A decade ago, Microsoft had a shot in the mobile market. BlackBerry dominated, and Palm OS devices were the darlings of the technorati, as they went beyond basic messaging into what we today call mobile apps. But there was also Windows Mobile, which in the guise of the Hewlett-Packard iPaq caught the imagination of techie execs, joining the ranks of the IBM ThinkPad as a must-have device for execs to show off their status.
Then Microsoft basically stopped doing significant work in mobile, letting Windows Mobile slowly die over an embarrassing set of releases. It finally ended with 2009's still-not-touch-savvy Windows Mobile 6.5, two years after the iPhone and a year after the first Android smartphone, the HTC Dream.
[ No, a phablet version won't save the iPhone. | As with BlackBerry and Nokia, Microsoft's mobile failure wasn't caused Apple's or Google's superiority -- but its own inadequacies. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]
Windows Phone came out nearly two years later, and other than its compelling tiles UI, continued the Microsoft mobile tragedy, lacking even basic features already standard in the still-early-stage iPhone and Android smartphones. Microsoft didn't even bother to support its own management and security protocol, which Windows Mobile had -- as did the iPhone.
Since then, Microsoft has released new versions of Windows Phones each year that manage to lag behind the pack. It released a separate tablet operating system called Windows RT that does very little and, again, doesn't support standard Microsoft security protocols. It has also released some of its Windows Phone apps to iOS and Android.
But the one people really want -- a mobile-savvy version of Office -- remains MIA on iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone, Windows RT, and Windows 8's Metro environment. Yes, there is a pathetic Office version on Windows Phone that is essentially the same as the one in Windows Mobile, and there's a variation of the standard PC Office in Windows 8 Metro and RT that doesn't work well in a touch environment. Microsoft needs to stop pretending these are what people need in mobile Office.
If anything, Microsoft seems determined to do mobile in the worst way possible.
Does it have to be that way? Microsoft has a new CEO, Satya Nadella. Granted, he's a longtime Microsoftie, so he may be trapped in the same distortion field as the other company leaders. His Bing effort hasn't been successful either, though some argue that Bing failed after Nadella was transferred to the Server & Tools business, not due to any Nadella shortcomings. His leadership of the Server & Tools business has indeed made that division one of Microsoft's bright spots, as well as one that's embraced the heterogeneous device world the rest of Microsoft can't seem to accept. Maybe he can create a real change.
Here are the six things that Microsoft needs to do.