Microsoft believes the strong partnerships it has build up in the mobile market will enable it to emulate the success it has had in the desktop Windows market.
Six years ago Microsoft launched its first Windows Mobile-powered Pocket PC with just one manufacturer. By June 2005, 40 device makers were delivering Windows Mobile-powered devices through 68 mobile operators in 48 countries. As of October its footprint had grown to 115 operators with 47 device makers shipping more than 100 different phones worldwide. Mobile operators currently working with Microsoft now represent a user base of just over a billion subscribers.
Pieter Knook, senior VP of Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices (MED) division, says Microsoft will continue to partner with operators to roll out hosted services, email, messaging and collaboration. With operators looking to increase APRU from new services, Knook says this strategy of partnering with operators and device makers looks set to accelerate.
'Mobile email comes closest to being the killer application that can drive the market. The operators know this, and this is where they will put most of their energy into,' he says.
Microsoft's MED was formed in 2001 to spearhead the development of the Windows Mobile OS for mobile devices and is now is the company's fastest growing division. The MED unit made an operating profit for the first time the fiscal year ending June 30.
Knook expects Microsoft's worldwide shipments of Windows-powered mobile devices to double over the next 12 months after increasing twofold over the last two years, reaching six million devices in 2006.
Over the last 12 months, Microsoft MED rolled out mobile messaging with Asian operators such as Chunghwa Telecom, SmarTone-Vodafone, M1, Telkomsel and Indosat in Indonesia, AIS and DTAC in Thailand, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Telecom New Zealand.
Of the 115 operators offering Windows Mobile-powered devices, 32 are based in Asia Pacific. The region is obviously attractive to Microsoft due to its large subscriber base. According to a report by Portio Research, Asia Pacific will account for half the number of mobile subscribers worldwide by 2010, with more than a billion subscribers shared between China and India.
Asia already leads the world in smartphone shipments - more than 16.7 million smartphones and other handheld computing devices were shipped worldwide in the first quarter of 2006.
'While we grew 100% worldwide, Asia actually grew faster at 150%,' Knook noted. 'If you look at IDC numbers, the overall phone market grew 6% last year, while the converged device space grew 34%. So we're growing faster than the market and gaining share from competitors like Nokia and RIM.'
Knook, however, acknowledges that the 34 million users of converged mobile devices still represent a small segment of the mobile market, and there is still a long way to go for Microsoft. 'The opportunities are huge. Take the 150 million users we have on Microsoft Exchange or the 250 million users using Windows Live messaging today. The key is how fast the market can transition, how quickly users move beyond SMS and voice,' he says.
Among the device makers supporting Microsoft, Knook said Palm, previously a competitor, is now a licensee of Windows Mobile.