There are a number of reasons IDC believes Microsoft has not yet had that iconic device:
1. What the key players listed above have in common is control: control of the device and the operating system. RIM, Apple and Palm all own both the OS and device and deliver an integrated experience. Nokia has spun off Symbian as a non-profit entity, yet the integration of Nokia and Symbian is akin to any of the three device makers and its OS. Microsoft, however, must work with all of its device manufacturers and although the company certainly has influence, each device vendor has its own sets of priorities and a growing number of devices and operating systems it is working on. Unlike the PC, the mobile device is a much more personal device, where the hardware design, look and even color play a role in customer's buying decisions
2. Technology may also play a role here. Apple, Palm and RIM have delivered capacitive touch devices, while Microsoft's key touchscreen devices from HTC are the older resistive touch technology. The experience makes a difference in the end-users' hand.
3. Cost may be a factor. With RIM, Apple and Palm, the device manufacturers own the operating system. Symbian is now a free license as is Android and other Linux operating systems. And while Palm may still license its webOS to other device manufacturers, today, Windows Mobile remains as a mobile operating system where an ODM must pay for the license. In challenging economic times this may be a differentiator. In addition, ODMs must make decisions around how many and what operating systems they will support and cost may be a factor in how many devices they launch with a particular OS. Android, for example, as a fee free OS seems to be garnering a growing number of device makers for multiple devices.
Despite not yet having a superphone, Microsoft is still in a strong market position. Windows Mobile is currently third in the world with 13% share in IDC's Converged Mobile Device market (behind Symbian and RIM's BlackBerry OS) and has about 95% share of the Ruggedized Device market.
Microsoft is also fully aware of not having a flashy device that can stand up to the icons in the market today. Expect to see something from Microsoft in the near future. Likely manufacturers are Samsung or LG. Samsung has had feature phones that have pre-sold more than a million devices, including the Samsung Ultra Touch (1.8 million devices pre-sold) and the soon to ship Samsung Jet (that incidentally is the first feature phone to support Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync and pre-sold 2 million devices). LG, also a key Microsoft ODM, is known for delivery of devices with strong user experiences and attractive UIs and form factors. The challenge in working with vendors such as LG and Samsung will be the need for Microsoft to preserve the distinctive user interface that both companies use to differentiate.
Stephen Drake is the program vice president for Mobility & Telecom research at IDC. In this position, he has responsibility for the Mobile Enterprise, Mobile SMB, Mobile Device coverage, IP Communication Services and also contributes to IDC's Unified Communication research. Visit IDC.com.