A new report from research firm NPD Groups' Connected Intelligence service could give Microsoft some reason to hope for its Windows Phone franchise.
According to Connected Intelligence, which NPD Group bills as a service that "analyzes the confluence of connected devices, access, and content," some 44 percent of smartphone owners are considering the purchase of a Windows Phone 7 device.
That being said, the service also suggests that Microsoft is facing significant issues in the brand-awareness department, with some 45 percent of consumers "still not aware of Windows Phone 7." Consumers cited a lack of awareness about Windows Phone and OS ecosystem lock-in as prime reasons for not planning to purchase a device running the platform.
"Windows Phone 7 has a way to go before consumers really understand what it is," Linda Barrabee, research director for Connected Intelligence, wrote in a Sept. 20 statement. "But with the right marketing mojo, apps portfolio, and feature-rich hardware, Microsoft could certainly improve its standing and chip away at Android's dominant market position."
Microsoft certainly understands the challenges facing Windows Phone. "We haven't sold quite as many probably as I would have hoped we would have sold in the first year," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently told the audience during the company's Financial Analyst Meeting. "I think with a little bit more effort, a little bit more energy, the level of enthusiasm from the customer base is high enough we've just got to kick this thing to the next level."
Ballmer also expressed hope that Windows Phone would eventually become "a very strong third ecosystem in the smartphone world" alongside Google Android and Apple's iPhone.
Microsoft hopes that its upcoming Windows Phone "Mango" update, which includes some 500 tweaks and added features, will help attract additional customers to the platform. Ballmer cited Microsoft's partnership with Nokia, in which the latter will port Windows Phone onto its upcoming devices, as another cause for hope.
"With Nokia we have a dedicated hardware partner who is all in on Windows Phone," he said. "They're working with us in exactly the way we described, to try to get into new markets, find new price points, take a look at new hardware design."
Microsoft has remained reluctant to share any hard sales data with media or analysts. The platform received largely positive reviews from vendors, but research firms such as comScore have estimated Microsoft's smartphone market share as gradually declining over the past few months. During a July 11 keynote speech at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, Ballmer described Windows Phone's market presence as "very small."