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Fixing Windows Mobile

Microsoft's mobile operating system remains a lame duck. What can be done to make it better?

I had some time to kill yesterday down in Palo Alto so I went to the Apple store and played with the iPhone (it's still great, despite being AT&T only) and then to the AT&T store to check out the Blackberry Bold (nice new UI but a little big) then to T-mobile to look at the Android again (it really needs some work.)

In my mobile phone travels I took a look at several phones running Windows Mobile, an operating system I have discussed in the past. I still struggle to see why Microsoft hasn't fixed the user experience and the odd quirks if they want to be truly competitive.

Microsoft is losing on mobile phones to Apple and Google and doesn't even come close to usurping Symbian's place. And as BusinessWeek points out "To keep up, it needs touch displays, mobile cloud computing, and its own app store." True, but it's hard to see how these additional features will address the basic problem that the operating system is underwhelming and occasionally downright terrible.

Microsoft has the assets to make a mobile vision reality, but it's hard to say what that vision consists of. The App Store has been the killer app for the iPhone, and Android has gotten a huge boost as part of the Google-verse. Microsoft could easily start to sway developers by connecting Windows Mobile with its Live services and development platforms.

In the meantime, Apple's iPhone will continue to undermine every other device maker and operating system thanks to it's simplicity and features. It's not a great phone, it is however a great mobile device.

This is not to say that building an OS for a phone is easy. Companies like Panasonic and Motorola have dumped tens of millions of dollars into mobile Linux with not a huge amount to show for it. Microsoft may be on the right track but Windows Mobile is off enough that most of the innovation goes unnoticed due the basic flaws.

Anecdotally, I have a friend who works for a company that requires their staff to use Windows Mobile and every time he calls me the phone reboots. It must have something to do with my open source voodoo.

Note: I use a Blackberry on Verizon Wireless.