Microsoft's Windows Phone Needs More Than Nokia

NEWS ANALYSIS: Microsoft needs more than just its Nokia partnership in order to make Windows Phone a hit both in the United States and abroad.

T-Mobile and Nokia could launch the latter's Lumia 710, loaded with Microsoft's revamped Windows Phone software, at a New York City event scheduled for Dec. 14.

The blog WPCentral reported Dec. 7 that T-Mobile had filed the manual and associated materials for the Nokia 710 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That revelation coincided with T-Mobile and Nokia's invitation to its event, which lacked in detail except for a promise of "something exciting in the works."

Microsoft will need more than Nokia, and more than a single Windows Phone device loaded with the multi-featured "Mango" update, if it wants to make a substantial dent in the U.S. smartphone market. Nokia by itself has no significant presence in that market, and faces a massive battle against midmarket Google Android devices if it wants to reclaim market-share internationally. Microsoft has other deals with manufacturers to produce Windows Phone units, including a particularly tight one with Samsung as part of a larger licensing agreement, but many of those OEMs also produce Android devices in which they have a sizable investment (and thus divided loyalties).

So how does Microsoft gain significant market share for its smartphone platform? Part of the answer lies in effective marketing.

Microsoft has "not really paid the money nor taken the time to market [Windows Phone] properly," Charles King, primary analyst at Pund-IT, told eWEEK Nov. 21. Indeed, nor have many of the carriers marketed Windows Phone devices in the same aggressive manner as the iPhone or various Android rivals. That could change; Microsoft is committing substantial sums in support of Nokia's Windows Phone efforts, and will almost certainly make significant media buys when more devices (including those from other manufacturers) arrive on the market.

The other part of the answer lies in the Windows Phone platform itself, which underwent hundreds of tweaks and additions as part of the recent "Mango" upgrade. For months, Microsoft executives have insisted that Google Android will fragment into a mess of different devices and operating systems, leaving Windows Phone (and, by extension, Apple's iOS and Research In Motion's BlackBerry franchise) as the only players with relatively cohesive software offerings.

Whether that comes to pass-certainly the doomsayers' predictions of Android fragmentation hasn't slowed the operating system's wholesale swallowing of market share-the updated Windows Phone does offer the features demanded by both businesses and consumers. This is in contrast to the first Windows Phone version released late in 2010, which attracted praise for its design but felt bare-bones to many users.

Last but not least, Microsoft has shown tenacity when it comes to certain products. The Xbox was a drag on Microsoft's balance sheets for years, even as it attracted progressively more users. Eventually, that platform proved a hit with games such as the Halo franchise and add-ons like the Kinect hands-free game controller. If Microsoft makes a similar long-term commitment to Windows Phone-and given the burgeoning popularity of mobile devices, it essentially has no choice-then it could eventually gain a more significant market-hold through sheer inch-by-inch attrition.

In other words, Microsoft has a chance of making Windows Phone a player. But it won't come solely through Nokia.

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