Mobile continues to vex Microsoft

Imagine, just for a moment, a world without the iPhone. It’s tough, I know. Essentially every touchscreen experience you’re having today has been fundamentally shaped or directly influenced by Apple’s smartphone. But today, let’s take a quick step back to early 2007, when Apple had yet to introduce its industry-changing device.

Back then, Microsoft had nearly 40 percent of the mobile market share. The OS it hawked was nothing compared to Windows Phone 7, and not just by direct comparison. Even for its time, Microsoft on mobile was a clunky, frustrating mess. But still, it had 40 percent of the market. Fast forward to today. It’s more than a year since Microsoft unveiled an ambitious, stylish operating system on some very strong hardware (the initial HTC handsets were great) and its market share is plummeting, down 50 percent from the same time last year. According to comScore, Microsoft’s mobile share is down to 3.9 percent of the total market this year, and it isn’t going up.

Microsoft’s modern mobile operating system wasn’t too little. In fact, it’s pretty damn solid. It’s just too late. Way too late. Redmond is still trying to find a way to make things work but everything is a non-starter. Even the deal with Nokia, which has already turned out a device that can rival the iPhone, will do nothing to save Windows Phone 7, and it’s easy to see why. There is no reason to switch.

Last March I was given an HTC Inspire for review. It was my first serious experience with Android and I fell in love. The integration with Google products, the notification bar that has since been cannibalized by Apple, the flexibility and power in different handsets and ROMs – I loved all of it. I dropped my iPhone and haven’t looked back. What does Microsoft have? Bing? Xbox Live? The first might be a joke, but Xbox Live is pretty serious business. If there’s one place Apple and Google fail, it’s social. Could Microsoft find a way to take the world’s most volatile gaming network and turn it into a mobile powerhouse?

Maybe, but it’s hard to imagine users suddenly abandoning app stores for whatever Microsoft might throw together. Of course, it was also hard to imagine a world without Symbian but here we are. Even so, a compelling social offer probably wouldn’t be enough, and Xbox Live is too niche to really carry Windows Phone. Unfortunately for the good people in Redmond, “just as good as those other guys” is not going to be nearly good enough. If Microsoft wants to regain market share of any kind, they need to something huge–I’m talking smartphones embedded on human retinas and eardrums huge–to be relevant in the mobile universe.


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