I try to stick to technical blog posts, but I thought I'd serve up a double helping of opinion today.  You can blame it on the bass player.  It’s his fault.  We were chatting up new technology during a jam session last weekend and he actually said  …mobility is kind of a small, niche market for Microsoft…”.    That got me started… again.

ARE YOU SERIOUS????  When I’m invited to speak on Windows Mobile, I usually open with a few minutes of why I think mobile is THE place to be, so I thought it would make an interesting blog post.  Where to start…

Dr. Egon Spengler: I'm worried, Ray. All my readings point to something big on the horizon.
Winston Zeddemore: What do you mean, big?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning's reading, it would be a Twinkie thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.
Winston Zeddemore: That's a big Twinkie.

That’s probably an understatement.  Mobility is a true game changer.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some exciting things going on in the desktop/server world you need to keep your eyes on—Live Mesh, advances in our virtualization, SQL Server 2008, LINQ, Silverlight, etc.  All good stuff.  Mobile is different though and there are many reasons I think this technology, and the developers behind it will change the world. 

The Big Twinkie
Look, you can use statistics to prove anything (real or make believe) but here’s a statistic you can’t argue with:  3 billion mobile devices.  Compare that to PCs at under a billion units or TV sets at 1.5 billion.  Mobile phones may be small but the market is BIG.  There are people who don’t own PCs, don’t drive cars, couldn’t care less about owning a land line, would give up their TV… but don’t take their mobile phone.  Remember the MS goal of a PC in every home?  Small fries…  What about those attempts at building ultra cheap PCs to reach untapped markets?  Mobile phones already do it.  A computer in every pocket.  Maybe not every mobile phone is a full featured computing device, but it’s just a matter of time.  When you can buy a Moto Q for $99, how far can we be?  Mobile phones will reach into markets where PCs can’t make it.  In business terms, it’s a smaller margin but you can’t argue with the numbers.  This is also why a standard developer platform like Windows Mobile is so important to make it easy for developers to get in this game.

The Game Changer
It’s not just about the size of the market… it’s about the possibilities that a mobile device brings to the landscape.  The potential.  Unlike a laptop, a mobile device has the potential to really leverage voice, data, and location into something that fits in your pocket.  It’s a triple threat combination we’ve only begun to see used in software or commercial devices.  When I start talking mobile potential, people sometimes remind me how cumbersome mobile devices can be at integrating all these things today.  Well, sometimes a takes a while for business models, technology, and consumers to find harmony but the writing is on the wall.  Think about what you can do with those three things combined with rich user data found on a mobile device.  Look how far this mobile market has come in a few short years.  I recommend you hold on…Windows Mobile has come a long way, but the truth is that things are just beginning to get interesting.

A vision is a colorful opinion...
Before I go painting a picture and get slammed with questions like “when will it be released”, let me just say I don’t know.   The following is blabber about the way I think about our mobile world and is not based on formal Microsoft strategy or anything other than pure speculation.  I’m not blogging about anything new here, but it’s my take on things.  Take it or leave it.  The real strategy behind Windows Mobile is a collective momentum of many different business units inside Microsoft and a market where the timing has to be right.  It’s bigger than me…disclaimer complete.  I just think certain industry momentum creates some inevitable solutions.   Therein, my excitement takes hold…

Location Based Services
Location Based Services have had a slow start, but I think they will eventually change the way people use mobile devices.  At MEDC 4 years ago, we showed off how LBS could help you find and connect with a friend at a nearby coffee shop.  It was an amazing capability when you consider it in logistics apps and social networking.  There were obviously a lot of security concerns and some network infrastructure with operators that had to be in place to really use it in a practical application, but... what great potential.  Since then, we’ve seen a lot of good GPS enabled mapping and LOB logistics apps come to our handsets.  Anyone who has used Live Search with voice and GPS capabilities has had a taste of how amazing this kind of app can be.  Also interesting to me has been the community efforts to try and use cellular triangulation to provide a “poor man’s” location system and push ahead with LBS.  The idea was to build a public database of cell tower locations based on tower IDs that could be used provide approximate location on devices without GPS.   LBS is coming and it will be a locomotive… it may take it a while to get started, but try to stop it when it reaches speed.

If we’ve learned anything from the social networking sites out there, it’s that there are a LOT of people who are more interested in connecting with peers than trying to secure every aspect of their information (e.g. – location).  Privacy aside, I think it’s inevitable that mobile LBS apps will take social networking to a new level eventually. That’s just the fun part.  There’s a business side to LBS that is in its infancy.  Look at all the money that goes into advertising on the television and even major search engines.  At best, those adds reach people who may be interested in the product based on a query or demographic.  Imagine the marking potential when you add LBS to the mix?  With LBS, you not only connect a need with a service, but a service in the best location.  That’s convenience and convenience may be the best selling product of all time.   Forget popup adds and manual searching… location changes the game.

 

…my plane lands and while I taxi into the airport terminal, I switch on my phone.  My device instantly realizes I’m in a new city starts preparing information I need… turn by turn directions to my hotel, a list of nearby restaurants based on my meal preferences, maybe a list of local bands within walking distance, and of course… the nearest Starbucks.  Maybe this city that is new to me, so I also automatically get some city history, current events, and sites I should see while I’m here.  At the hotel, I’m interested in what my friends are doing, so I check to see if anyone else is in here yet so we can hook up for dinner.  Because they have chosen to share location data with me, I see friends in the area who get a food invite and we agree on Thai Food.  A quick LBS check on Thai restaurants suggests three places within a mile and one offers us a 10% promo code for finding them through the LBS portal.   At dinner, I compare slope conditions of every run within 15 miles.  When I hit the slopes, I get a notification that a slope map is available for my mobile device with feeds for lift wait times so I can make the most of my day.  Today, I probably wouldn’t do this all on my mobile device because it’s a lot of work searching… but LBS could make all this nearly effortless with minimal web search.  Businesses could advertise by location through LBS portals.  LBS portals and apps are going to change the game.  I don’t know when… but I know they will.  Maybe you can help make it happen. 

Mobile Applications & Information that Matters
Never underestimate the value and opportunity that a mobile application can provide.  If you think about mobile apps the way you think about desktop applications, it’s easy to dismiss the opportunity.  After all, trying to take the same user experience to a mobile device isn’t going to work.  There are many hardware limitations and it won’t ever live up to the desktop version this way.  So where’s the game changer here?

 

Three words… Information that Matters.  When I heard about us bringing Office to Windows Mobile, I cringed a bit.  I couldn’t imagine Word, Excel, or PowerPoint under the constraints of a mobile device.  How would people use this?  It wasn’t long before I discovered how convenient it was to be able to view Office email attachments.  Even better – I could walk-through my PowerPoint presentations anywhere I was (great where you’re tweaking your message a few minutes before a meeting).  I didn’t want to compose Office docs on my device, but being able to view them just boosted my productivity in a big way.  I rarely compose email from my device, but the ability to instantly receive and read email wherever I am is huge to me.  It allows me to filter and process the information that matters to me.  That’s the power of a good mobile app…it doesn’t have to do everything a desktop app does, but if it can deliver information that matters, wherever I am, then it becomes indispensible.  Convenience.

With Systems Center Mobile Device Manager (SCMDM) and many other great 3rd party VPN solutions, secure corporate network access is a reality today.  Not only that-- anything you can publish through a website, email, or SMS can get to your mobile users anywhere they are.  It’s amazing how much of that information can be filtered down and made accessible through a mobile device.  Take any major desktop or server app, filter out the information that a user cannot live without, and you have the start of a very powerful mobile application.  It’s not about getting all the features in there…it’s about exposing the ones that matter.  Mobile device have just begun the extend the desktop computing space.  This app market is not a competitor for the desktop… it extends it and few ISVs have tackled these markets yet.  My message to developers—just listen… that’s opportunity calling your name.

 

Mobile Digital Media
Digital media is another area where mobile will certainly shake things up—streaming and local video.  Limited device hardware and slow cell networks have kept this at bay for awhile, but it’s changing rapidly.  I admit, I’m one of the biggest skeptics about the adoption of mobile TV—especially in a world of giant, high-def home theaters.  Will anyone really want to watch media on a little screen?  Convenienceaccessibility  Even though it’s a step down in terms of home theater quality, mobile media is filled with potential and it’s pretty good today.  It’s going to get much better and when you consider the end-game of delivering high quality video to mobile devices, the doors open wide.  The other side of this is that mobile video doesn’t need all the polish of broadcast quality TV.   Think about supplementing main broadcast events with mobile video highlights, use it with advance training and education, or open that social networking box again.  Even with slow network speeds, Slingbox and Orb have been blazing this market for a long time.  There are others doing broadcast streaming with good success.  Silverlight Mobile will open a whole new set of opportunities here as well.  Think of the consumers who may not have their own TV but likely own a phone.  Extending markets… We haven’t even scratched the surface of what you could do.  Memory is cheap… battery advances will come.  I’m excited.

Devices are more than phones and data pipes
We tend to think of mobile phones as just that – phones that do some other things like music, video, and browsing.  What about mobile devices extending the consumer and business market in other ways?  Have you seen the work people are doing with 2D barcodes?  Consider where things will go with technologies like Near Field Communications (NFC), RFID, and better speech integration.  I could go on with the list…  There is no reason mobile devices cannot turn into amazing little pocket tools that interact with you environment in extend consumer and business models in ways that will change the way we live, communicate, make purchases, and access data.   It’s amazing to me to think of the possibilities that are destined to materialize in this market.

What this means for ISVs
The early days of Windows desktop development were exciting.  Anyone with a good idea and a compiler could build and sell software.  The markets were wide open and the opportunity was so much greater than the software that was readily available.  Mobile is like that today.  It’s a wild new frontier and opportunity abounds for creative ISVs.  I’m actually excited by all the new competition in the Windows Mobile space… it’s a good thing for the industry and it keeps us on our game. 

Why Microsoft and Windows Mobile?  IMHO…

·       The best development environment bar-none: Visual Studio.  I challenge you to find any development environment comparable to Visual Studio.  Build your mobile apps, build your web apps, your DB apps, your server apps… all in the same environment and leveraging the skills you already have with managed or native development languages.  If you know anything about Win32 or .NET, then it’s an easy hop to native mobile development or the Compact Framework.

·       A rich developer community to lean on.  No other platform provides more in terms of a development community and wealth of information to help you get started.  The Windows Mobile community has been evolving for over 6 years now with public sites, newsgroups, libraries, tools, samples, how-to’s, Webcasts, support options, etc.  Check out MSDN and start branching out.  If you want to do something, chances are… someone has posted sample code out there to get you started.  Here’s a good place to start.

·       Development Architecture Options.  Allowing for rich clients, smart clients, web applications, native or managed development, SQLCE w/support for merge replication, sync services, and all that .NET brings with it.  Windows Mobile can support just about any type or architecture you need to solve a problem.  Our LOB Solution Accelerator gives you’re a couple of samples ready for you to run with.

·       Reach more devices, more markets, more users.  Windows Mobile gives you a standard platform to target your apps to reach the widest variety of devices in the broadest mobile markets with little to no entry barrier for developers.  You can build an app today and sell it off your website tomorrow.  If you want to sign your code, Mobile2Market provides a single place to get a signature that is honored on almost every operator network out there.  Choose from flip phones, candy-bar phones, hardware keyboards, screen sizes, ruggedized devices, etc.  There is a Windows Mobile device that will fit you or your business.

Now I’m just ranting… so I’ll wrap this up (remember, blame the bass player).  Mobile is no niche market.  It’s changing the way people live and the way businesses operate.  It’s a big, crazy ecosystem with many influences so it might be a little hard to follow sometimes—the devices, the timing, the competitors… but I’ll tell you one thing: It’s a game changer and… the game is on.

 

THAT is why I’m passionate about mobile development.  That’s why mobile developers will change the world (IMHO).

 

Cheers,
Reed