Mobile 2010: Can Microsoft catch Apple and Google?

Microsoft has promised new functionality on mobile this year that it believes will ensure it can compete with Apple and Google without having to develop its own handsets.

At the end of last month, Microsoft announced the launch of the Windows 7 version of its mobile web browsing system that will be first seen on phones around October.

Paul Lyonette, head of emerging technologies, said there were developments set for release towards the end of this year and into next that will help the firm make up lost ground on its rivals.

“The positioning of our offering is not all about the handset technology piece, it’s about giving the consumer what they want where they want it.

“We have partnerships with numerous different handset developers and that creates what is perceived to be a Windows phone – once the technology is on the handset, essentially it becomes a Windows phone.”

Lyonette said mobile was currently “pretty much on a par with where the internet was in 1999” in terms of advertising revenue and acceptance by the general public.

He said mobile internet still has some of the same hurdles to jump that internet did relating to factors such as trust, but that he expected these would be overcome more quickly.

“People are more comfortable in the digital space now, it’s part of everyone’s lives to transact with someone on the end of a computer not face to face. The
hurdles are not quite so high.

“The mindset of the individual is closer to making that leap far quicker than in the online space originally,” he said.

Mobile use is certainly growing quickly. manager of mobile innovation, Chris Carmichael, said during the snow in January the airline experienced six times the normal level of traffic from handsets – and mobile will account for well over one million visitors this year.

He said 2010 would be the year when people will realise mobile is already here rather than waiting for it to arrive. British Airways (BA) is keen to develop
its mobile services – it was the first airline in Europe to release an iPhone app – but a return on investment must be guaranteed, Carmichael added.

“It’s not a very good time to be an airline and there is not much money around. We have the ideas and know what we want to do, but I’m fighting for the same
resources as any other IT project and if something else is guaranteed to get money in they will do that.”

He said the iPhone app was a “low-risk “experiment” that cost little to create. It was “knocked up by a couple of developers in their spare time” and had proved a good addition to the BA brand.

But Carmichael said an app is only useful for customers with an existing relationship with a brand, for everyone else mobile web browsing must ensure accessibility to all the information customers require.

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