Will delay close WinMo's window of opportunity?

So far, seven is anything but lucky for Microsoft. The software giant has revealed to partners it will be forced to delay the release of its Windows Mobile 7 OS until at least the second half of 2009, effectively pushing the commercial launch of devices based on the updated operating system into 2010. Citing sources briefed on the WinMo delay, CNET News reports Microsoft partners were expecting a final release of the OS update by early next year--onlookers anticipate the release to include features like advanced gesture recognition as well as speech-input services courtesy of Microsoft's Tellme unit. Some new Windows Mobile bells and whistles are still expected to debut later this year, most notably an improved browser that adapts the Internet Explorer 6 rendering engine for devices, enabling display of rich web pages boasting Flash content and Ajax applications, but leaked screen captures of the browser (dubbed "6 on 6") aren't particularly impressive.

The Windows Mobile 7 delay could not have occurred at a worse time for Microsoft, which continues to face growing competition from Apple's iPhone as well as Google's new Android OS. Microsoft has not officially confirmed a revised WinMo 7 schedule, with Windows Mobile group product manager Scott Rockfeld telling Venture Beat the company is "not publicly sharing our roadmap at this point." Yet despite its problems, Microsoft--or at least CEO Steve Ballmer--remains strangely optimistic about the firm's mobile outlook. Speaking at a recent Churchill Club event in Santa Clara, Calif., Ballmer predicted smartphone rivals Nokia, Research In Motion and Apple will all falter as the market expands because those companies tie their software so closely to their proprietary hardware--in other words, he argued, the same software licensing strategy that galvanized Microsoft's desktop dominance will apply to the smartphone hierarchy, with the real battle for supremacy taking place between Symbian, mobile Linux and Windows Mobile.

Developer interest in the Windows Mobile platform remains strong--Microsoft recently revealed the number of WinMo licenses grew by 81 percent in the past year, and there are now some 18,000 Windows apps in all--but for how much longer? Windows Mobile's share of the smartphone market is falling: According to a recent report issued by research firm Canalys, Microsoft owned a 23 percent smartphone marketshare in the first quarter of 2004, which slipped to 18 percent the following year before dropping to 12 percent in Q1 of 2006, where it remained a year later. By comparison, Canalys notes Apple claimed 7 percent of the worldwide smartphone market by the fourth quarter of 2007 with just one device, and is expected to match or even surpass Windows Mobile sales worldwide by the end of 2008. And those statistics don't even take into account the potential impact of Android. Ballmer may be right--software liberated from hardware may eventually win out. But with marketshare eroding and no updated OS in sight, there are no guarantees Windows Mobile will still be around to enjoy the last laugh. -Jason

P.S. Apologies to all FierceDeveloper readers who mistakenly received last week's issue of FierceWireless:Europe. We inadvertently sent this newsletter to the wrong mailing list, and if nothing else we hope you enjoyed the additional insight into the European mobile industry.