Wait till late next year for Windows Mobile 7

While most of the analysis on Google's forthcoming Nexus One branded Android smartphone emphasizes the company's escalating rivalry with Apple, it's also worth considering how far the gap between Google and Microsoft has widened in recent months. With a growing number of handset manufacturers pinning their hopes on the Android OS and software developers shifting their creative efforts to writing Android applications, Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform seems increasingly irrelevant with each passing week. After Windows Mobile lost 28 percent marketshare between the third quarter of 2008 and Q3 2009, according to market research firm Gartner, concern over Microsoft's mobile viability is at a fever pitch--last week, analyst Mark Anderson told the New York Times "It's time to declare Microsoft a loser in phones. Just get out of Dodge." According to Anderson, Microsoft's enterprise-centric culture is the problem: "Phones are consumer items, and Microsoft doesn't have consumer DNA," he said.

To its credit, Microsoft has admitted its mobile missteps. Speaking in October at a private breakfast in Boston, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company understands it must make significant strides with the long-in-gestation Windows Mobile 7 operating system, adding "We know we have to kill on that one." At the recent Connect! technology summit in London, Microsoft UK head of mobility Phil Moore was also candid in assessing the firm's struggles: "We're still playing catch-up," he admitted. "When Apple came on to the scene a couple of years ago, it threw away the rulebook and reinvented it. We unfortunately don't have that luxury. It's true--Apple caught us all napping. It launched something that was very iconic, new and unseen with a very good user interface." Moore then dropped a bombshell, admitting Windows Mobile 7 has been pushed back to late 2010. "It is definitely coming," Moore added. "You're going to see a lot more on Windows Mobile 7. Giving the enterprise users and consumers what they want will be part of Windows Mobile 7. You'll get flexibility on a much easier touch UI."

Given how much the mobile landscape has changed in the last 12 months, it's impossible to imagine how much further the industry will evolve in the year ahead, and even tougher to imagine where Windows Mobile 7 will fit into the equation when it finally does arrive. Microsoft has already said WinMo 7 is its last shot at a comeback--how could the project veer so far off schedule? Because no matter how innovative or user-friendly the OS turns out to be, a Q4 2010 release seems like too little, too late. Asked in a recent interview with The Washington Times what keeps him up at night, Google CEO Eric Schmidt responded "I'm always worried about Microsoft. The position they have with Windows and Office is so profoundly powerful." With Windows Mobile 7 out of the picture, something tells me Schmidt's resting a lot easier right now. -Jason