Daniel Eran Dilger
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Did Microsoft kill Android at Mobile World Congress 2009?


Daniel Eran Dilger

Despite racking up a big list of top-tier phone set manufacturers in its Android Open Handset Alliance, Google’s mobile operating system was nearly non-existant among OHA members’ announcements at the GSMA Mobile World Congress. Is Microsoft to blame?
Android is clearly a threat to Microsoft’s plans for Windows Mobile. After all, how does one sell an aging mobile operating system lacking the multitouch sizzle of the iPhone and the addictive messaging savvy of the BlackBerry in a world where Google is butting in with a free, open source alternative that allows manufactures to freely customize it as they like?

Microsoft’s Linux torpedos

Microsoft has regularly worked hard to kill other Linux-based competitors. Microsoft has long used its OEM licensing leverage to force PC makers to exclusively advertise that they “recommend Windows XP,” relegating Linux on the PC desktop to special order models that are never promoted in competition to Windows. Microsoft also funded SCO as it stirred up legal problems for Linux, effectively funneling its own DR-DOS infringement settlement into funding a war on Linux.

SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 2000s

When Linux made an appearance on the One Laptop Per Child XO-1 for emerging markets, Microsoft jumped into action to ensure that models were packed with enough RAM to run Windows XP and worked to push Linux into a secondary optional install. When Asus began shipping Linux on its new netbooks, Microsoft similarly raced to put pressure on Asus to backpedal on Linux in favor of Windows XP.

After Nigeria set up an order for Linux-based Classmate machines, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Microsoft proposed paying $400,000 last year under a joint-marketing agreement to a government contractor it was trying to persuade to replace Linux with Windows on thousands of school laptops.”

Microsoft Battles Low-Cost Rival for Africa – WSJ.com

Microsoft has also issued broad, unspecified patent threats against Linux designed to kill interest among any developers who might lack the resources to survive a patent war with the company. Had Microsoft been only interested in protecting its intellectual property, it would have clearly cited infringements so the community could fix them. Microsoft wanted to simply silence Linux as a competitive threat.

Microsoft’s Unwinnable War on Linux and Open Source

Why Microsoft hates Linux

In 2001, Steve Ballmer referred to Linux as a “cancer,” specifically citing its open source license as the most troubling part. Software that allows manufacturers to customize it themselves anyway they choose is more threatening to Microsoft than software offered for free.

That’s because Microsoft’s power comes from its software licensing deals which force manufacturers to use its software in very specific ways and prevents them from freely adding their own modifications. Microsoft pressures its licensees to include its own software components and stops them from making deals with competitors, a strategy it has used to push Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, and Live Search when competing alternatives were both more mature and more popular.

The proprietary control Microsoft exerts over its Windows PC licensees has allowed the company to increasingly bind them tighter with new Microsoft offerings, raising competitive barriers so high that the company can now freely raise prices and drop features as it did when rolling out Windows Vista in a series of artificially-limited editions designed to squeeze more revenue from the maturing PC market. Their only available alternative was to beg for the privilege to continue to sell Windows XP.

Android and the Smoking Gun

Nobody expects Microsoft to encourage hardware makers to use Google’s Android over its own Windows Mobile. However, one might expect that OHA members who are already committed to Android would actually express some support for the operating system more than a year after joining the group.

Samsung says its Android plans are not delayed, but that the company “never planned to show an Android phone at MWC,” according to PC Mag article citing spokesperson Kim Titus, who also added, “we’re on track to launch [Android phones] later this year as expected.” So Samsung, unlike every other vendor at the show, can’t show phones it plans to release later this year, at least none that have Android on them.

Samsung: Android Phones Aren’t Delayed

HTC, the first company to ship an Android phone and a vocal proponent of the free operating system, could only talk up Windows Mobile 6.5 at MWC. It showed off two Windows Mobile phones, the Touch Diamond2 and Touch Pro2. When asked about Android, a report by mocoNews in the Washington Post said that company president Peter Chou told reporters, “Google Android is part of our product portfolio” and that new phones “were coming out in the future.”

The report also stated, “For now, however, they ‘remain focused’ on Windows, and especially Windows Mobile 6.5, which Microsoft is unveiling at the conference.” Is that because Windows Mobile 6.5 is ready now and Android isn’t? Well no, Android is shipping now and Windows Mobile 6.5 won’t ship till the end of the year.

It’s because HTC’s fortunes currently ride entirely upon its relationship with Microsoft. The new Android-running Magic, built by HTC, had to be released exclusively by Vodafone, the day after HTC promoted its new Windows Mobile 6.5 phones with Microsoft.

MWC: HTC Says Android Handsets “Coming In the Future”
MWC: Vodafone to Offer Google Android on HTC Magic

LG, another founding OHA member, also has Android phones planned for launch this summer but none were at MWC. Instead, LG was also prominently plugging Windows Mobile 6.5, which won’t be out until much later. Is there any possibility that LG simply decided on its own to stay quiet about Android at MWC? No, money was involved.

Microsoft announced an “enhanced partnership with LG,” with a Washington Post report stating that “Microsoft said it will also be working closer with LG, a company it had agreed to a partnership with in advance. LG is committing to developing 50 new Windows Mobile phones by the end of 2012 and both companies, Microsoft and LG, are committing to increasing their investment in Windows Mobile by five-fold.”

MWC: Microsoft Unveils Windows Mobile 6.5

Motorola, the other founding OHA member, had nothing to show apart from a $7000 diamond-encrusted gimmick designed externally and only sporting the company’s logo. How much longer Motorola will stick around in the mobile business is uncertain, but Microsoft apparently sees no value in spending money on a dead horse who has nothing to say about Android anyway. Motorola also continues to offer some tepid Windows Mobile offerings, but has nothing new to show.

Why are Android’s OHA partners unable to say anything about Android at the place to talk about the future of mobile phones? And why are HTC and LG, which have the most to gain from adopting a free operating system, all touting Windows Mobile instead?

The Windows Mobile Bug.

Perhaps they’ve been bitten with Microsoft’s Nigerian Bribe Bug. Once infected, companies have to exclusively chat up Windows, just like all the generic PC Makers who are deeply indebted to Microsoft’s “We Recommend Windows” co-marketing money.

In the mobile arena however, it turns out that companies who have been infected with Windows Mobile usually shake it off within a year. Last year, Samsung introduced the Omnia running Windows Mobile. This year, Samsung announced the OmniaHD, a new model that ditches Windows Mobile for Symbian.

Similarly, Sony Ericsson showed off its high-end new XPERIA X1 running Windows Mobile 6.1 at last year’s WMC, giving Microsoft a prominent new Windows Mobile partner to tout. That phone took most of 2008 to ship, but this year, Sony Ericsson showed of a whole new flagship model, code-named Idou. Like Samsung, the fancy new phone runs Symbian, not Windows Mobile. A couple months ago, Sony Ericsson also joined the Android OHA. Partnering up with Microsoft was apparently not worth any amount of co-promotion money.

Palm discovered the same thing after dumping its own Palm OS for Windows Mobile in 2006, although it took Palm three years of deathly fevers before the company could put together then funding and talent to introduce the Pre’s webOS as its own strategy for the future.

Raising the flag.

With Microsoft losing major smartphone partners faster than it can replace them, how can if afford to throw marketing money around in an effort to kill off Android talk at MWC? It apparently can’t afford not to.

Without paying off LG and putting the gag on HTC’s excitement about Android, Microsoft wouldn’t have had anyone to flog its new Windows Mobile release, which isn’t due until the end of the year.

Without that flag waving distraction, someone in the tech media might have also noticed the fact that the top three Windows Mobile vendors are scrambling away from the platform as quickly as possible, rather than just reprinting Microsoft PR that suggests Windows Mobile is back and ready to take on the iPhone, despite being neither. When Windows Mobile 6.5 does show up, it will be competing against the second or third update to iPhone 3.0, as well as Android and Symbian, both sporting nearly another year of improvements.

The Death of Windows Mobile.

Microsoft’s desperate measures to kill Android at WMC likely won’t have much lasting impact as LG and HTC compare the option of paying Microsoft for Windows Mobile in comparison to using Android or Symbian as they like, for free.

The company’s marketing efforts to rebrand Windows Mobile phones as “Windows Phones” is also unlikely to do much to turn things around, although it calls to mind Apple’s Get a Mac ad where PC is counting out money for advertising versus “fixing Vista.”

It also calls to mind previous renaming stunts that didn’t do anything to solve the actual problems in the products themselves, from its QuickTime competitor (Video for Windows, ActiveMovie, ChromEffects, DirectMovie, Advanced Streaming Format) to its iPod competitor (Media2Go, Portable Media Center, PlaysForSure, Zune) to its Mac OS X competitor (XP, Vista, Windows 7).

The problem with Windows Mobile isn’t that it lacks a catchy name or a layer of cheesy UI frosting (Sony Ericsson and others have already tried to solve that problem themselves), but that it’s a really terrible platform. It has a weak foundation in Windows CE and gross technical deficiencies that run up from its feeble graphics architecture through its brain-dead, archaic Win32 APIs and its horribly designed desktop windowing system shoehorned into a mobile screen.

The only thing Windows Mobile is good for is distracting IT shops already tied to Windows from discovering a functional mobile web platform that could be saving them time and money.

That’s not going to keep Microsoft alive in the consumer market, where users expect things to work, not just give a flashy demo or keep them busy browsing through TechNet. And that’s why Microsoft’s mobile efforts are dying in a far more lethal sense than its temporary blows to keep Android out of the spotlight.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2009 02 200902161602

Windows Mobile 6.5 shows clever burst of originality. Haha no.

Did you like this article? Let me know. Comment here, in the Forum, or email me with your ideas.

Like reading RoughlyDrafted? I’d write more if you’d share articles with your friends, link from your blog, and submit my articles to Digg, Reddit, or Slashdot where more people will see them. Consider making a small donation supporting this site. Thanks!

  • http://jonnytilney.com Jon T

    Hard to argue with that analysis.

    Shame for MS that mobile 6.5 is going down like a lead balloon…

  • jodyfanning

    I very much doubt if Microsoft has anything to do with it. It seems that HTC is making 80% of all Windows Mobile devices, so I think they don’t have much of a hold over anyone else.


    And as for Android, I think most of it is just hot air. All the names associated with it are already in the Symbian Foundation. So most are just covering their bases.

    Plus, Android is not a “Linux phone”. The developers and users don’t get to touch the underlying Linux OS directly, so it doesn’t really count.

  • http://wondersoftech.blogspot.com/ jmdunys

    I agree with Dan. Android is certainly NOT hot air. Certainly not in Europe (http://news.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/0,1000000091,39616150,00.htm)

    I find it interesting that the panel discussing ‘Openness’ did not mention Android very much, but kept referring to the iPhone. As for AT&T, it is interesting how they kept the discussion PC as to not offend anyone (except Apple who was not present at the show anyway)

    For what I see around me in the entreprise, Windows Mobile is dying.

  • Orenge

    Android may not mean much now, but it could BECOME a great OS in the hands of some company that gives it their all. I like my iPhone, but I still wish Android well.

  • Pingback: Did Microsoft kill Android at Mobile World Congress 2009 … | Microsoft Software OEM()

  • gus2000

    Stupid Microsoft. All hat and no cattle.

    Isn’t Apple the one that’s accused of being externally pretty, with nothing underneath?

  • Pingback: Apple 2.0 » Blog Archive » Microsoft plays the heavy in the smartphone wars()

  • John E

    well, things are really getting interesting in 2009 …

    Apple and RIM pulled ahead of the smartphone pack in 2008 with tightly integrated, closed proprietary products that strongly appeal to a solid base of dedicated users for each. both have real potential to grow that base. (Palm hopes to join this group, we’ll see, but i don’t think it will work).

    MS has responded with … lipstick on a pig! and is desperately trying to use its muscle with OEM’s to push it. but its faux-hyped WM 6.5 and crippled on-line store won’t even be ready until the end of the year – way too little, way too late. OMG disaster!

    Meanwhile, Google didn’t have a date for this party in Spain. but the independent handset makers need something NOW to compete with Apple, especially when the 3rd gen iPhone is released in the summer with further enhancements. so they’ll have to try and release an Android handset by then, to see if it can get any traction.

    ah, but Nokia seems to be waking up. putting all its global market energy into Symbian now with a new generation of products coming in the first half of this year. plus an on-line Ovi app and media store that has the best potential to match iTunes in scale and scope.

    predictions, anyone? my guesses:

    – if LG puts all its eggs in the WinMobile basket, they will get smoked by Nokia, which will also leave Sony/Erricson in its rearview mirror (and then they will get divorced).

    – there will be some interesting new Android phones, but no critical mass, so overall it will drift instead of breakthrough to significant market share. Google will learn the curse of Linux.

    – RIM will hold its market share, and come out with a better no-click version of the Storm.

    – Apple will substantially increase its market share IF the 3rd gen iPhone is a knockout. it wouldn’t take much, just 8 out of the 10 obvious improvements everyone has listed a 1000 times by now.

  • addicted44

    Great post Dan. Actually, kinda corroborating your story, there is this pretty good show available online called Start-up Junkies). You can watch it on Hulu here (http://www.hulu.com/start-up-junkies).

    The relevant part is that the start-up which does a pilot program with an unnamed company (probably MS. Over 20,000 employees, Seattle, etc.) is then asked by MS to become an MS partner. As a result, they will be allowed to display their product at the biggest trade show in the world at the MS booth, and presumably expand the trial to a more permanent thing.

    However, there is a catch. They need to switch to the .Net platform from an open-source platform to do that….

    While not illegal, another example of MS flexing its muscles.

  • KenC

    Good stuff, Dan, as usual.

    You might want to fix a slip in the Motorola paragraph. You put in Microsoft, where i believe a Motorola should have been.

  • Just Some Human

    You know Dan, I hate your articles. with all the back stories that you cite to backup your arguments, it takes all day to get through everything. But seriously, another great piece. Ballmer’s apparent obsession to get his fingers into everything seems to be distracting Microsoft from any coherent business plan. Microsoft’s old business plan no longer works and this schizophrenic approach to try to catch every bus that comes by is bound to end badly.

  • http://unscriptable.com unscriptable

    Excellent points, Dan.

    I can honestly say that I no longer know anyone who uses Windows Mobile. Not a single soul.

    I can also say with conviction that in the last three years I have never heard any developers say that they plan to build a cool WiMo app. However, more than half of the developers I know are learning how to build apps for either iPhone or Android.

  • forever4now

    Of all the major mobile operating systems on the market (iPhone, Android, Pre, Blackberry, Symbian, …), Windows Mobile is the LEAST interesting. That what makes all the Windows Mobile hoopla at MWC 2009 seems all the more suspicious.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Cannonball Jones

    I never knew that Ballmer had said that about Linux before, shows just how much Microsoft fear the future. I’ve had very limited experience with Windows Mobile but what I saw of it didn’t impress me in the slightest, no real surprise. I fell in love with Android when playing with a pal’s G1 though, swore I’d never get a bells-and-whistles handset but I may have been persuaded otherwise. Will be interested to see what other manufacturers come out with over the next six months or so…

  • Pingback: HTC Makes 80% Of Windows Mobile Handsets | Cult of Mac()

  • Pingback: Microsoft: HTC has made 80% of all Windows Mobile phones — RoughlyDrafted Magazine()

  • Pingback: Boycott Novell » Patents Roundup: Linux, Acacia, Microsoft, Samsung and More()

  • jodyfanning

    The problem with all this analysis and comments is that it is totally US-centric.

    Android is most definitely not big in Europe. Apart from the UK it has almost no presence at all. Vodafone launching one Android model does not change things. Mostly Vodafone just likes to have OEM models under its own brand to keep the other manufacturers in line.

    Check out sometime the actual figures for smartphone shipments globally to see the real situation. Q3 2008 Nokia has more shipments of smart phones than the next three (RIM, Apple, MS) put together. So they don’t have much in the US, but you will find that mostly they don’t care. The US market is so small compared to the other global markets.

    The 800lb gorilla in the room in the mobile market is NOT Microsoft. It is Nokia.

  • Pingback: Weinig Android-nieuws in Barcelona? Microsoft zat erachter! > Nieuws > Androidplanet.nl()

  • Pingback: Why Windows 7 on Netbooks Won’t Save Microsoft — RoughlyDrafted Magazine()

  • Pingback: BondBuzz · Musings on Mobile World Congress()

  • PhilipWing

    I work with an IT shop that doesn’t recognize what it’s dealing with: over 100,000 people who are for now, not under their control. Their internal mobile applications are moving from Palm OS to Windows Mobile, a move which is over a year late from their original publicized release date. I, my upline, and her upline all have iPhones and use them extensively. I guess we’ll all get AT&T family plans and have a Windows Mobile beast just for those useful (but butt ugly) internal applications.
    I wonder if the IT department demanding enterprise control (not yet done) on our Windows Mobile phone for which *we* paid would constitute being employees… :)

  • Pingback: Why Microsoft Will Slaughter Its Windows Mobile and PC Partners, and What it Means for Apple and Google — RoughlyDrafted Magazine()

  • Pingback: Google fans fail to contemplate why Android is free — RoughlyDrafted Magazine()

  • Pingback: Where is Android at WMC2009? « DailyDigital()