So i’m ending this bonanza week all about Windows Embedded 8 Handheld which is Microsoft’s successor to the trusty Windows Mobile line of operating systems with my brief thoughts on where the whole mobile OS market is going for Microsoft. In fact I’m not sure they’ll even be in it in 5 years time and here’s my reasons for thinking this. Please note these are purely my own thoughts and opinions, based on the crazy stuff that goes on in my head. I’d welcome comments and questions and a discussion so go over to twitter @ruggedandmobile to do that.
Why do I think this? Well here’s why:
1. The global rugged device market for tablets and PDA’s is approximately 4-5M devices per year which is a fraction of the size of even the iPhone market, let alone the consumer one in general, so on the one hand I think having a rugged OS is good for business it’s still going to be a tiny market and not one that’s going to put Microsoft or anyone else for that matter back on top of the world. Are Microsoft going to really support a completely bespoke OS for this market?
2. We’ve got very close connections to many rugged hardware manufacturers around the globe and we talk to them a lot. The pilot running in the USA right now to me seems to be fraught with partner issues. First its Moto, now it’s Pidion involved and it’s not clear at all where it’s going or with who.
3. The largest rugged supplier is Motorola Solutions. However they’ve only launched Android based devices with a heavily bespoked OS this year, add in their Rhomobile offering and also the fact they’re clearly trying to create an eco-system of preferred suppliers and apps and you’d be right to question if they’re committed 100% to Microsoft any more. I’m not sure Microsoft know or understands how to work in a multi-OS market and I would question if anyone can commit to an OS 100% in one?
4. Windows 8 phone only runs on Qualcomm snap dragon chips and as far as I have managed to understand WE8H runs on the W8P core. This chip is not only starting to show its age but as the months roll by, Qualcomm are surely going to de-focus or even drop the chip for newer ones they’ve developed. Are Microsoft OS sales going to be enough to keep the processor going or to warrant a redevelopment on a newer or more open chipset? THey only have 2.9% of the consumer market and the rugged market, as already demonstrated, is tiny.
5. Add to the above, not enough is being done or said from partners or Microsoft themselves to give everyone a clear understanding of what is going on and how WE8H will work. I mean WE8H has been announced for a year now. I’m an ex-HP/Microsoft bod, I develop MS solutions, I sell Rugged hardware, i’m cheeky, nosey, tweet and comment all the time and I don’t know. What chance has a small corporate got? To me this always happens when doors are going to be shut on certain people. Does it mean only the lead hardware partners get the technology? Does it mean the OS will rely on 1 chipset to function? Does it mean that developers have to migrate their Windows Mobile development to the W8P and WEH8 platforms…convenient hey? Whos going to lose out and why and how will that impact the smaller business looking to reduce risk and innovate on their own terms?
6. Lastly it’s been a year since the launch but still no WE8H devices that normal bods can buy and test with. There’s still no strategy, despite some hardware manufacturers announcing devices themselves. I think i’m right to ask what the heck is going on?
All I know is that people that I talk to are all leaning towards Android right now because they’re worried that WE8H is not only going to be too much of an unknown and thus a risk. Android is here to stay in the rugged market, it’s getting better all the time, we’re writing apps to integrate barcode scanners and other hardware for smaller hardware providers or to simply differentiate and it leaves your choices open. I think the world has changed hugely the past 5 years and will continue to change at an even higher rate. Is it rude to stop and ask if Microsoft might still not be quite as on the money as they think they are?