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Microsoft Phone 7 - A Long Row to Hoe

Recently, Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 Mobile software. This is all new software that Microsoft hopes will stop its slide in market share. It is going to have tough sledding.

Until this introduction, Microsoft’s market share in the mobile software business was dropping off a cliff. The company was one of the early entrants into the market. In 2004, it owned 22% of the market. By 2009, its share was down to 9%. Today it is about 5%. Microsoft was quickly fading away. But maybe the new software can help.

For a bit of perspective, we have to explain that there are five separate players involved in this marketplace: the operating system developers, the phone manufacturers, the wireless carriers, the software application developers and the ultimate users. Each of these entities are in separate businesses and represent separate competition. Microsoft plays in the market exclusively as an operating system developer. That’s what Windows Phone 7 is. The Google Android system is another stand-alone mobile operating software platform. So has been Hewlett Packard’s Palm mobile operating software. Three other competitors offer their operating software only in combination with their handset hardware. These include Nokia, with the Symbian operating system, Research In Motion’s Blackberry products and Apple’s iPhones.

The market share ranking today among those competitors in total operating software starts with Nokia’s Symbian, followed by Android, then Blackberry and Apple. Each of these has a market share that are multiples of Microsoft’s current share. Microsoft is fifth, followed by Palm and others.

The new Windows Phone 7 software is a wholly new product. It is completely different than the previous Microsoft mobile software. So different, in fact, that none of the thousands of applications written for the previous Microsoft software will work with Windows Phone 7. The company must start from scratch with applications.

Consumers love applications and make many of their buying decisions on the basis of these applications. (See the Perspective, “When to Compete on Features” on StrategyStreet.com.) Today, Apple has about 250,000 applications, followed by Android with about 70,000. The differences between the two are probably much less than these numbers would indicate because most of the popular applications are available on both platforms. You can see this in the marginal purchases. Android garners more of the current new purchases than does Apple. So, for all practical purposes, Apple no longer owns a significant application lead on Android.

Windows Phone 7 faces a real hurdle with applications. In some ways, it offers a few benefits over the Android and Apple operating systems. For example, it works off of “tiles” that enable a user to get information somewhat faster than in the Android and Apple software. It works easily with Microsoft Office software and it enables gamers to connect to online games easily. These are modest innovations at best, and likely to be followed by others quickly. For example, Motorola already produces software for its phones that pretty much duplicates Microsoft’s “tiles.” Apps are the big problem.

If you are an applications developer, Microsoft would likely be far down your list of the companies for whom you would write new application software for a smart phone. Android and Apple would lead the pack. Nokia, Research In Motion and others offer more current customers than Microsoft but pose difficulties for developers. Microsoft would fall below all these firms. Microsoft has to solve this problem quickly.

Application developers are also likely to be leery of Microsoft and its continued presence in the market. Not only has the company lost share, but it introduced a software platform called Kin in the spring of 2010 aimed at young people, between 12 and 20. This product did not stay in the market even two months. So developers are likely to hold fire on their application development for the Windows Phone 7 platform until they are relatively sure that the product will succeed.

Microsoft is backing its Windows Phone 7 introduction with a $100 million advertising program emphasizing the ease with which a user can get to the information most important to the customer. This seems to me to miss the mark. This advertising investment is a Convenience innovation that advises the customer why the Microsoft system is faster and, therefore, better. (See “Video 15: Definition of Convenience” on StrategyStreet.com.) But it seems that most of the smart phone purchases today are the result of other current users’ recommendations and demonstrations. This is a Reliability innovation. These current users are apt to emphasize the Function benefits of their phones rather than the speed of access to information.

Microsoft might have spent this money differently. It is already paying some developers to create applications for its platform. My guess is that their $100 million might have been much better spent paying for applications, where Microsoft is likely to fail on the basis of lack of Functions rather than paying for the Convenience innovation of advertising.

Posted 10/28/10

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