WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 12, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a trip to Redmond, Zune Mobile, video game successes and problems in November, a Google product finally comes out of beta, a new Palm OS, smart phone market share figures, and more...

WinInfo Blog

I spent the past week in Redmond, visiting with friends and, more formally, with various groups at Microsoft. It was a great if tiring trip, and I'm sure it will result in a number of articles over the next several weeks. For today, however, I'm looking forward mostly to some downtime.

Because of my trip, Leo and I will record the next episode of the Windows Weekly podcast tonight, Friday, at 5:00 EST.

But wait, there more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Microsoft at CES: A Zune Mobile device? Maybe
Microsoft's upcoming Frankenstein's monster of a mobile device, called Zune Mobile internally at the software giant, may or may not debut next month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. I guess it all depends on which rumors you believe. The rumors are so prevalent, in fact, that Microsoft actually commented on them this week: "No Zune phone at CES," Zune group manager Brian Seitz said. Which, when you think about it, isn't the same as saying "no Zune phone." So to clear up the misconceptions, allow me to tell you what's really happening. Microsoft is indeed moving forward with its plans for the Zune Mobile platform, which is based on Windows Mobile (obviously) and will include Zune digital media playback functionality (obvious) and a Zune-inspired crossbar UI (also obvious). Zune Mobile will be sold both by Microsoft's partners and--confirming one of the most hotly-contested rumors--by Microsoft itself. As for the timing, I can't say. But sooner is certainly smarter than later, given the performance of the smart phone market these days.

Video game companies tout November successes
Nintendo and the two other companies that continue to make video game consoles for some reason all decided that the November 2008 sales numbers were something to celebrate. But my guess is that Microsoft and Sony pretty much have to pretend that Nintendo doesn't exist for such a celebration to make any sense. Nintendo sold an amazing 2 million Wii consoles in November (plus another 1.6 million DS handhelds, and what the heck is up with that?), making that month the biggest yet for non-December sales in video game history. Nintendo has sold 15.4 million Wiis in two years, about 8 million of them in the US alone. Microsoft, meanwhile, touted the fact that it outsold the Sony PlayStation 3 by a 3 to 1 margin, with sales of 836,000 Xbox 360 consoles. As for Sony, they, uh. Well. They have "momentum," apparently. Sony sold 378,000 PS3s in November, along with 206,000 PS2s (up from the same month a year ago if you can believe that) and about 600,000 portable PSP devices. Look, someone has to come in last. That's all I'm saying.

But ... Let's point out some sobering realities about November
So while November was apparently a blockbuster month for video game sales, market researchers at NPD point out that sales growth in the month actually slowed month-over-month, which could point to a more-troubling-than-expected December. Video game sales rose 35 percent year-over-year in October, but they rose just 11 percent in November. Or maybe it's just because Thanksgiving was later this year, pushing back the start to the holiday buying season. Maybe it's because October saw stronger-than-expected launches of new video game titles. And maybe it's because, when you get right down to it, you can make statistics say anything you want if you try hard enough.

Google Chrome browser comes out of beta
Thus proving that, sometimes at least, Google actually finishes something it starts. Google this week took the rare step of removing the "beta" label from one of its products, the Chrome Web browser that it launched to much fanfare just three months ago. Google is infamous for leaving products in perpetual beta; its most popular non-search product, Gmail, has never left beta, for example. But I guess the company is serious about getting PC makers to consider bundling Chrome, so out of beta it comes. The non-beta version of Chrome adds numerous performance improvements and bug fixes, a revised bookmark manager, consolidated privacy features, and some other improvements, and more changes are expected down the road. Also waiting for a distant future are Mac OS X and Linux versions of the browser. But, really, who cares?

Palm expected to debut new device OS
One-time PDA and smart phone market leader Palm is expected to finally unveil its next-generation Palm OS 6 operating system, which will be built on an entirely different software base than the previous 5 versions of the system. The announcement, along with the unveiling of new devices, will come next month at CES in Las Vegas. The question for Palm, sadly, is whether we really need yet another smart phone platform. From what I can tell, the industry has pretty much moved along, sorry.

With smart phone growth stalling, iPhone surpasses Windows Mobile
This was probably inevitable, but sales of Apple's popular iPhone have surpassed those of Windows Mobile in North America for the first time. Nokia's Symbian is still number one, with 49 percent of the market (down from 63 percent in the same quarter a year ago), while RIM came in second place with about 16 percent. Apple accounted for 12.9 percent of smart phone sales in the quarter, with Windows Mobile being eked out by just .1 percent: It had 12.8 percent of sales in the quarter. (Linux based systems accounted for 7.2 percent of the market, and Palm brought up the rear with just 2.1 percent.) What's odd about all of this is that smart phone sales grew just 11.5 percent year-over-year, the smallest amount since analysts at Gartner began examining this market. Economic crisis indeed.

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