Microsoft delivered a potential body blow to the mobile business market yesterday with a new mobility platform designed to make Windows Mobile the de facto standard for IT. Will this be Microsoft's mobile tipping point?Microsoft has tried to make Windows Mobile the default standard for business mobility for over four years now. Yet, Microsoft is only on track for 20 million phone units worldwide. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the global market of 1.2 billion handsets that are expected to ship this year.
Initially, almost all the market analysts I knew thought long ago Windows Mobile would kill its competitors, especially in the business market. And while Windows Mobile has taken off with vertical markets, it's still far from the global gold standard.
I noticed with the last upgrade of Windows Mobile that Microsoft stopped talking about mobile e-mail and started stressing its platform. This indicates Microsoft's strategic shift. And despite some amusing confusion with branding, Microsoft is no longer trying up sell Windows Mobile on the back of Exchange. It's trying to offer Windows Mobile as a part of a comprehensive device management solution.
Microsoft's new platform, called System Center Mobile Device Manager (OK, so it won't win any awards for creative naming), takes the emphasis off e-mail and puts in on three areas: device management, transport, and security. Guess what, these are areas that Microsoft can win in.
It also recasts smartphones and mobile devices in the mode of laptops and not wireless handsets. Why is this important? It allows Microsoft to sell to CIOs on terms with which both IT managers and Microsoft are comfortable. In short, Microsoft isn't trying to replace RIM. It's trying to recast mobile as an IT issue, not a carrier issue that IT managers pay others to manage for them.
It also shows that Microsoft is serious about winning the device management sector. Device agnostic mobility platforms like Sybase iAnywhere, Smith Micro, and Odyssey Software should be scared. Startups like Mformation should be really, really scared.
As I have pointed out on this blog before, device management has emerged as the next competitive battleground for business mobility. While services like mobile e-mail become a commodity, device management will be the differentiator.
Can Microsoft use device management to win the business mobility market? Or will Windows Mobile continue to limp to mediocrity?