Two Windows Mobile versions: Yay or Nay?

startmenuwinmo65The blogosphere is ablaze with commentary over the news blip that Microsoft intends to continue offering Windows Mobile 6.5 after they debut version 7. Per Digitimes:

Microsoft will not phase out Windows Mobile 6.5 from the market but will lower the OS price, when it launches Windows Mobile 7 scheduled in the fourth quarter of 2010, the sources added.

The dual-platform strategy will allow Microsoft to compete with Android-based platform using Windows Mobile 6.5 and also compete with iPhones leveraging Windows Mobile 7, the sources asserted.

Reaction has ranged from various levels of condemnation to pragmatism and support. I’m siding with the pragmatists on this. As Matt Miller points out, offering different versions of a mobile OS concurrently is nothing new.

Furthermore, the biggest critics I’ve seen have focused on the wrong aspect of the idea that WinMo 6.5 will be used to compete against Android. That decision, if it comes to pass, is based on pricing. Android is free; WinMo is not. Microsoft’s bread and butter are their operating systems. They can’t just give them away. They can, however, lower prices on older versions. Will WinMo 6.5 be as good as next year’s version of Android? Probably not, but they should be comparable enough to compete if the price is right.

As for the criticism that Q4 2010 is way too late to release WinMo 7 (or Windows Phone, as the rebrand should be complete by then), I think it depends on how good it is. The UI on 6.5, taking cues from the current Zune OS, is very sharp. As long as version 7 improves on that, it could be a big winner, though at that late date, the improvement would need to be dramatic indeed. Hardly an ideal plan, but I can’t say it’d be a disaster. What do you think?