Windows Mobile Development Slowed in Second Half of 2008

Growth of the Apple iPhone and Google's Android mobile platforms are cutting into the market for devices based on Windows Mobile and will continue to do so, according to a global survey of developers.

The survey, conducted by Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Evans Data Corp., found that fewer developers are using the .NET Compact Framework -- 33 percent, compared with 40 percent six months ago. But on a global basis, it is still more widely used than tooling for other mobile platforms including the iPhone, Android, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and even Nokia's newly acquired Symbian platform, according to the survey.

A study based on the survey findings, released Monday, is the latest data point to suggest that Microsoft's aging Windows Mobile platform is suffering the effects of growth from rivals, notably the iPhone. Sales of the iPhone for the third quarter outpaced those of devices based on Windows Mobile, market researchers Gartner and IDC both reported in December.

"Is Windows Mobile going away? No, we don't think it's going away, but its growth has been abated by some of the new entrants in the market," said John Andrews, president and CEO of Evans Data.

Despite the overall falloff, the study found that 40 percent more developers plan to target Windows Mobile than the iPhone, while 46 percent more expect to target the .NET Compact Framework than the Android platform. Many developers are awaiting Microsoft's widely anticipated refresh to Windows Mobile, which includes a release of Windows Mobile 6.5 to be followed by Windows Mobile 7.

Indeed, some analysts believe Apple's accelerated growth over Windows Mobile may already be leveling. Apple last week said it shipped 4.4 million iPhones in the fourth quarter and it remains to be seen whether it still outsold devices based on Windows Mobile. "My initial instinct is that Microsoft shipped more devices," said IDC analyst Ryan Reith.

Platform issues are being dictated by factors other than technology, the Evans Data study also found. Only 15 percent said the openness of the mobile platform was a key issue; revenue and marketing opportunities are driving decisions.

The study, which Andrews said was not sponsored by any specific vendor, is based on a survey of 400 developers, 60 percent of which are commercial while the rest enterprise. Given the proliferation of devices based on multiple platforms, no OS is likely to be dominant within enterprises, most analysts say.

Less than 50 percent of enterprises even have formal policies for mobile application and device management, according to Philippe Winthrop, director of wireless research with Boston-based Strategy Analytics. "While IT departments may prefer one platform over another, the reality is there continues to be individually liable purchasing of devices," Winthrop said.

Despite cutbacks in IT spending, 94 percent of developers surveyed by Evans Data said mobile development projects will increase or at least stay on track. Andrews said while this finding was surprising, enterprises are looking at mobile applications to improve productivity, while ISVs are bullish on the revenue opportunities.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.