Daily Archives: June 10, 2010

Microsoft Hasn’t Earned Benefit of Doubt in Smartphones

At PC World, Tony Bradley strongly counsels his readers to wait and see Windows Phones 7 before they adopt Apple’s latest iteration of the iPhone or Android-based smartphones. He also says it might be prudent to include RIM and its BlackBerry in their assessments, too, but he dismisses that thought by brushing off the BlackBerry as “not really in the same league as the next-generation iPhone and Android devices, or what it seems Microsoft will bring to the table based on what we know so far.”

It is a curious statement that practically begs for a challenge. I will oblige.

First, let’s consider Bradley’s generous optimism toward Microsoft. How many kicks at the mobile can has Microsoft had? And how many times has its foot made solid contact with said can?

Even the most indulgent of observers would have to say Microsoft’s aim has been anything but true. What, then, persuades Bradley to believe Microsoft will do the deed this time? Is it because the company’s mobile group, like a faltering restaurant whose best chefs have decamped, is under new management?

I don’t know whether that’s enough to persuade me. Microsoft has had many chances to get it right with mobile operating systems and smartphones, and I’m at the point now where it must prove that it has the chops to play the game. Until then, I’m a resolute skeptic, and I wouldn’t defer an enterprise buying decision just because Microsoft might deliver a new smartphone operating system later this year. It’s been a long time since Microsoft had the intimidating force to suspend a market in that manner.

Let’s also consider Bradley’s summary dismissal of RIM. Earlier in this commentary, he cites smartphone market numbers, derived from comScore data, that suggest RIM tops the charts in market share. The company actually gained share in the last quarter on record, according to the comScore figures.

Like Microsoft, RIM will release a refreshed smartphone operating system later this year. Unlike Microsoft, RIM has enjoyed considerable market success with its smartphones. Like Microsoft, RIM has more affinity with enterprise users than with consumers. Unlike Microsoft, RIM has given its enterprise customers and service providers mobile-enterprise technologies and handsets that actually integrated smoothly with messaging and application infrastructure. That’s all the more impressive when one considers that, in most instances, RIM’s customers also were Microsoft customers. Even with that leverage, Microsoft failed to capitalize.

I don’t understand how anybody could extol Microsoft as a mobile-enterprise savant while dismissing RIM as a court jester. I fail to see the logic that says, of the two vendors, Microsoft is more likely than RIM to deliver an elegant, seamless mobile-enterprise solutions. How does one reach that conclusion based on what we’ve seen historically? Microsoft’s track record isn’t good, and we shouldn’t give it the benefit of the doubt just because it’s gearing up for another run.

Agreed, RIM’s Blackberry Operating System has fallen behind advances brought to market by Apple, Google, and even Palm, which is preparing for mastication by HP. Like Microsoft — and Nokia, for that matter — RIM will have to make up lost  technological ground on Apple and Google. But like Microsoft, RIM is making an effort to get back into the game, with its BlackBerry OS 6.0 slated for release later this year. Earlier indications suggest that it will close, if not eliminate, RIM’s innovation deficit. Nonetheless, it is not likely to change the fundamental perception of RIM as functional stalwart as opposed to trailblazing innovator.

So be it.  RIM probably doesn’t need to lead in flash and dash to maintain its enterprise clout. RIM understands the needs of enterprises — from application and systems integration all the way through to security and compliance — and it does not figure to be  easily displaced in large numbers of those accounts. Many enterprise users might try bringing their iPhones and Android-based handsets to the office, but that won’t always work, for reasons that vary depending on the specific industries and circumstances in which their employers operate.

Many years ago, when RIM began feathering its young nest among Microsoft’s installed base, I was among those who thought Microsoft might solve mobile email and repel RIM’s incursion with prejudice. Well, that never happened. Microsoft never did get its mobile house in order. Why do some of us think it will be any different this time?