handset business itself but at this stage the company denies this strategy completely, preferring to make sure it partners more closely with fewer companies in order to produce more competitive devices whilst at the same time aiming to have its software run on the widest range of devices. Andy Lees and Bach have called this their “lowest common denominator” experience. <h2>What Next?</h2> Bach has already acknowledged that Microsoft simply needs to pick up its pace and close the gap again (CNET News – July 09). Where he also stated that things are taking time to get right but will be well worth the wait in the end! Other than this though, he hasn’t so far said much more about where Microsoft is headed than this. What do we think here at Rugged and Mobile? Well we think its time for the talk to stop and the walk to start! Microsoft has been away for way too long and WM 6.5 will barely hold things together until the end of the year in our opinion. Whilst the mobile phone market may well adopt the dual OS strategy we’re not sure what it will mean for the Rugged market where hefty investment is made in expensive barcode equipment. These customers will need to know more before they commit and software houses need to know what they can offer before they tell customers which way to go. What certainly is true though is that whilst Microsoft have got to get it right this time, there are a lot of Microsoft fans still out there. Some perhaps have got to know the iPhone a little more than they thought they would, but essentially if anyone can get both developers, businesses and consumers back then Microsoft can. We wait with bated breath! Dave The Rugged and Mobile blog.