Foley on Microsoft

Windows 8 Phones: Can Microsoft Catch Up?

Whether you're a Windows Phone fan or foe, most know Microsoft is behind the eight ball in this market.

The 'Softies have tried to bolster their smartphone standing in a number of ways -- everything from giving Nokia more than a billion dollars to push Windows Phone over Android, to shelling out bucks so big-name developers will port their apps. So far nothing has moved the needle in Microsoft's favor.

Microsoft has another trick up its sleeve: accelerating plans to unify the Windows and Windows Phone platforms. Originally, according to rumors, Microsoft wasn't expected to be able to create a common Windows and Windows Phone platform until Windows Phone 9. But it looks as though that grand unification plan is arriving sooner -- this year, in fact.

Microsoft isn't simply going for a shared look and feel between Windows and Windows Phone. The two platforms will also include common kernel elements (the core MinWin components), a common browser (Internet Explorer 10), the same CLR core, and possibly even the same programming framework (Windows Runtime, or WinRT). At this point, the WinRT piece of the story is still uncertain, but the other items are basically confirmed.

Beyond sharing key pieces, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are going to be more tightly integrated on the synchronization front. The process of saving, sharing and retrieving files, data and documents across the platforms via SkyDrive and other mechanisms will be tighter and more seamless. There will be new Companion apps to make Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 work better together by deeply integrating core services and experiences across the two platforms.

It's still not clear to me at this point in Windows 8 development whether the next version of Windows is going to be a big hit or not. The idea of running two environments side-by-side -- one with Metro tiles and the other with a more legacy-like desktop -- is unproven. We still don't know the final battery life, form-factor options and pricing for the coming Windows 8 family of machines. And at this relatively late date, assuming a fall Windows 8 launch, the developer story is still a murky work in progress.

But even if the riskiest Microsoft product bet ever -- as CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged back in 2010 that Windows 8 would be -- isn't a home run, Microsoft will still likely sell millions of copies. And with just 1.5 percent or so of the global smartphone market share, Windows Phone needs all the help it can get -- especially from its sister OS.

After the debut of the Windows 8 tiled interface last year, more than a few Microsoft watchers, customers and partners thought Windows Phone might help sell Windows 8, given the similarity of the interfaces. As it turns out, we had it backward. Microsoft is instead hoping Windows 8 will bootstrap Windows Phone 8.

There are still a couple of big what-ifs in this bootstrapping scenario that might be solved by the time this column is published (though I kind of doubt it). First: Will there be a single Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 marketplace, similar to the way Apple offers a common iPhone/iPad place to buy? This seems like a no-brainer, plus a great way for Microsoft to instantly populate the Windows Store by the time Windows 8 launches. But no one at Microsoft has said officially and publicly whether this is the plan. On a related note, how much work will be required to get existing Windows Phone 7.x apps to run on Windows Phone 8, given its new kernel and possible new developer framework?

If the 'Softies can get these synergistic 8 platforms out in time for the holidays in 2012, maybe those of us who wished for Microsoft to put the Windows Phone OS on its tablets will be more on board with Microsoft's strategy of integration. Big risks can lead to big rewards.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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Reader Comments:

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Wed, Apr 11, 2012 Erwin

I have been using Phone 7 for 1 1/2 year now and I love. To me it is the best phone. Still it is a peripheral thing that is pushing me away from it: the Windows Live account. It is very inflexible. It doesn't have to do with the phone itself directly but of the 2 things that could solve my most pressing problem (solution is either moving my child's Xbox account to my other live account as his parent account or changing the locale of my US based account to my country - an oopsie I made which didn't matter when creating the account way back when) can't be done. Furthermore I love listening to podcasts but I can only add them directly on my phone with my US account, with the non-US account I need to hook up to a computer. Why? Podcasts, the ones I listen to and all the ones I know of at least, are free. so why make it harder for non-US accounts? These things, the whole thinking behind the inflexible account system of the phone if you will, are making me leave an otherwise perfect phone.

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 Brett Developer Erie, PA

The big push and talk right now is smart phones and tablets. We are all waiting to see what Microsoft can code and leverage to produce a great product both op system and hardware for both phone and tablet in a market where everyone is bragging and leaning toward Apple! Microsoft needs a solid product to compete in a market that apple has had for multiple yrs now. what happened to the software giant why did MS go to sleep and avoid this huge changing marketshare????? MS sits back while many look to Apple to pave the way and and build on the future, better wake up and put down apple with the new MS tablet and phone designed specifically for the new hardware of phone and tablet not a desktop not a laptop... thanks

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 John Canberra Australia

Maybe Microsoft is slow to market and denies access to risky apps. So what. The result is far safer than Android and generally doesn't require high levels of knowledge of IT to support. Maybe in the IT world the level of knowledge of the user facilitates safe and reliable use of dodgy implementations of Android and flawed/criminal apps, however the rest of the world wants a safe reliable phone. Given Android doesn't give that then as far as I am concerned they are unacceptable, and once the public realise the implications of Android, they will drop it en-masse.

Fri, Mar 16, 2012

In regions like the Middle East and UAE, where the labor laws are weak and heavily loaded towards the employer, you hire contract workers for years and years and pay them 1/4th of permanent staff and makes them work twice. This would be illegal in much of the Western world. Microsoft, you professes to be the world’s largest software company and you practice slavery arrangement. Shame on you!

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 Seattle, WA

The problem MS has is that they have no plan for the future. They write stuff for the now. When the product finally gets delivered the market has already moved on. Example: Windows 8, who is the target market tablets, desktops, or phones? Windows Phone platform is it for tablets or phones? Where does netbooks stand in all of this? Two platforms same target market?

Wed, Mar 14, 2012

"Microsoft has no good leader to lead into bright future" - I agree with this. Maybe they need someone like Scott G. He's widely respected, energetic and a real developer.

Wed, Mar 14, 2012

"people using XP dont want to upgrade to Windows 7 because it is worst OS" - Why do you say that? I find Win7 is actually pretty awesome from both a user perspective as well as an architectural one. Everyone has their opinion and so I'm curious as to what specifically do you not like about it?

Wed, Mar 14, 2012

"The stupidest thing done by the Windows Mobile team was to completely disallow sideloading of applications" - I disagree, look at the iPhone. Not allowing side loading GREATLY reduces the possibility of malware and such on the phone and also provides an incentive to developers, since it helps prevent piracy of apps. Consider that many surveys now show that the Android market is not considered lucrative for developers because most Android owners prefer to not pay for apps. Anyway, the problem again is markey hype and user perception.

Wed, Mar 14, 2012

A couple points: The problem is not a 'walled garden', if you want to see that get an iPhone. And look at how successful the iPhone is. Also Microsoft did not 'burn' its carrieR (VZW) with the Kin, the problem there was VZW apparently changed its mind and decided to charge full smartphone data costs for the Kin which was NOT meant to be a smartphone. It was meant to be primarily a 'social' phone, and guess what? It was actually a good phone. So from where I'm sitting it was the CARRIER that burned Microsoft. I will agree that Microsoft's marketing for WP7 is pretty awful. And that is why I think the phone is having such a problem - it's all a problem of hype. Anyone who takes an objective view of WP7 will see the platform is very nice, and developing for it is soooo much nicer than Android or iPhone,,, like light years ahead.

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 Raju K

Microsoft has no good leader to lead into bright future when market scope is very high these days such as smartphones and tablets. Microsoft is consistently FAILING in all areas including desktop OS ( people using XP dont want to upgrade to Windows 7 because it is worst OS), and same story on Office product.

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 Sangha India

MS Windows exist on tablets for long time. You know their market share? It is just 1.5%. That is, Microsoft has failed in tablets and also in smartphones. Windows 8 on tablet has no impact when Windows 7 on tablets has just 1.5% market share (presently).

Mon, Mar 12, 2012

The stupidest thing done by the Windows Mobile team was to completely disallow sideloading of applications on the phone by users and unregistered developers. This platform was doomed from the beginning by poor technical and marketing management. The sad thing is that the development group thinks they have a winner on their hands and independent developers (ISVs) should be honored and pay to develop applications for it. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Time to change the flavor of Kool-Aide these guys are drinking.

Fri, Mar 9, 2012 Cal

Windows Phone has been on sale since 2010. That's ample time to judge its success, or in this case, failure. In that time, Windows Phone has gone nowhere, languishing at less than 2% of the market. Critical errors were made by Ballmer, who doesn't understand the market. Biggest error: late to market. Second biggest error: walled-garden closed architecture (the only way to beat an encumbent at its own game is to be more open). Execution has been bad (laughable update errors). Marketing has been the worst: TV spots featuring phones dropping into urinals, and a Redmond parade featuring a mock iPhone funeral. Microsoft burned carrier and customer relations with the doomed Kin phones. What future does Microsoft have if it has lost its position in the future of consumer computing (ie, smartphones and tablets)? Microsoft has lost these future markets already.

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 BtilEntrails

I want to see Microsoft be the Application store or interface for my games on my PC. I am so tired of crapware installs like Steam and others like them being put on my machine. I am okay with anti piracy software, but I want it to be something I can turn off and not have it collecting information on my machine if some trust could be created with an Apps Store of this kind.

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