Since 2007 both RIM and Apple have eaten into Microsoft’s once-great mobile market share, knocking it down to fourth place worldwide, behind Nokia, Apple, and RIM. In the third quarter of 2008, research firm Canalys reported that despite Microsoft’s 42 percent increase in year-over-year OS market share, the iPhone had outsold Windows Mobile devices on a global scale. Moreover, the iPhone ranked at the top of J.D. Power and Associate’s 2008 Business Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction survey, ahead of manufacturers, including HTC, Palm, and Samsung, that sell Windows Mobile Professional devices. It’s clear Microsoft will have to make some changes in the mobile environment to regain its dominance. It’s a matter of where they start and how soon they get it to market. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed last November that Windows Mobile 6.5 devices were coming in 2009, and that Version 7 would follow shortly after. But the company has remained tight-lipped about the exact features a new mobile operating system will offer. Here’s what we know. New User Interface “The key improvements will be in the area of the UI,” said Pete Cunningham, senior analyst with Canalys. “It is clear that Microsoft wants to take the platform into the consumer space, and although we see more Windows Mobile consumer/prosumer devices from HTC, Samsung, and others, the UI is still behind in the usability stakes.” The devices Cunningham referenced include the HTC Touch Pro and Diamond, Samsung Omnia, and Sony Ericsson Xperia X1. Each relies heavily on a custom user interface overlaid on the complicated Windows Mobile OS. The interfaces of these models are unique and offer some innovation, but ultimately Microsoft has little to no control over the user experience, which is a problem. Browser Breakthrough In early 2009 Microsoft will make IE Mobile 6, the next iteration of the mobile Internet Explorer Web browser for Windows Mobile devices, available for consumers. “IE Mobile 6 is a big step up in the browser experience. It will offer a rich desktop experience,” said Karen Wong-Duncan, IE Mobile product manager at Microsoft. The new browser will support Adobe Flash Lite 3.1, which means you’ll be able to play any content that requires Flash Player Version 9 on the desktop side. That will ostensibly give Windows Mobile an edge over the iPhone’s Safari browser, which does not support Flash content. Although IE Mobile 6 will offer a desktop-like look and feel, Microsoft realizes that sites optimized for smaller screens are sometimes preferred, such as when you want to grab CNN headlines quickly. For that reason, Microsoft tells us that you’ll be able to toggle between a desktop and mobile view by changing the settings in IE Mobile 6’s menu system. Even the mobile mode has undergone a makeover. To squeeze all of the content from the full-size Web pages onto smaller screens, Wong-Duncan and her team have worked to add multi-level zoom technology, better panning, and word wrapping. The worst part about the update? It will run only on future Windows Mobile devices, and not ones that are currently available on the market. Microsoft claims that the update requires more-powerful and advanced devices. Windows Live Integration “It would also seem a logical step for Microsoft to implement a closer integration with its Windows Live suite of services,” Cunningham said. Microsoft has even hinted at this. The introduction of Live Mesh Beta (www.mesh.com) is an encouraging first step; the software lets users sync their photos, folders, and news between the Web, their desktop, and their Windows Mobile phone. Rebirth Microsoft could steal back a piece of the mobile OS market share from RIM or Apple, but the new operating system needs a few foundation enhancements. It needs to be zippier and more user-friendly. Microsoft shouldn’t be afraid to take a page out of Apple’s UI eye-candy book, and it needs to bring applications forward with a simple storefront, so that users don’t have to dig through menus to find whey they need. The next version of Windows Mobile also has to provide an innovative and seamless integration with both Windows and the Web. If Microsoft can manage to accomplish these tasks, it may have a fighting chance to regain some of its market share.