Microsoft's curious lack of ambition in mobile

Microsoft is a great company, but can't seem to get its game together in the mobile market.

Microsoft says "There's plenty of innovation in the pipeline" for Windows Mobile. For those of us who haven't considered a Windows-based phone since the iPAQ's decline, the real question is, "If Microsoft has an innovative Windows Mobile experience, why is the company keeping it such a secret?"

Seriously, where has Microsoft been on mobile? It's a market that the best companies in the software industry are targeting, including Google and Apple, but Microsoft seems to be AWOL. CNET's Ina Fried notes some wishful thinking on Microsoft's part to get back in the smartphone game, but I'm not seeing it.

As Mark Sigal highlights, Google is approaching mobile with an open approach; Apple is winning with a closed approach; and Microsoft? Well, Microsoft seems to still think the phone is a PDA, with little innovation (closed or open) that would trouble a consumer to bother buying a Windows-powered mobile device.

Perhaps that is why Microsoft's smartphone market share has now dipped below 10 percent and shows no sign of resurrection.

This isn't about open source versus proprietary software. It's about focus, something that Microsoft seems not to have given mobile in a long, long time. Steve Ballmer was willing to spend roughly $45 billion on Yahoo to compete in search, but has managed only a $500 million acquisition of Danger to compete in mobile.

This despite advertising, computing, and (of course) communications moving to mobile devices. What has Microsoft been thinking? Or not thinking, as the case may be?

Yes, Microsoft is now partnering with Nokia to up its mobile game, but ZDNet's Larry Dignan is spot on calling this a "dog of a deal born from weakness," not strength.

What Microsoft needs is to innovate. Or at least to copy someone else's innovations. But it appears to be doing neither. This is inexcusable for a company with its resources and development talent. Microsoft is a great company, one that occasionally turns an industry on its head, as it has with SharePoint to the stodgy Enterprise Content Management market.

But Windows Mobile? It's lame.

This isn't a demand that Microsoft miraculously achieve mobile perfection. Heck, the iPhone has taught us that, great as it is, "good enough" is more than good enough (e.g., it comes with an underpowered camera...that everyone seems to use).

Microsoft is fond of talking about just how much it spends on research and development. But it's time to stop talking and start shipping. I've heard rumors of an exceptional mobile product on the way from Microsoft, but that's all I ever hear: something "in the cooker" that will "rock the world soon!"

As Morrissey used to croon for The Smiths, "How soon is now?"


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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