With the eternal debate between iOS and Android reaching a deadlock, other challengers have entered the fray, offering consumers an alternative in the high-stakes, highly dynamic mobile landscape. Consumer preferences are evolving and they are demanding impeccable and unique user experience, driving device manufacturers to create more powerful products that deliver superior, integrated experiences. The two giants continue to fight over market share and revenues with Android leading in terms of smartphones sold and Apple continuing to make money with its higher profit margins and app store revenues.
The mobile market, with as many as 750 million smartphones expected to be sold by 2015 as predicted by the Ericsson Mobility Report, offers amazing market opportunities, with each player in this exceedingly competitive market trying their best to push their platforms forward. In such conducive market conditions, the disruptor to watch out for is the Windows Phone OS. The platform seems poised to join the big league with Microsoft stating that the number of available Windows Phone apps has almost doubled to 300,000 apps since this time last year and analysts expecting the platform to cross 100M devices in 2014.
Microsoft Windows Strategy That Will Intensify the Platform Wars
Windows Phone 8 established Microsoft’s credentials as a fresh and reliable alternative to the reigning giants by delivering the best of many worlds, with handsets that are attractive to consumers, and by bolting in security from the server side. Two years after it’s release, Microsoft rolls out its update, Windows Phone 8.1. It has adopted a well-rounded approach to user computing by creating a compelling business and consumer use case.
Not just another update
With its integrated feel, features and improvements, across not just mobile devices but other screens as well, the moniker upgrade from Windows Phone 8 to 8.1 feels like an understatement when one understands the scope of the changes made to the operating system. It signals the maturation of the Windows Phone OS and provides a complete user experience.
The update promises to be the boost that Microsoft needs with end consumers. It sorts out grievances and brings in changes with a great keyboard, a brand new personal assistant, notification centre and solid hardware support. Microsoft completes its delicate balancing act by adding its proprietary software such as their Office Suite, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer etc., on top of the smartphone platform, providing a unified, powerful and unique feel to its devices.
Built for Business
With Microsoft’s domination amongst businesses, Windows Phone seamlessly integrates enterprise tools such as Microsoft Outlook/Exchange as well as collaborative tools such as Lync, Sharepoint etc. As BlackBerry’s popularity fades, there has been a widening lacuna for the position of the de facto business phone, which Windows Phones can take.
On the Developer Front
On the apps front, the company is making deeper inroads to penetrate and broad base the Windows developer ecosystem. With more than 300,000 apps available now, they may not win the numbers game as compared to iOS or Android. However, Windows phone users need fewer apps to extend the functionality of the platform as almost everything is pre-loaded and baked in as a feature.
Major developers are including WP OS in their initial roll out plan, and the platform is witnessing a far greater show of strength by the number of downloads; given that 78% of their apps are free.
Then there is Cortana. Microsoft competes with iOS’ Siri and Android’s Google Now by introducing the much awaited Cortana, a digital voice assistant. Cortana, named after the AI sidekick from the game Halo, is set to be far more intelligent and personalised than any of its competitors, thanks to its close integration with Bing and the user’s Microsoft devices. With personalisation pervading the Windows ecosystem, Cortana will also be able to refer to data on the users other windows devices as well.
One Microsoft vision
Microsoft has been steadily moving towards a unified ecosystem. Satya Nadella has confirmed that the company is going to merge its various versions into one single converged operating system, for screens of all sizes. Nadella also promised that Microsoft will unify their stores, commerce and developer platforms. This move comes in after the company announced “Universal Windows Apps” at its Developer’s Conference in April, a key announcement for app developers. This would mean that developers would only need to write their app once for it to be compatible with all the major versions of Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox. It is aiming to boost its market share by making Windows free of charge for phones and tablets with screens smaller than 9 inches. This support is being reciprocated by app developers with the Windows Phone OS showing the fastest rate of adoption among mobile developers.
The Road Ahead
IDC predicts that the top three smartphone platforms (Android in top spot, followed by iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone) will retain their rankings over the next four years, with the top two platforms share shrinking and Windows Phone growing with shipments expected to reach 115 million in 2018. IDC expects Android’s market share to slip mainly as a result of Windows Phone growth, especially with its attractive pricing. Furthermore, Microsoft is consolidating its third place position and steady growth in emerging markets where it receives strong consumer support, outselling the iPhone in several countries. iOS shipments are expected to shrink to 13.7 percent by 2018 due to their higher price due to market demand being focused on lower-cost phones. While Android will lead markets driven by cost competition, IDC predicts the largest drop in Windows Phone prices among the top three platforms.
Only time will tell if the Windows 8 platform can establish its dominance in the years to come. Currently, Microsoft has four distinct operating systems: one for PCs, one for game consoles, one for smartphones, and one for embedded devices, but with the company’s “One Microsoft”, unified vision, an all-inclusive ecosystem, seamless device integration and focus on usability and innovation, Microsoft is set to transform the user experience with its hegemony across device types. For now, the platform wars intensify and fan boys surely have a new side to cheer for.
The author is David Yin, General Manager, Global Developer Alliances, Vserv. The original article appeared on Gizmodo