Microsoft Getting Smart about Smartphones

February 3, 2010 by
Filed under: Technology 

Well, it was just a matter of time.  PC World reported that Microsoft will announce its own smartphone in the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona this month.  I guess the pandemic of iPhone envy is hitting everyone hard.  This one promises to be interesting since it will allegedly be based on the Zune music player and the Windows 7 Phone platform.  All good.  Until now Microsoft’s strategy was OEM friendly.  LG, Samsung, HTC, Motorola and others have introduced Microsoft based smartphones of varying success positioning Microsoft’s mobile OS as the 4th player (soon to be 5th thanks to Android) in the smartphone category (after RIM, Apple, and Symbian).

This strategy represents a hardware/software branded device from Microsoft in a sense competing with its own OEMs.  All those companies however have not shown any loyalty to the Redmond folks since they have diversified or totally migrated to the Android platform.  So I guess Balmer decided: Screw them I will go Google … sorry I will do like Apple … not really, I will do my own hardware and control my own destiny.   Good move?  We’ll see.  But definitely not a bad one or a move that will damage any OEM relationships.  The world is ready for a diversity in OSs and the smartphone category is the fastest growing category in the industry.  Microsoft cannot afford to be the fifth.

The question is:  Will this make a difference?  Not likely.

Microsoft has by far the largest market share in the enterprise – with “big Windows”, not smartphones, that privilege belongs to RIM.  It boasts millions upon millions of applications and it is the “standard” enterprise Operating System.  These are not 99 cent apps, no! These represent real money for enterprises and Microsoft.  A simple copy of Office may go for hundreds of dollars.  Why? because it is the defacto standard (for now).  The smartphone world behaves very different.  With the exception of email and a couple of minor “connectors” to ERP systems there are very few apps for the enterprise.  In fact Windows Mobile today has the largest number of  enterprise ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) but they specialize in niche applications like inventory, supply chain, delivery, fleet management, etc.  The devices these apps run on are not your typical HTC smartphone Fender edition but very specialized hardware made by Motorola and others.

The thing is:  The Microsoft name, which carries a lot of weight in the enterprise, does not represent a mayority choice for the consumers as it does in PCs or in those niche applications.  The perception of a “standard” OS with millions of applications does not exist in the Smarthphone world.  There are millions of apps for several OSs, in fact lots of apps are available for most smartphone OSs (paradoxically Windows Phone is typically the last one to be developed).  So my contention is that even if Microsoft comes up with a killer device it is an uphill battle to go after RIM, iPhone, Symbian, and Android.  It may much better than OEM versions since Microsoft has intimate knowledge of hardware and software to make it so, but it will hardly take the world by storm as its competitors have.

Good luck Microsoft and thanks for giving us all something to write about and for another great opportunity for a clever Apple commercial.  I’m sure there’s a map for that somewhere.




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