How Microsoft Can Get Back in the Mobile Game

LG says it’s betting heavily on Android (s goog) to help the handset maker build its smartphone business, a move that contrasts starkly with last year’s vow to make Microsoft’s (s msft) Windows Mobile its primary operating system. But in doing so, LG joins a small army of fellow manufacturers that have shifted their focus away from Microsoft’s mobile OS — among them HTC , Sony Ericsson (s sne) (s eric), Motorola (s mot) and Palm (s palm) — and, with the lone exception of Palm, toward Android. And the revelation comes on the heels of rumors that the launch of Windows Mobile 7 may be pushed back yet again, to 2011.

In the meantime, as the mobile skies continue to darken over Redmond, we’ve compiled a few ideas that could get Microsoft back in the game:

  • Make Windows Mobile free to manufacturers. That’s a strategy our friend Chetan Sharma examined more than a year ago; since then Microsoft has continued to lose market share as open-source OSes gain traction in mobile. Making WinMo free — but not open source — might encourage some manufacturers to at least reconsider moving away from the platform.
  • Acquire (or adopt) another operating system and ditch WinMo. Building a mobile OS from the ground up is a Herculean task, but Microsoft has the deep pockets to pick up a newer platform and throw WinMo on the scrap heap. While rumors of a takeover of RIM (s rimm) seem outrageous given the price tag, Microsoft could pick up Palm’s (s palm) webOS for substantially less. And while Microsoft has historically feared Linux — upon which webOS is based — it last year began indicating it may be softening its stance regarding open-source software.
  • Build a top-notch app store designed for business users. Consumer-focused mobile app stores have quickly become a kind of Moroccan bazaar where users are confronted with a dizzying number of offerings on the cheap. Microsoft — like RIM — could set its Marketplace for Mobile apart from the crowd by combining high-end enterprise and productivity apps with a small library of the best entertainment titles.
  • Make Windows Mobile 7.0 a worthy competitor with a focus on the enterprise. Mobile malware is sure to cause more problems as the popularity of the iPhone (s appl) and Android-based devices continues to surge. In addition to making WinMo more user-friendly, Microsoft should position it as an ultra-secure platform designed to ensure the safety of mobile data for high-end executives. To sweeten the deal, maybe it should give out a free golf shirt with every WinMo device sold.

As we’ve said before, it may simply be too late for Windows Mobile to re-emerge as anything but a niche play for a small number of business users. If the gang in Redmond has begun taking mobile seriously, though, it should consider some of these ideas as a way to regain relevance in the increasingly competitive smartphone space.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: As Windows Mobile Stumbles, Which Smartphone OS Will Seize the Lead?