It has been a tough year for Microsoft. Their mobile platform has struggled to gain any momentum in the market. The likes of both Android and iOS have made it especially hard for competitors to enter the market and compete on any realistic level. We knew Windows Phone wasn't doing quite as well as Microsoft or analyst had predicted, but were quite surprised to learn that it has only managed to garner one percent smartphone market share after nearly 12 months on US shores.
I have a feeling that will soon change.
Two weeks ago, Verizon stated that they believe there is room for yet another smartphone ecosystem to thrive among the two current giants. There are slim pickings, and the debate on which one will manage to come out on top is a long and futile one. But recent changes are all playing in Microsoft's favor.
First and foremost, the Mango update has brought a serious breath of life to Windows Phone. Mango boasts a much faster browser, turn-by-turn navigation, task switching, and over 500 other features that could finally allow WP to compete with the likes of Android and iOS on a serious level. Admittedly not a fan of Windows Phone before, I've been using Mango for several days now and have been thoroughly impressed. Windows Phone is finally out of the infant stage and is ready to play.
Now that most of the software gripes have been resolved, the majority of Microsoft's problems lie with hardware.
Microsoft mandates fairly strict hardware requirements to their partners. This does have its benefits. It offers relatively the same experience between all Windows Phone devices. Whether you go from using a Samsung-made phone to a HTC-built device, since they use essentially the same software and hardware, the experience is generally the same across the board.
That said, this can also lead to some problems. In a market where Android phones are boasting bigger, faster multi-core processors and all sorts of other gimmicky features (like 3D and biometric scanners), Windows Phones have been quickly forgotten – lost in the crowd. They are more or less viewed as underpowered and dated.
Microsoft did change their hardware requirements a few months ago, and much to everyone's surprise, they decided not to go multi-core just yet. They simply changed their minimum processor requirements from a Qualcomm MSM8x50 to a MSM8x55. The difference is, Windows Phone doesn't need over the top hardware for outstanding performance. Hardware-accelerated graphics and solid software make performance buttery smooth, even if the device is only equipped with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. Not only that, but their decision has a lot to do with Windows 8 and supporting the same architectures between the two platforms, and the fact that Windows Phone in not coded to support multiple processors or multi-threaded applications at this time. When you consider this, it only makes sense for Microsoft to pass on multi-core chips for now, seeing as the only difference users would notice is a chunk out of their battery life. Microsoft does have plans for multi-core processors in the future, they're just not ready yet.
So if Microsoft doesn't need over the top specs to compete, how do they differentiate? Well, they answered that question months ago; we simply have yet to see the fruits of their labor. You may recall that billion dollars that Microsoft threw at Nokia. (You know, the billion dollars that made Nokia forget about MeeGo?)
Nokia's hardware is among the best in the world. In my honest opinion, they are the only company out there who can rival Apple's hardware and build quality. And Microsoft has Nokia all to themselves. (Oh, how I would love to see a Nokia-made Android phone.) The problem, however, is Nokia's relationship with Stateside wireless providers. If Microsoft can mend those wounds, the Nokia deal could prove to be the sole factor that brings Windows Phone into the limelight.
Nokia World is later this month and I have a feeling it's going to be all about Windows Phone. Well, mostly about it anyway. I expect to see the Sea Ray and can only hope to find out what the Sabre is. I have to admit, this Mango update and approaching Nokia hardware actually have me excited for Windows Phone ... for a change.
What about you, guys and gals? Do you believe Nokia can pull Windows Phone out of this slump and over the first hurdle? Or will carrier relations stand in the way? Will you buy a Nokia-made Windows Phone when it releases? I know I will.