Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Can Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OS Really Dominate Today’s Competitive Smartphone Market?

When Microsoft entered the smartphone OS race towards the end of last year having reportedly spent over $1 billion dollars in the process, it did so with a view to outrunning the popularity of Apple iOS (iPhone) and Google Android (HTC 7 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S – the list goes on) – so what has Microsoft got up its sleeve that we don’t know about?

Image courtesy of Expansys

Way back in 2004, with high-quality hardware and a solid platform for which developers could easily build mobile applications, Windows Mobile held a very respectable 23 per cent of global smartphone sales. It was even predicted that it would supersede Nokia’s Symbian OS to become the leading mobile operating system by 2010.

Where Microsoft fell down, however, was on overall user experience; their devices were too complicated to use, alienating the average user from them altogether. This problem is in stark contrast to the market’s newest and biggest players, Apple and Google, who have both managed to make their operating systems accessible and easy to use, even for the technically-challenged.

While Apple’s brand has remained closely guarded, it’s still incredibly innovative and has managed never to dilute its offering or provide its customer with a mixed message. Android, on the other hand, is whipping up a smartphone storm, with its smartphone OS spread across countless handset brands and various other tailored versions of the OS now spilling over into tablets, TVs, laptops etc...

So Android’s brand is rather more confusing than Apple’s minimalistic and simplistic offering, but has so far proven successful nonetheless simply because it’s the accessible OS of the everyman.
However, there are startling similarities between the current battle for mobile OS dominance compared with that of the battle for PC market share.

When Apple released the first Macintosh, it took the world by storm. But Apple was slowed down by its very own culture of innovation; while the world waited for Apple’s next revelation, Microsoft was able to jump in, fill the gap and seep into every crevice of the PC market.

Could this be happening again in the smartphone market? Aside from Microsoft, there is not a stronger company dedicated to building a sustainable mobile ecosystem inclusive of the wireless carriers, handset manufacturers, ISVs and stores.

With Apple maintaining complete control of every bit of its brand (application development and hardware) and Google and its Open Handset Alliance allowing free access to everyone and anyone (developers and handset manufacturers alike), where can Microsoft fit in? Here’s how:
  1. Give WP7 away free – it’s the only way to encourage people to get on board in an already overcrowded and very competitive market.
  2. Capitalise on the success of the Xbox – as the Xbox franchise continues to grow, Microsoft will need to start developing products that will influence the mainstream, not just gamers.
  3. Produce a coherent three-screen (online, mobile and living room) series – While Microsoft does have these three elements in place (Bing, Xbox, Kinect and WP7), the experience isn’t unified where the likes of Apple’s is.
  4. Educate the consumer – Microsoft can capitalise on Android’s now inherent fragmentation problem by guiding consumers about what they buy.

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