MWC 2010 Scorecard: Mobile platforms

Whose profile is rising? Microsoft
Microsoft arrived in Barcelona, Spain, knowing it had no margin for error. Its Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system, released to scathing reviews in October 2009, cast the software giant as an increasingly out-of-touch pretender to the smartphone supremacy of rivals Apple and Google, prompting many pundits to declare the long-promised and much-delayed Windows Mobile 7 as Microsoft's last stab at restoring its relevance. Even CEO Steve Ballmer admitted the pressure was on WinMo 7--speaking about the OS last fall at a private breakfast in Boston, he said, "We know we have to kill on that one."

Leaving Barcelona, the consensus is that Microsoft is once again a legitimate force in mobile software. Its Windows Phone 7 Series OS was arguably the biggest announcement to emerge from Mobile World Congress 2010, and while the clunky new brand name may not inspire much optimism, the decision to retire Windows Mobile is emblematic of the fresh start the new operating system represents. "There is no question in our minds that we needed and wanted to do some things that were out of the box and clearly differentiated from our past and--hopefully you will agree--clearly differentiated from other things going on in the market," Ballmer said at the jam-packed media event confirming Windows Phone 7's arrival. Based on the demonstration that made up the bulk of the event, the OS heralds a dramatic break from previous incarnations of Windows Mobile.

Built essentially from scratch over the last year and a half, Windows Phone 7 follows just four months after WinMo 6.5, but the two platforms could not be more different. According to Microsoft, devices running the OS will deliver an experience distinguished by a more elegant user interface design as well as close integration with applications and the Web. "We saw an opportunity for change," said Windows Phone VP Joe Belfiore. "We didn't see the UIs updating to keep up with all the new capabilities in today's phones. Our focus in on the end user and the things that matter to them."

Questions remain. Microsoft offered little information on how Windows Phone 7 will impact its existing developer partners, or--no less significant--how it will attract new developers into the fold and away from iPhone and Android. Nor did it address whether existing Windows Mobile applications will run over Windows Phone 7 Series devices, although Ballmer confirmed Microsoft will continue to support WinMo 6.5 for years to come. (Microsoft adds that developer questions and answers will arrive at its MIX event, taking place in Las Vegas next month.) Even so, initial analyst reaction was guardedly optimistic. "The early view of Window Mobile 7 is promising... [but] the features won't matter if Microsoft doesn't get its branding in line," wrote Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin. "Our data shows most consumers don't have a clue about their phone's operating system."

Whose profile is falling? Nokia
When the world's biggest handset maker descends upon the world's premier mobile industry event without a new device in tow, leaving the door wide open to its rivals, of course its image is going to take a hit. And so Nokia made a negligible impact at the 2010 Mobile World Congress, tying its biggest news to its Linux-based Maemo platform and devoting the rest of its annual media showcase to spitting out download metrics and consumer uptake trends. Despite reporting stronger than expected fourth quarter results, Nokia still looks like a company struggling to define its identity in a post-iPhone world.

The headline news: Nokia and computing giant Intel will combine their respective Maemo and Moblin efforts into one Linux-based software platform, MeeGo, that will be open to other manufacturers. The goal, the companies said, is to "accelerate industry innovation and time-to-market for a wealth of new Internet-based applications and services and exciting user experiences." Nokia promised to offer MeeGo-based devices "later this year," adding it will essentially replace Maemo in its product lineup. A Nokia executive said MeeGo will not impact its support for Symbian, which the company will use for its mid-range devices and smartphones.

Despite the ongoing struggles of services like the all-you-can-eat Comes With Music effort, it does appear that Nokia has hit paydirt with its fledgling Ovi Maps navigation app, announcing at MWC that more than 3 million consumers have downloaded the application since it debuted in late January. According to Niklas Savander, the handset giant's executive vice president of services, Ovi Maps--a free service offering driving and walking navigation in 74 countries and 46 languages--now averages more than one download per second, 24 hours a day, translating to around 100,000 downloads on a daily basis. He added that Ovi Maps maximizes the Navteq assets Nokia acquired for $8.1 billion in 2007.

MWC 2010 Scorecard: Mobile platforms