Is it possible that Windows Phone 7 can take a competitive slice of the smartphone market - now dominated by iPhone, Android, and Blackberry? It’s possible, but Microsoft will need to do a full court press.
The first thing to consider is: are there people out there who are not fully committed to a smartphone experience? In other words, not on team iPhone or team Android or team Blackberry. Outside of the tech corridors and busy business folks, there is a wide group of people who do not use smartphones, and this is global customer base. It’s hard to imagine if you work around passionate smartphone users, but smartphones are hovering in the low 20ish percentile of total worldwide mobile users (depending on who’s measuring). Many average Joe and Joannes have not embraced the smartphone passionately, where they declare their citizenship to a brand, although both iPhone and Android are making inroads with their carriers.
The app markets are important, but consider this: how many apps are you deeply committed to on a daily basis? Jason Grigsby in his mobile Strategy talk for Google Tech asked how many folks in the audience use a number of mobile apps on a daily basis, and the number was around four for daily use, even in this tech audience. I imagine that people don’t count their media and games, which would up the count. Among smartphone users I know, they are passionate about the total experience, and love the renewed delight they get from an app or game that they download. The total experience includes what they can do, what they can buy and install, the ease and connectedness of use between devices and communities in their lives, and beauty and performance. The app count for Phone 7 is low compared to iPhone and Android, but for the uncommitted, new smartphone user who initially only wants only a few apps, Phone 7 could suit them. If they could capture those folks, they could grow the segment.
One thing to consider is the phones parents buy kids. If they could develop a cheap enough smartphone that was safe to use and had military-environment durability specs, parents would be more likely to buy a smartphone for their kids. Until then, spending a couple hundred dollars on a phone that is doomed to be crushed, flushed, or lost is out of scope of most family’s budgets. The Kin was really sort of a step in that direction, and Microsoft should not give up on developing a cheap, durable phone for the kid segment if they want to push Windows Mobile.
What are some things that Microsoft could do to raise Windows Mobile in the market? Here are a few of my thoughts on strategy:
1. Partner with Nokia to absorb the Symbian marketshare eventually. While there is a lot of hype about iPhone and Android recently, Nokia has the leading mobile operating system, Symbian with 36-37% of the market worldwide. App developers for Symbian should have some easy way to port code to the Mobile 7 environment, and Microsoft would do well to adopt a Adobe-style tool approach of being able to code and port code from multiple environments.
2. Activate their student army. Microsoft has inroads into most computer science programs. They should inspire and reward student creators and tinkers to build apps in their environment.
3. Don’t forget the money - for developers. One reason iPhone has a groundswell of apps is that they have a straightforward compensation for developers of any standing. Give them room to make some money. And advantage them on the Azure cloud too.
4. Make out-of-this-world integrations with XBox and Kinect that ups the ante of design for the industry and leaves Apple and Google in the dust for their “wow” factor. The fact that Microsoft owns game platforms is a competitive edge they must exploit. When I talk to people who have tried or use the Mobile 7 phones, the Xbox, NetFlix (TMobile), and Facebook integration are the individual features that delights people who are already smartphone users. Strategically, isn’t it interesting that Microsoft makes friends with FaceBook at a time that Facebook is setting it off with Google with their encroachment into their ad and email monetization?
5. Drive the Sharepoint and Outlook integrations to pull in the business users. And seriously, your Office experience on mobile should be second to none for business users or you’ll lose them to other cloud providers. Outlook and Sharepoint portal lead the corporate markets, and Microsoft could encourage these users to think that Mobile 7 is essential to working efficiently. Finally, do something innovative with archiving and searching .pst archives of Outlook for mobile users. It is an issue I hear with many corporate Outlook users. Bing it up on the cloud. And don’t forget the IT developers who were loyal to the old Windows Mobile who need all those security and enterprise level features in developers APIs.
6. Make it easy for the small and mid-sized businesses to advertise with you through your Office domination. They have Office products; use features as a gateway to ads.
7. Open up the device APIs and make Mobile one more Windows device. Make it possible for a Mobile 7 phone to be a drive - a USB device on a Window’s operating system so that the device becomes more and more essential. Open up the APIs so that developers can code to the camera, ringtones, create VoIP applications, and have true multi-tasking. Open up native coding beyond selected vendors.
Some of these points are similar to the relationship and embrace-and-extend strategies that make Windows a dominant OS for PCs, but in mobile, the field of competitors and the competitive plays have changed. The OS is not the key to every dominant win.
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