10 Things Microsoft Must Do to Save Its Mobile Business

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-04-06

10 Things Microsoft Must Do to Save Its Mobile Business

A recent report from market research company ComScore found that Microsoft's mobile market share has slipped once again to just 15 percent of the market, representing a 4 percent decline since November.

Although Google is still slightly behind Microsoft, ComScore found that its market share grew 5.2 percent over the same period, putting it within striking distance of Microsoft. That would put Google, rather than Microsoft, next behind Apple and Research In Motion in the mobile market.

Perhaps that's why Microsoft is so focused on its mobile division in 2010. The company has already announced Windows Phone 7. And according to recent reports it's expected soon to show off its "Pink" series of phones, which are designed for young social-networking enthusiasts.

In either case, Microsoft is making it clear that it's gunning for the highly coveted consumer market that Apple revitalized with its iPhone. It wants to regain some of the precious market share that it lost when it was toiling away with Windows Mobile 6, while the competition was changing the smartphone landscape.

But whether or not Microsoft will be successful in regaining its past glory is hard to say. The company has a tough, uphill battle ahead of it. Here is what Microsoft has to do to save its mobile business.

1. Focus on consumers

Microsoft is right to focus on consumers, rather than waste time trying to attract the enterprise. RIM is the major player in the mobile enterprise market. But for now, it's not the biggest threat to Microsoft's mobile business. Apple has totally revolutionized the mobile space and, so far, Microsoft hasn't responded. Microsoft needs to get to work on Windows Phone 7 to make sure it appeals to consumers first. If they like it and Microsoft can start cutting into Apple's market share, things might start looking up. If not and Microsoft focuses on the corporate space, expect more trouble ahead.

2. Forget about Pink

Although Microsoft Pink is a code name for the phone software that people expect to see showcased April 12, Microsoft had better rename it. Pink is a fine color, but it's not a good product name, and would join an exceptionally long line of poorly named Microsoft products. As Apple has shown, a name means quite a bit. Microsoft needs to be smarter with its name choices and pick something that actually appeals to consumers. I just don't think "Pink" will cut it.

3. Mobile apps mean everything

Microsoft has said when it releases Windows Phone 7, it will offer an application store that can compete with Apple's App Store, Google's Android Market and RIM's BlackBerry App World. It better. Mobile apps have quickly moved from "nice-to-have" to "must-have" status. Currently, Apple offers well over 150,000 applications in its App Store. Google offers more than 20,000 apps. If Microsoft doesn't extend the functionality of its software through the help of third-party apps, it'll be in deep trouble. The more apps you offer, the better, Microsoft. Remember that.

4. Be better than Apple

Given Microsoft's current standing in the market and how much market share it's losing with each passing day, it's not enough for the company to simply match Apple. With Windows Phone 7 in hand, Microsoft needs to try to beat Apple on every front that it can. Right now, consumers are happy with Apple products. Getting them to switch won't be easy if a device is equally as good as the iPhone. The only way to make consumers think twice about Apple's product is to give them something that critics and their friends agree is better than what Apple puts out. It's Microsoft's only option.

Microsoft Must Make Its Mobile Products Sparkle

5. Use cash for acquisitions

Google has been extremely smart with its money over the past couple years. Rather than sit on the cash and attempt to do everything itself, the company has acquired some companies to help it improve its platform. For example, it recently acquired ReMail to aid in e-mail productivity. Microsoft needs to follow suit. The company is sitting on piles of money that could be put to good use. It can comb the industry to find companies that could significantly improve its mobile platform. Whatever companies out there that can improve upon services offered by Apple and Google are worth spending money on. It's do or die for Microsoft right now. And its cash is its greatest ally.

6. Treat Windows
Mobile like Windows Vista

Although some railed against Microsoft for the way it seemingly forgot about Windows Vista after Windows 7 was announced, it was actually a smart move. Vista was a nightmare for Microsoft that it wants everyone to forget about. Windows Mobile 6.5 is awfully similar. The operating system is obsolete in today's marketplace and it's losing market share at an astounding rate. The last thing Microsoft will want to do is remind everyone that Windows Phone 7 is a follow-up to Windows Mobile. That alone could bring back some bad memories that could stop some consumers from buying a Windows Phone 7 device. Microsoft's best strategy is to pretend like Windows Mobile never happened.

7. Watch Apple closely

Apple plans to unveil iPhone OS 4.0 at an April 8 media event. Microsoft better be watching. As Apple has shown time and again, it will do what it takes to stay atop a market that it deems valuable. And with each new iteration of the iPhone OS, the company has chipped away at the problems consumers have with the software. If Steve Jobs delivers a mobile operating system that addresses the iPhone's current shortcomings, the last thing Microsoft will want to do is offer software with those shortcomings. Apple is smart and cunning. And Microsoft needs to watch closely.

8. Play nice like Google

As mentioned, an app store is extremely important to the future of Windows Phone 7. But unlike Apple, which has been a constant thorn in developers' sides, Microsoft can be Google-esque and welcome any and all developers to its platform. Out of the gate, Microsoft will be faced with the unenviable task of trying to match Apple's more than 150,000 applications. It won't get close to that number for quite a while. But it can offer unique content by working with developers to make it easy for programs to get to its store. This step should be easy for Microsoft. The company has a long history of working with third-party developers to differentiate its operating systems in a market. It needs to follow the same strategy with Windows Phone 7.

9. Marketing is key

Say what you will about Microsoft's Windows 7 marketing efforts, but they worked. They effectively got the word out to both consumers and enterprise customers that Windows 7 was a vast improvement over its predecessor. And thanks to those efforts, Windows 7 is well on its way to surpassing Vista in adoption. The software giant needs to follow the same strategy with Windows Phone 7. It needs to offer up solid, entertaining and Apple-like ads that will get people excited about the product. It also needs to clearly state why its software might be better than the competition's. Motorola did a great job of marketing the Droid as an iPhone alternative. Microsoft needs to use that as inspiration for its own marketing efforts.

10. Don't be Microsoft

This might be hard for Microsoft to hear, but when it comes to its past strategies, the company hasn't been unique. For years, Microsoft has focused its time on being, well, dull. Part of Apple's appeal is the image it portrays to its consumers. It's not a run-of-the-mill hardware company releasing mobile products. Apple is a stylish provider of premium products. Admittedly, software isn't as fun as hardware, but Microsoft needs to find a way to make it more fun than it has with its past products. It can't simply try to deliver functionality and productivity without also offering style and uniqueness. In today's market, consumers are looking for more than usable software. They want the "Wow" factor that, in most cases, Microsoft doesn't provide.

Rocket Fuel