Don't you love it when the kids come home again?
Earlier this year, it looked as if Hewlett-Packard, one of Microsoft's larger manufacturing partners, was planning to flee the Windows reservation. Then-CEO Leo Apotheker not only made the webOS operating system the cornerstone of the company's TouchPad tablet and smartphones, but suggested the platform would find its way onto desktops and laptops.
Obviously, this presented a threat-however dim-to Windows' longstanding dominance of the desktop and laptop space. Except the TouchPad, HP's first high-profile device running webOS, failed to attract significant customers in the weeks following its summer launch-at least, not until the company killed production and sold the existing stock at fire-sale prices. HP's board kicked Apotheker from the CEO seat and replaced him with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who told media and analysts during an Oct. 27 conference call that HP would continue to focus on tablets-Windows tablets, that is.
"I think we need to be in the tablet business," HP CEO Meg Whitman told analysts and reporters during an Oct. 27 conference call. "We're certainly going to be there with Windows 8."
Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, also hinted during the call that "we're continuing to focus on a Microsoft tablet that we have and focus on Windows 8," referring in the former case to a Windows 7 device targeted at the business community.
Due sometime in 2012, Windows 8 pairs the "traditional" Windows desktop with another user interface based on a colorful set of tiles, with easy switching between the two. The tile-centric interface is meant to operate on tablets, which in turn will allow Microsoft to finally compete against Apple's iPad in that segment.
HP still needs to make a decision about webOS. It could license the software platform to other vendors, or sell it entirely to another company. But HP itself seems firmly back in the Windows camp, which removes one element of potential complexity for Redmond.
Speaking of partnerships, Nokia unveiled its first two Windows Phone smartphones this week, in the process offering a glimpse of the coming strategy for the embattled platform.
Nokia's top-of-market device is the Lumia 800, a smartphone packed with powerful hardware: a 1.4GHz processor, hardware acceleration and graphics processor, an 8-megapixel camera that utilizes Carl Zeiss optics, 16GB of internal user memory (along with 25GB of free SkyDrive storage for music and images), and a 3.7-inch AMOLED ClearBlack curved display integrated into a body rendered from a single piece of polycarbonate.
In a play toward the midmarket, Nokia is also offering the cheaper Lumia 710, also with a 1.4GHz processor, and a 5-megapixel camera.
"Lumia is the first real Windows Phone," Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told the audience during a London keynote Oct. 26. "We are signaling our intent right now to be today's leaders in smartphone design and craftsmanship, no question about it."
The Lumia 710 and 800 will debut later this year in several countries throughout the world, and then in the U.S. sometime in early 2012. (In Europe, the Lumia 800 will sell for approximately the equivalent of $584, while the Lumia 710 will sell for $376; price-points in the U.S. remain unannounced).
The Nokia unveiling comes just as Microsoft signals its intent to make Windows Phone more of a midmarket player. "We are dramatically broadening the set of price points in Mango-related phones that we can reach," Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Windows Phone division, told the audience during the Asia D conference Oct. 19. "That's particularly important because going lower down in price point opens up more addressable market."
The Lumia 710 seems in-line with that plan, although it also remains to be seen how well the Lumia 800 will fare against high-end devices like the iPhone 4S and the Motorola Droid Razr.
Even as Microsoft pushes its Windows Phone, it continues to profit handsomely from one of the platform's fiercest competitors. On Oct. 23, the company announced it had locked down yet another Android manufacturer into a patent-licensing agreement, the ninth in four months and the tenth Android-related one overall.
That agreement with Compal, an original design manufacturer (ODM) based in Taiwan, covers smartphones and tablets running Android. Compal is yet another significant notch on Microsoft's belt, joining Samsung and HTC as major companies agreeing to pay an undisclosed fee per Android device. Microsoft has argued stridently for several quarters that Android violates its patents; for its part, Google insists that Microsoft's license-or-litigate strategy-and Redmond has absolutely no fear of suing Android producers like Motorola-constitutes glorified extortion.
Even as Microsoft pushes these aspects of its future strategy, it marked one notable milestone: Windows XP is officially a decade old, having arrived on store shelves in October 2001. It still retains considerable market share, something that vexes Microsoft as it attempts to transfer its overall user-base to Windows 7 and, eventually, Windows 8.