Windows Mobile needs fixing, fast

Weeks ago the big Redmond stories were the release of Dynamics Live CRM and the announcement that Windows Server 2008 would come out in February of next year along with the next revs of SQL Server and Visual Studio. Prior to Microsoft’s big news it was how Apple iPhone seemed a little worm-ridden when compared even to Windows Mobile. And naturally, at the time, I agreed. No one’s open-mouthed with surprise, but even so, I feel it’s important to point out that I don’t think the iPhone is total bullocks.

And nothing has served to bring that out more than Microsoft’s release of Dynamics Live.

Sure, Apple messed up the iPhone. Nothing ticks off the geek set more than a company promising great things with vagaries, then delivering lots of not-so-great specifics. Locked-down APIs mean no mobile app coolness for the foreseeable future, no hardware price breaks, a nasty phone plan relationship, and difficulty integrating with the desktop stuff with which the biz people like to integrate. The iSheep, who need an Apple logo tattooed on as many of their belongings as possible, will buy one anyway. But IT management will ignore the thing for as long as possible since it represents only additional support work. There are no new user bennies to speak of when you think about it.

But that’s just the situation today. Right now. It doesn’t mean Apple can’t fix it tomorrow. And that last word doesn’t carry much poetic license either because most of the iPhone’s problems aren’t technical — they’re just bad business. Pump some lattes into a few MBAs up there in Cupertino and you could find those APIs suddenly opening up. Or some new phone plan vendors and relationships being announced. Maybe even some money breaks that might allow us to describe the gadget’s price tag as merely “expensive” rather than outright “wallet-raping.” And if that happens, Microsoft will have to organize a giant butt-kicking party on one of those soccer fields that litter the campus because Redmond has an opportunity right now, and the company is messing it up.

A little Q&A:

Q: Who are the most mobile workers on average? A: Salespeople.

Q: What new application type can benefit salespeople the most, provided that its implementation isn’t horrible? A: CRM.

Q: What’s Microsoft just released that makes CRM adoption as easy as possible for the broadest swath of its customers? A: Hosted CRM from SMB on up.

Q: Where are salespeople automatically going to want access to that app? A: On the road.

Q: What Microsoft mobile OS platform is cheaper, open, and probably easier to build on than any other mobile OS platform out there today? A: Windows Mobile.

Q: Yet what Microsoft mobile OS platform has been plagued by completely unnecessary reliability bugs since version 5? A: Yeah, that’s right: Windows Mobile.

From Version 5 through Version 6, Windows Mobile has brought me nothing but reader complaints. It suddenly dies. It has its own version of the Blue Screen of Death. It freezes and the only thing that can fix it is to actually pop out the battery for a minute. It has trouble with ActiveSync. It has trouble with Wi-Fi. Some versions can run certain apps others can’t. It’s not possible to upgrade an existing device from Version 5 to Version 6; you have to buy a whole new phone. The list goes on.

See, that’s troubled technology, which in my experience is a lot harder to fix than a troubled business deal. All Apple has to do is fix a few contracts and make sure that OS X can run CRM Live and Dynamics Live, and the outfit will have not only the trendiest phone, but the most useful phone for Microsoft CRM customers, too. Why? ‘Cause even though it’s closed, the iPhone is still OS X — and OS X simply doesn’t crash that often. (Hey, it’s true.) Nothing ticks off salespeople more than relying on a tool to help close a deal and having that tool suddenly do a face-plant midspiel.

Windows Mobile may have all the paper advantages — openness, Microsoft app compatibility, a great price, and loads of third-party support — but if users can’t rely on it out there in the wild, woolly, and unsupported field, none of that means very much. Microsoft has all the advantages that count in this space right now. The company really has the chance to win one based on functionality and capability rather than just marketing. And Redmond’s chief marketing rival just mated the small dog. Let’s hope they don’t squander it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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