Microsoft and the Mobile OS Nomination

by Bob Schwartz

To spin a political metaphor, in the race for dominance in mobile OS, Microsoft is the candidate with the resources and the organization who can’t seem to close the deal.

It’s not that consumers don’t like Microsoft, although many don’t. It’s a complex of factors with this outcome: the race is down to two candidates – iOS and Android – and it is likely the two will dominate and coexist for a long time.

The field began with so many candidates now gone or barely hanging on, including WebOS, Symbian, and others. Microsoft remains confident it will be a major player. In so many of the other competitions, their sheer presence and heft has assured their victory. Windows has had to share a bit of the personal computing world with slicker, sexier Apple, not to mention the third-party Linux, the Ron Paul of OS. Along with that PC dominance came a near-monopoly on office productivity; for as many times as Microsoft remakes Office, each time more over-complex and confusing, it is still the standard. Even in browsers, where it appeared that IE would end up relegated to minority status, Microsoft could afford to hang in there and claw its way back. It has won more than it has lost, and believes it is entitled to stay in any race.

It may, therefore, be too early to completely count Microsoft out of the mobile OS race. It is partnering with Nokia, arguably the coolest phone maker on the planet (yes, maybe cooler than Apple), which is abandoning its long use of Symbian OS in favor of Windows. But as much as Microsoft puts into the effort, as many good reviews and fans as the Windows mobile OS wins over, it is too little too late.

Maybe in this case there is a “rule of two” for mobile app development and consumer adoption, rather than the usual rule of three. Developers have been willing to port their iOS apps to Android, though it remains a work in progress, as the differences between the OS continue to present challenges. Developers are already balking at adding a third version to the mix, given that Windows is also different and hasn’t yet demonstrated market share, if it ever will.

Two things we know about politics: the best candidate doesn’t always win, and money and organization may or may not be able to buy an election. Over the years, Microsoft has managed to push aside some very capable and innovative software. But that’s how it goes: the technology business isn’t “beanbag.” Maybe Microsoft has something really special to offer with Windows mobile OS. But millions of consumers may not care, and will never get the chance to find out.