Friday, November 6, 2009

More on Microsoft Monoculture: Mobile Phones

The Chosun Ilbo English edition carried an interesting article yesterday headlined, "Microsoft Can't Get a Handle on Mobile Phone OS Market." Of course it can't. This is highly relevant to the current situation here in the Korean market, which has been described as a "Microsoft Monoculture." (see my earlier post) The article relates to a growing concern I've had with developments, or lack of development, in South Korea's mobile market over the past several years. This nation, which has the most extensive and advanced digital networks in the world and where 100 percent of the population carry 3G, internet-browsing capable phones, finds itself in the somewhat embarassing situation. Only about 10 percent of the population actually use there phones to surf the web, for two reasons. First, the exorbitantly high data rates. Second, and more importantly, two of the three mobile service providers do not even allow web-browsing on most of their phones, instead providing a Korean-language only walled-garden database which, in the case of SK Telecom is called "Nate." All of this prompts the following observations.
  • Microsoft's whole business model was built around the PC and desktop computing, an era which is now ending with the advent of cloud computing and true mobile broadband.
  • To be more specific, Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform was modeled after Windows itself, which may only now be emerging from the disaster of Windows Vista. Industry and expert reviews of the latest versions of Windows Mobile are hardly encouraging. Those who know a little bit about software will surely go for Android, Apple's iPhone or Symbian before venturing into a Windows Mobile user environment.
  • Korea's major handset makers, LG and Samsung, both have big business deals with Microsoft. In the case of LG, it made a long term commitment to manufacture handsets using the Windows Mobile platform. Samsung is currently trying to sell its Omnia and other nice new AMOLED touch screen phones in Korea, with the Windows Mobile OS. This at a time when consumers here in Korea want the iPhone or something much like it--the Android.
  • Both mobile service providers and handset manufacturers in Korea appear to have "missed the boat" in the Korean mobile market by about two and a half years. That is how long ago the Apple iPhone was first introduced in the U.S. and some other markets. Korea will catch up. I never bet against this country in the long term, but valuable time has been lost.
  • I expect to see Android emerge as the leading OS for mobile communication over the next 5-10 years, perhaps even sooner. There are solid reasons for this expectation. Read David Pogue's review of Motorola's Droid in the New York Times.

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