Microsoft smart-phone effort too little, too late

The smart-phone market, which has been pretty quiet for a while, is buzzing about the long-awaited release of phones running Microsoft Windows 7.

The smart-phone market, which has been pretty quiet for a while, is buzzing about the long-awaited release of phones running Microsoft Windows 7.

These handsets, which will start out on AT and T Mobile, will be the first to run the latest version of Windows and you’d think this would be a big deal given the size of Microsoft Corp. and its dominance of the PC world.

Well, you’d be wrong.

Microsoft has pretty much hopelessly blundered its way into the smart-phone market and until this point has made little splash with the devices running Windows Mobile. Now it is releasing probably the best phone operating system it has created thus far and . . . another thud.

It’s not that the phones are that bad. There are some decent features on the new phones coupled with the new operating system that are pretty good. It is just too little and too late for Microsoft to make a significant splash in this market.

The tale of the tape: Google Inc.’s Android operating system, which runs on dozens of phones now, already has grabbed a 32 per cent market share. BlackBerry has 25 per cent and falling and Apple has 26 per cent and falling. So to get a significant market share, Microsoft must produce a product better than the Android flood, the iPhone and Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry line. That’s not going to happen.

Thanks to a lousy business plan, consumers are locked into contracts with their smart phones and they can’t just run out and get the latest toy even if they wanted it. Then Microsoft has to show that its product is worth changing for, that there will be enough applications for Windows Mobile and that learning a whole new way of doing something is worth it. Those are huge hurdles for consumers today and most won’t start that race.

There is a chance that the Windows phones will be a minor hit in the corporate world because of the tight integration with Exchange mail, SharePoint and Office. That’s why so many people are still carrying BlackBerries . . . because their company makes them and pays the bill. So some companies with close ties to Microsoft will take the plunge and roll out the newest phones but that also won’t make a significant dent in the marketplace. For now the market belongs to Android and the flurry of new devices that run Google’s operating system. Steve Jobs over at Apple never learned the VHS/Betamax lesson and despite leadership in the nice iPhone, tied it to one carrier and one device. That has cost Apple dearly when it has come to profit and market share when it once had a chance to own the mobile-phone marketplace with the clearly superior iPhone.

Now Apple is reversing course and preparing to introduce an iPhone product for Verizon in a few months. But after three years and the successful launch of Android it remains to be seen how successful that bid will be in the long term.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is