Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.
Companies—lots of them—are still buying Windows Mobile smartphones, and Microsoft doesn’t want to let iPhone-mania make them forget.
325 enterprises purchased at least 500 Windows Mobile phones in Microsoft’s most recent fiscal year, with many buying many more, said Scott Rockfeld, group products manager for the mobile communications business at Microsoft, in a Friday interview.
“From the Armed Forces to the U.S. Court System, people are not just trying Windows Mobile, they are buying them,” Rockfeld said, in apparent reference to Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ statement last month that 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies were beta-testing the iPhone .
Moreover, seven of the ten largest companies in the world ranked by Fortune magazine bought Windows Mobile phones, including one enterprise that bought 100,000.
Rockfeld declined to name the company or even its line of business. “That would give it away,” he said. One possibility is Wal-Mart Stores. Microsoft has long had close ties with the retailing giant, such that its former CIO, Kevin Turner, is now Microsoft’s COO.
And Microsoft-based devices, going back to the era of PocketPC and Windows CE PDAs, have long been popular tools for retailers and warehouses to help manage their inventory.
Windows Mobile smartphones—ranging from the hot HTC Touch to the Samsung BlackJack, Motorola’s Moto Q, and 150 or so other models—actually outshipped iPhones by a margin greater than 2:1 in the first quarter of 2008, according to Gartner.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30th, Microsoft sold nearly 20 million Windows Mobile licenses, according to a letter last month by Microsoft vice-president Andy Lees ( download PDF ).
And despite the iPhone 3G’s strong opening weekend sales, Rockfeld noted that technology researcher IDC predicts that Windows Mobile will continue to outsell the iPhone 2:1 in the consumer space by 2012, and in the business space by 9:1.
“So you can see the hype versus the reality,” he said.
Rockfeld claimed businesses prefer the stronger manageability and security of Windows Mobile phones, especially those that have been upgraded to the 6.1 version released this spring. For instance, on WindowsMobile phones, data on removeable storage cards can be encrypted, he said. And finely tuned access privileges can be imposed on devices based on the user’s Active Directory rights in combination with Microsoft’s new System Center Mobile Device Manager server software.
SCMDM, which is Microsoft’s competitor to Research In Motion’s popular BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), offers 125 built-in policies and also lets IT managers create their own.
“This makes Windows Mobile phones first-class citizens on the network, as easily managed as desktop or laptop PCs,” Rockfeld said. He took another shot at RIM, claiming that of the 325 companies buying Windows Mobile in large quantities, about a third of them also “decommissioned” a BES server at the same time.
While Windows Mobile may be growing, the same Gartner figures showed BlackBerry sales skyrocketing. ISVs who create software for both BlackBerry and Windows Mobile report the same thing.
“We’ve seen some uptick in Windows Mobile, but BlackBerry remains more popular by far,” said Rob Woodbridge, CEO of Rove Mobile.
Microsoft’s success has long relied on its strong partner ecosystems. Rockfeld was not shy about criticizing Apple’s strategy for building an app ecosystem around the iPhone.
Apple’s decision to limit the initial number of developers able to sell their wares through AppStore to just 4,000, is “not very open,” Rockfeld said. “I’d hate to be the 4,001st developer in line who didn’t meet some subjective bar Steve Jobs set.”
Microsoft doesn’t forbid anyone from developing for Windows Mobile, nor charge any royalties. It also has no plans to start selling Windows Mobile apps. “Once we become a retailer, then we’d have to become more closed,” he said.
As a result, there were 500 mostly consumer apps available at the iPhone 3G’s launch last week. In contrast, for Windows Mobile, there are more than 18,000 publicly-available applications, including the just-released Guitar Hero 3, and thousands more custom business apps, Rockfeld said.
“There are tons more Windows Mobile apps than iPhone,” agreed Scott Gode, vice-president of marketing and product management for server management outsourcer Azaleos. “The true test will be to see 3-5 years from now.”
Despite his criticism, Rockfeld didn’t rule out Microsoft making software to run on the iPhone.
“Our Live Search team has a cross-platform strategy, so I can definitely assume that group is exploring the iPhone, though there are no announced plans yet,” he said.