Foley on Microsoft

5 Microsoft Moves To Boost Windows Phone Market Share

Mary Jo Foley lays out a five-point plan for Microsoft gain some sales traction in the smartphone landscape.

Not so long ago, in the months leading up to Microsoft's launch of Windows Phone in October 2010, many a pundit (yours truly among them) had advice for the 'Softies on how they could get out of their mobile-phone tailspin.

Since then, Microsoft has done a lot of things right on the smartphone front. The company went back to the drawing board and re-architected the Windows Phone platform OS, its UI, its reference design, its relationships with carriers and handset makers, and its sales and marketing strategy.

But, in hindsight, Microsoft has also made some pretty significant gaffes with Windows Phone. For some reason, the 'Softies initially didn't see a need to prime the retail-sales pump in carrier stores, resulting in salespeople failing to recommend Windows Phone devices instead of iPhone and Android devices. Even when customers did request Windows Phone devices, the salespeople steered them elsewhere.

Support remains lackluster as well. Software updates remain stuck in handset/carrier-approval loops, instead of being rolled out once they're ready. The number of apps for Windows Phone still trails by far the number available on iPhone and Android devices -- a chicken and egg dilemma if there ever was one.

In 2012, Microsoft ripped and replaced the Windows Phone guts yet again, switching the Compact Embedded core for one based on Windows NT that's shared with Windows 8. While this will help Microsoft create a common developer platform story in the long run, the near-term result is platform fragmentation. Those who purchased Windows Phone 7.x handsets learned their phones wouldn't get the Windows Phone 8 OS update.

Cut to the start of 2013, and Redmond's Windows Phone market share is hovering around the 3 percent mark, which is down slightly from a year ago. Even though there are some nice new flagship Windows Phone 8 handsets on the market -- including the HTC 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920, which finally gave Nokia a little upward momentum in its Q4 FY2012 -- Windows Phone seems stuck.

What, if anything, can Microsoft do now to break past the 3 percent market share barrier? Here are a few of the more-realistic-sounding options:

  1. Hang in there and keep investing. Just like it did with Xbox, Microsoft can simply stay the course, keep taking losses on this business and wait for its competitors to stumble.
  2. Buy parts of Nokia or BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. I don't see Microsoft buying either company in its entirety. But what about one or more divisions or patents of either vendor?
  3. Attract more OEMs to deliver Windows Phone devices. Lenovo is again believed to be on board and planning to release a Windows Phone in 2013.
  4. Decide that OEMs can't be counted on and make its own phone -- say, a Surface Phone. If and when this happens, Microsoft will continue to say it loves its handset partners, but the real message will be "get out of our way," just as it's doing with the Surface RT and Pro tablets.
  5. Bring Windows 8 and Windows Phone even closer together so that apps developed for one platform can be moved more quickly and painlessly to the other.

Of course, Microsoft could abandon Windows Phone, but I don't consider that a realistic alternative in this increasingly mobile-focused day and age. What do you think Microsoft should do to move the needle on Windows Phone market share?

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's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.


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