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9/10/2012
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Mike Feibus
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Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete

It's currently a two-horse race in the smartphone market: Android on Samsung and iOS on Apple. The nation's wireless carriers can help Microsoft gain ground on the market leaders.

Microsoft may never have a better opportunity to gain share in the hotly competitive smartphone market than it does right now with Windows Phone 8. And it's not because the upcoming Microsoft platform is good enough to compete against Apple and Google, although it is. Nor is it because the just-unveiled smartphones from Nokia and Samsung are competitive, which they seem to be.

All else being equal, those two things are enough to give Windows Phone 8 a place in the race. But they're not enough to change the standings. The momentum for the smartphone juggernauts is far too great.

To move the market-share needle, Microsoft will have to fix something that bothers us about the platforms we're carrying around today. They'll also have to solve something the carriers don't like about Android and iOS.

If Microsoft understands those hurdles--and I sense that it does--then we'll see Windows Phone snag share in the coming quarters.

Barring an unexpectedly large leap forward this week by the iPhone, what we've seen thus far of the upcoming Windows Phone 8 hardware lineup is good enough to be competitive. Samsung's Ativ S takes to the next level what the company does best in the smartphone market--beautiful displays and muscular processors, crowbarred into impossibly lean devices. And the Lumia 920, introduced last week by Nokia as its flagship offering, features some very compelling camera capabilities.

[ They're here, but does anyone care? See Nokia Windows Phone 8 Devices Arrive With Thud. ]

If Microsoft really wants to grab market share, though, it will need to address something that bothers us about our existing platforms. In that regard, the area with the most low-hanging fruit is personal privacy. I won't belabor the point now. (That's because I've already belabored the point.) I'll just say that consumers generally are queasy about how much personal information passes through their smartphones, and would prefer that their platform providers know less about them than they do. Microsoft could really make inroads in the smartphone market by taking the high road on privacy. Just a few features sprinkled here and there would send the message that Microsoft is going the extra mile to keep your personal information confidential.

Microsoft hasn't exposed enough of its upcoming phone OS to gauge whether it intends to exploit the gift that the market leaders have laid at its feet. There are signs that Microsoft comprehends the opportunity, though. On the new Outlook.com, for example, the company pledges not to push targeted ads, which some smartphone users find invasive.

Wooing us is important, but don't forget: we're not the only important constituents here. In fact, we're arguably not even the most important. If the phones and the OS are good enough, the carriers have the heft and influence to change the market landscape. It's a major reason why Android enjoys the share it commands today.

Recall that in late 2009, Verizon was uncomfortable enough with Apple's market clout that it invested heavily to neutralize it. It introduced the Droid line and backed it with a $100 million marketing campaign. In the third quarter of 2009, 30% of U.S. smartphones shipped were iPhones, compared to 5.4% for all Android smartphones combined. (Market figures courtesy of Gartner.)

The following quarter, Android's U.S. share nearly quadrupled to 20.4%. And a full year after the Droid campaign began, Android owned 51.6% of all U.S. smartphones shipped, while iOS share fell to 20.1%.

Windows Phone won't be able to replicate that success story because there's not enough play left in the smartphone market. Android snatched a lot of its share from declining platforms like BlackBerry and Symbian, while Windows Phone would need to take it from the incumbents. Still, there's enough room for the carriers to elevate Windows Phone into a viable contender if they wanted to.

And many of them do want to, as it turns out.

Verizon has already signaled that it is uncomfortable with how much control Apple and Google have over the smartphone market and intends to feature Windows Phone 8 this holiday season. Reports are that Nokia is having some success courting European operators with exclusive arrangements.

Microsoft would do well to build on those efforts, offering carriers a stronger voice than they have in their dealings with Apple and Google. The software giant can also lean on its handset partners to provide preferential pricing to the carriers. The partners will listen.

Samsung is still smarting from the sting of a $1 billion judgment in the Apple patent suit, so it's probably especially flexible. But others are anxious for another, potentially more profitable OS alternative to Android, and one that would also be open to taking better care of the carriers.

After decades of watching Microsoft scorch the competitive landscape in the PC arena, it's surreal to think of the PC platform colossus as the underdog in a market in which the consumers and the channel both feel exploited by the incumbents. If Rip Van Winkle woke up today after a 20-year slumber he'd probably have an easier time coming to grips with the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse "The Body" Ventura had each served as governor.

Strange or not, that's the situation now confronting Microsoft. It has a viable platform in Windows Phone 8 and a competitive stable of handsets. So all that's left for Microsoft to win share is to listen to its constituents and give them what the market leaders aren't giving us.

That's a gap wide enough for even Microsoft to push through.

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ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/13/2012 | 10:53:12 PM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
Interesting discussion. Market clout with vendors is indeed a lever for Microsoft if their mfrs deliver the goods. The privacy thing has potential but how will Microsoft monetize services Bing without profiling? Maybe. . .

To me, the big opening that Apple has created is that it's a closed environment, which some folks resent for good or for ill. They show no signs of morphing.

Android on the other hand is a way way way open environment, allowing too much differentiation in versioning amongst phones and causing some needless security concerns. That's death in the enterprise. (Google seems to be figuring this out.)

Microsoft seems to be trying to emulate the good parts of Apple's closed system without putting users in total lockdown. So yes I think that they are looking to steer through the openings, to find the third way. I would not count them out.
JimC
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JimC,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/13/2012 | 3:50:43 PM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
Microsoft needs to find a way to be the corporate communication standard that Research In Motion once was. RIM's BlackBerry "owned" its market, but has been (and certainly is) falling off a cliff. MS Office still dominates, so Microsoft needs to show that regardless of platform (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone), corporate users will always have quick, convenient and secure access to their data and apps. MS Win8 combined with Office 2013 should provide the leverage needed to do that.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/11/2012 | 1:51:14 AM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
I think one of the big differentiators here is going to be whether Microsoft will allow users to get their device updates from the carriers or directly from Microsoft themselves. The former being the Android method (which leaves some of us stuck since our carriers won't release the appropriate updates for our phones in a timely manner) and the latter being the iPhone method.

It boils down to the idea of just who owns your device and who owns the data on it. Remember that the genesis for the iPhone came from the iPod - a device created so that the user can have /their/ music anytime, any place. With storage moving to the cloud, for the most part, it's boiling down to who has the friendlier interface - ease of use is a must.

That said, in order for Windows Mobile to get a foothold in the business world, it has to be easy for the average business person to use. A person that's more worried about a device functioning properly, safely and securely so that they can get their business done.

Being able to play Angry Birds is great - but if the primary usefulness of the device is hindered by poor execution (bad keyboard, slow processor, inability to get/hold signal), then it's an expensive hockey puck.

If the new Microsoft can become the old RIM, they may have something on their hands.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/11/2012 | 1:41:38 AM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
What you're looking for with regards to logging in and getting into your desktop on your phone or tablet - it's entirely possible. Look for a VPN client for your device that's compatible with your security infrastructure and then either an RDP client (if you're connecting to Windows) or a VNC client (if you're connecting to just about anything else).

There are low cost options for what you're looking for - and then there's the major name brands that can do it as well.

With regards to the e-mail issue, just find an Exchange compatible client for your mobile devices and you're golden. Sure, it won't have the same UI, but it should have most/all of the functionality that you're looking for.

There may also be other options out there, but these are the ones that I've worked with - they're out there.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2012 | 10:07:08 PM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
What Microsoft needs is hardware partners that are not as inept as Nokia.
Francoman
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Francoman,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/10/2012 | 7:19:15 PM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
I really liked your headline and have been thinking about the same subject. I run a Windows IT shop for a small logistics company 175 employees. It really hurt us when the Microsoft screwed-the-pooch on mobile and only now is trying to recover. I would like to login and see a version of my business or personal desktop on my phone, on my tablet and my desktop. I am not talking virtual destop, I am hoping for three separate OSs that work together via a common clould connection. My three desktops (Phone, Tab and Desktop) should be formated to support different screen sizes (Sort of Small, Medium and Large). This would require some kind of common cloud configuration tool for the three platforms, but I think MS could manage that complexity. It would be a hit with both business and consumers. Common to all would be some version of Outlook, with contacts, calendars, reminders and to do's. It would also support MS Office Suite of documents on all three platforms. Common access to files for each of the platforms would also be an imparative.
This tri-platform combo would make switching from business to personal very easy. I know there are some applications that would not be available across platforms. Howerver, as more application capabilities are transfered into private cloud applications, local platform horsepower will be less and less an issue.

So my phone desktop, my tab desktop and my office desktio will all have common elements tied together by Outlook dot come or some other slick MS service farm. This the true promise of Microsoft Windows.
RobMark
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RobMark,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/10/2012 | 6:07:02 PM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
How quickly we forget. MS was on the outside looking in with phones before Window Mobile phones caught on and allowed MS to be a leader with smart phones. They can definately do it again with Windows Phone.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2012 | 3:11:21 PM
re: Windows Phone 8: What Microsoft Needs To Compete
I can't think of another phone OS that panders more to the carriers than Android. Even if Microsoft wanted to, they couldn't match that. Microsoft is determined to lock their OS down as Apple does, not that I think that's a bad thing, as Android is too subject to malware. But if Microsoft does pander, and allows all the junk on the phone that Google allows, for one thing, and allows them to prevent updates, as they already had a problem with, then people aren't going to react happily. Look at what Amazon just had to to with the ads on the new Fire HD.

Besides, people still have to want to buy these things. There's no evidence yet that they do.
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