Enterprise Focus Could Be Key
Android has been rapidly claiming a share of the smartphone operating system market, with NPD Group saying in a May 10 research note it had supplanted the iPhone OS as the No. 2 operating system in the United States. Specifically, the analytics company's calculations put Android at 28 percent of the overall market, followed by the iPhone OS at 21 percent, while BlackBerry maker Research In Motion's operating system held the top spot with 36 percent. Apple has disputed those numbers and NPD Group's methodology. Analysis company ComScore has placed RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone OS market at 42 percent, followed by the iPhone OS at 25 percent, and Windows Mobile and Google Android at 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively.Windows Phone 7 will lack Flash support during its initial rollout, and all indications are that current owners of Microsoft's Windows Mobile devices will be unable to upgrade to the new operating system. The latter eliminates any sort of built-in customer base. Applications designed for Windows Mobile will need to be rewritten for Windows Phone 7. "We don't think Microsoft can count on many enterprises making such a transition [or] upgrade, and most organizations will likely stay with older WinMo versions, especially those using ruggedized devices, [such as] Symbol, or those with apps that can't be easily transported," Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates, wrote in a research note soon after Windows Phone 7's unveiling during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. But businesses may also be a way for Microsoft to gain traction in the smartphone market, especially considering its rivals' focus on the consumer space. "The main difference is that companies like Microsoft see the smartphone as a device that can accomplish work; Apple is on the other side, saying that we're going to make media devices that you can use to do most of the things you need to do for work," Charles King, an analyst for Pund-IT Research, said in an interview with eWEEK. One key indicator of Windows Phone 7's viability in the consumer space could come from sales numbers for the Kin One and Kin Two, two mobile devices that Microsoft is pushing as ideal for a younger demographic focused on social networking. While the Kin phones' categorization as "smartphones" is debatable, given their inability to download applications or even support playing games, they represent a major push by Microsoft into the mobile space; their success, despite mixed reviews, could suggest the Microsoft brand has viability there. But given that the Kin phones made their debut exclusively in the United States through Verizon May 13, comprehensive sales data is not yet available. Microsoft is no doubt hoping for a Windows 7-style success with Windows Phone 7. However, Windows 7 was released into a market Microsoft already dominated, whereas Windows Phone 7 will find itself playing the underdog to its rivals. Success, if it comes, will likely take some time; Microsoft's ultimate advantage may be its willingness to devote years and millions of dollars to projects. But will that be enough when competing against an augmented iPhone, not to mention the growing number of Android devices?
With Windows Phone 7, then, Microsoft will enter a highly competitive market in which Android has gained increased traction among manufacturers and consumers, and Apple has eliminated many of the complaints that have been leveled against its iPhone OS, such as lack of multitasking. In addition, RIM has previewed BlackBerry 6, an operating system designed to appeal to enterprise customers.