10 ways Microsoft can save Windows Mobile -- starting NEXT WEEK!

What will Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announce during Monday's Mobile World Congress press event in Barcelona, Spain? There's what he will announce and what he should. I'm skipping the speculation about what and going right to should. Microsoft's mobile strategy is a mess. Apple and Google have routed Microsoft in mobile operating systems. Android and iPhone OS make Windows Mobile look about as fresh as Windows 95. Meanwhile, Microsoft has chased Research in Motion's BlackBerry in the enterprise for years, never making any real gains.

It's long past time for the Big Ballmer to step up and offer something substantial -- not promises of future technology coming but goodies available immediately or nearly so. I've condensed what easily was a list of 15 or so items down to 10 things Microsoft must do immediately to save Windows Mobile from extinction. Microsoft has no more time. It's do or die, and even doing now may be too late. With that introduction, Microsoft should:

1. Release Windows Mobile 7. That's not announce but release, either next week or within 60 days. Anything less than immediate or near-immediate timing is simply too long. Google's Android is on rapid development and end-user adoption pace now, and Apple is sure to release a new iPhone model by summer. Meanwhile, Windows Mobile continues its decline. Gartner and IDC haven't yet released worldwide smartphone OS shipments for fourth quarter, but ComScore has released US phone subscriber share, based on a survey of more than 30,000 mobile users. Android phone share (based on actual subscribers not shipments) was 5.2 percent in fourth quarter, up from 2.5 percent sequentially. Share by phone OS vendor: RIM, 41.6 percent; Apple, 25.3 percent; Microsoft, 18 percent.

Ballmer will make a huge mistake if all he has is something to show. He can drone on about how much better is the Windows 7 Mobile user interface or blow about natural user interface enhancements. Big fraking deal. Microsoft's theme for Windows Phone at MWC is "Ready. Set." If Windows 7 isn't ready, set, go, Ballmer should stay in Washington State (or fly back if he already is in Spain).

2. Announce Zune phone -- or, at least, a handset based on Danger technology. Of course, Microsoft should do its own phone. A Danger phone -- the so-called "Project Pink" -- would be something better than nothing, but a Zune phone would be much better. Sure Microsoft risks alienating some of its OEM partners, but many of them are pulling back Windows Mobile in favor of Android anyway. Microsoft risks more by doing nothing.

In my September review of Zune HD, I wrote:

The Zune HD's size, particularly its thinness, would be ideal for a cell phone -- way better suited than iPhone. With a 3G radio, Bluetooth and application store, Zune HD could be a helluva phone. The task-oriented user interface, while very non-phone like, is ideally suited for a multi-functional device, even one with 3G telephony. Task-oriented UIs emphasize simplicity and hide complexity, increasing usability.

That's self-explanatory enough as to why a Zune phone makes sense.

3. Make a major mobile acquisition. I expect that Windows 7 Mobile or Zune phone won't be ready come Monday, and Microsoft simply can't afford to wait. Even if Windows Mobile 7 released to manufacturing next week, new handsets would still be months away -- at least. Microsoft needs to acquire some company with good mobile hardware, software and services. Kara Swisher made similar suggestion on February 8:

Microsoft and its giant wallet might be better served by buying one of the big and more established telecom companies, such as Research in Motion, Palm  or even -- as another Microsoft exec said to me, 'Why not?' Nokia. Nokia has a market cap of close to $50 billion, with RIM at close to $38 billion. And Palm? A paltry $1.74 billion. Microsoft's current valuation is $246 billion, and the company has $40 billion in cash and marketable securities on hand...many sources at Microsoft have told me that CEO Steve Ballmer has expressed interest in buying RIM many times (while also dismissing any interest in Palm).

In late December I stated "10 reasons why Microsoft should buy Palm now." Maybe Ballmer has hard feelings about Palm because of past competition and the short-lived commitment to Windows Mobile. If so, he should act logically, not emotionally. Palm would be a cheap acquisition that would instantly give Microsoft great hardware (Pre), operating system (WebOS) and services, particularly synchronization. RIM and Windows Phone overlap too much in the enterprise. Microsoft needs some consumer pull, and Palm has it. What Palm doesn't have is a strong company backing its great technology. Microsoft could provide that.

4. If no Zune phone or mobile acquisition, announce Windows Phone handset development contest. Microsoft needs a Manhattan Project for mobile. If the company has got nothing, it should encourage third parties to come up with something. Microsoft should announce a contest to develop the Windows 7 Phone. Major manufacturers, startups and individuals should be allowed to submit prototypes (with all appropriate NDAs and contracts in place to protect designs). The contest must last no more than 120 days (Hey, it's a Manhattan Project!), with Microsoft committed to choosing one to three designs within 30 days and begin manufacturing 30 days later. Microsoft would commit to buying the prototype design for pre-stated price and -- for existing, major manufacturers -- promising exclusive production deal for at least 12 months.

The contest would be worth the buzz alone -- and there should be plenty of that. Suddenly anyone could conceivably develop Microsoft's own Windows Phone and get a big, fat contract in process. The Web would buzz with speculation and ideas about what Microsoft should do. The contest could be the ultimate in crowdsourcing but instead of culling the crowd for free Microsoft could put forth its longstanding corporate axiom that people should be paid for their creative work. Take that, free-monger Google!

5. If no mobile acquisition or Zune phone, make closer development, strategic and business ties with Nokia. Barcelona is the right place, given Nokia's handset dominance across major parts of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Buying Nokia wouldn't be a bad idea, either, as Swisher suggested.

In most emerging markets, the mobile handset is the first Internet-connected device, not the PC, that most people first use. During fourth quarter, Nokia sold 126.9 million handsets worldwide for 39 percent worldwide market share. Worldwide, there are 4.6 billion mobile phone subscribers, and manufacturers ship about 1.3 billion mobile phones each year. By comparison, the total PC install base is only about 1 billion.

The point: The future of computing is the mobile device, not the PC. Nokia has huge presence in most countries, particularly emerging markets. A Nokia deal, or acquisition, should emphasize extending Microsoft products and services to cell phone users in these markets. Microsoft also should align any Nokia deal with the "Unlimited Potential" program.

6. Release -- not announce -- a new mobile browser. The browser should be based on Internet Explorer 8 or WebKit, and it should be available for all major mobile platforms, starting with BlackBerry OS, iPhone OS, Symbian OS and Windows Mobile. It's OK if Microsoft snubs nose at Android -- for now. Microsoft's new browser should be available in beta, at least.

7. Unveil Zune Silverlight client. As big as Windows market share is, Microsoft needs to extend Zune's reach, particularly to sell more music players or to launch a phone. Microsoft should release a Zune client for Mac -- and even Linux -- and that could be easily enough done with Silverlight. Microsoft could go all Web-based, but the Zune UI and features are already compelling in the Windows client. That said , Silverlight could allow for the option of both -- Web-based and desktop clients.

8. Release Silverlight for Mobile. In two years, HTML 5 could make Silverlight less relevant, not just Adobe Flash. Microsoft already is off to good start supporting HTML 5 streaming with Silverlight. What Microsoft needs more is a Silverlight client for all major mobile platforms, including iPhone OS. Windows Mobile won't be near good enough. Support must be broad, starting with Symbian S40 and S60 handsets. Microsoft should make beating Flash to market a top mobile development priority. Flash 10.1 is nearly ready for mobile device release and could debut as early as next week.

9. Tag it! Barcodes have a huge future on mobile devices, and so far only Nokia really gets it. But Nokia is lumbering too slowly to market. Google also gets tags, for search and advertising, but misses the broader utility in emerging markets. Enter Microsoft Tag. Mobile money is the hot topic in emerging markets. The idea: That people spend and also receive money via accounts attached to their mobile phones. Mobile phones also could be used for distributing financial aid.

In emerging markets where people don't otherwise bank, the mobile phone can contain funds access and be used to pay for items. On possible future payment option: Scanning barcodes with the phone's camera. Microsoft already is an aggressive technology provider in emerging markets. Mobile money tied to Microsoft Tag would be glue binding new customers to the company's products and services.

10. Make mobile location-based search immediately available. Google is there now. Mcrosoft's Bing needs to offer even better location-based search services -- tied to advertising and maps, for starters. Nirvana: Jack Consumer searches for Patti Smith book Just Kids, on his computer. While out and about, his smartphone beeps and, based on location and store database stored in the Azure cloud, informs that the Borders shop on the next block has Just Kidsin stock.

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