Although I will never write a history of cellphone innovation, 2005-2007 will mark the year that Microsoft came into a dominant space in the market. Was it something Microsoft had done? Did their marketing team figure out the secret to getting people to buy Windows mobile based phones? Did a competitor stumble?
Nope, none of these things. The reason Microsoft will really start to turn the screws to Palm this year is due to the presence of QWERTY keyboard on mobile handsets. And unless RIM starts to do something else innovative, they’re going to find themselves digging a grave next to Palm.
Let’s review mobile handset history:
In the beginning was the cell phone and e-mail, and the two never met. Many tried, but the lack of a keyboard made the experience frustrating.
Then came the Blackberry, and you could credibly send and receive a lot of e-mail on it. And then it became a phone. You could still get e-mail on other devices but without a quality full QWERTY keyboard, you were slower than a Blackberry user.
Then came the Treo, and people had an alternative to the Blackberry. It ran an actually useful operating system, more useful than the Blackberry, and so there was a chance you could find software for it that didn’t even exist for the Blackberry.
All this time there was Windows Mobile, running on phones out there, very few with QWERTY keyboards. The legions of businesspeople with Microsoft Exchange servers went and bought truckloads of Blackberries because frankly, they worked well and there simply weren’t many alternatives that did a good job.
Now a quick glance across the carriers shows a wide variety of QWERTY phones, most of them running Windows Mobile. There will be the most number of developers (and therefore products) for Windows, with the second number for Palm, and the least for Blackberries.
As the QWERTY Windows Mobile handsets flood the market and Microsoft releases direct-to-cellphone Microsoft Exchange synchronization, the Blackberry will become an also-ran. They’ll simply be a choice among a dozen cellphones that do e-mail. I don’t think the "magical scroll button" will save the device when there are so many other options. And if Microsoft wants to, they can make Windows Mobile Exchange more featureful and lock out Blackberry’s Exchange software.
Where is Palm in all of this? The OS has little value left, and Treo’s handsets are going to have to compete with everyone else’s and become a commodity. And they’re LifeDrive? Cool idea, but where’s the fucking keyboard?
Honestly, this is the end for them. Rim had better come up with something quick, or they’re on the way out too in the next three years.