In 2009, more than two years after the launch of the iPhone, Windows Mobile still held 9% of the smartphone market. Windows Mobile 6.5 had arrived that year to give a little visual refresh to Windows Mobile 6.1 which had developed into a pretty solid platform.
WM6.5 gave the platform a degree of finger friendliness that it had previously lacked – although that was as much to do with different form factors and the use of a stylus as anything else.
Windows Mobile was about choice back then – you could get touchscreen and non-touchscreen versions, candy-bar, flip, fold and tablet form factors; portrait, clamshell and slide out keyboard options and the ability to choose device sizes from the tiny to the ridiculously large.
On the software from there were a choice of Today screens – the traditional one from WM6.1, the finger friendly WM6.5 version or OEM’s own options.
Remind you of anything? Yes, Windows Mobile was the Android of its day, even down to the ropey availability of updates and the same cast of OEMs: HTC, Sony, HP, Samsung, Acer…
Which begs the question, what would have happened if Microsoft hadn’t thrown its mobile operating system and users under the bus in order to pursue Windows Phone?
Its not that it was impossible to build a great phone based on the platform – the HTC HD2 and Touch Pro 2 more than demonstrated that. Each in its own way was the pinnacle of Windows Mobile design. Yes, even WM6.5 wasn’t very touch friendly, but fixes for those issues were easy and in many cases were already being provided by third party developers.
By the time Microsoft killed Windows Mobile it had mostly sorted stability, functionality and interface issues. It had a working app store and a good selection of mature software for the platform. It had OEMs producing devices that met the needs of enterprise and consumers, it had engaged developers and it had solid over the air and wired synchronisation functionality.
How much cash has Microsoft burned through to get to its current position? There’s the $8bn it spent and subsequently wrote off in acquiring Nokia, not to mention the alleged $3bn subsidy it paid to the Finnish company to switch it to Windows Phone and keep it there. Then there’s the development costs of three major platform refreshes.
If even a portion of that investment had been made against Windows Mobile 6.5 its entirely likely that Microsoft’s mobile platform would be in a position much closer to Android than riding the falling sales curve to oblivion.