First iPhone, now Droid. Who needs Windows?

Windows Mobile is losing the last glimmers of its mojo as phones based on the Android 2.0 operating system push the buzz meter needle into the red zone.

Brooke Crothers
Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
3 min read

If the iPhone didn't finish off Windows Mobile in the smartphone market, the Motorola Droid may.

Windows Mobile is losing the last vestiges of its mojo--if it really had any to begin with--as the Droid and other phones based on the Android 2.0 operating system push the buzz meter needle into the red zone. Many in the media--which can play a big role in steering users to one technology platform or another--sense that Windows Mobile has now been relegated resolutely to has-been status.

The Motorola Droid's high-resolution screen
The Motorola Droid's high-resolution screen. Verizon

Let's do a quick canvas of what some in the press are saying now that we're at the start of the Droid era. A post on SFGate.com (the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle) is, like other commentary out there, clearly dismissive of Windows Mobile. "Curiously, Microsoft is nowhere to be seen in this battle royal," the author states, referring to the iPhone and Android.

And there's this more damning comment from a blog at SeattlePI.com. "Rarely mentioned, however, is another player in the mobile OS market--Microsoft. Why not? Because not many people in the smartphone world seem to really give a hoot about Windows Mobile anymore."

The litany of like articles is long. This post on PC World asks: "Has Microsoft Placed Its Last Mobile Bet?" The article cites research from Canalys showing Windows Mobile slipping from 13.9 percent of the worldwide smartphone market in 2002 to 9 percent in the second quarter of 2009.

The numbers are even less favorable in an accounting by ad service Admob, which compiles data on which operating systems are in use on mobile devices that access online ads. In August, according to AdMob, Windows Mobile had only a 4 percent share of the mobile OS market worldwide, down from 7 percent in February.

But getting back to my original premise of no mobile mojo for Windows. The fact is that consumers don't care about Windows on smartphones. In other words, while Windows seems to be a prerequisite for many consumers when buying a PC, it just doesn't come into play in a big way in a smartphone purchase.

This will have ramifications beyond Microsoft of course. Companies like Toshiba (and its attractive TG01 smartphone) will probably not be as successful on Windows Mobile as they would (will) be on Android 2.0. Or, at the very least, will not get the necessary buzz.

Then there's the Intel factor. Intel also wants to be a player, eventually, in the smartphone space. If it is indeed able to beat back Texas Instruments (whose chip is used in the Droid), Samsung (iPhone), Qualcomm (BlackBerry), and Marvell, it probably won't do it by sticking to the tried-and-true "WinTel" combination that's been so outrageously successful in the PC space.

And Intel is chasing a fast-moving target. TI, and all the other ARM-based chip suppliers cited above, are slated to bring out dual-core designs that can hit speeds as high as 2GHz (think next-generation tablets and media pads). In other words, they'll also be able claim the coveted speed mantle on phones, such as the Droid, where Windows Mobile is no where in sight.

So the Droid may not be the iPhone killer but rather the Windows Mobile slayer. Microsoft, of course, will always have the unassailable PC franchise. But, wait, isn't Android coming to Netbooks next year? Maybe the real battle royal for Microsoft is yet to come.