This story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times on April 11, 2011. -Sharon Pian Chan
Microsoft is the mobile world’s child with lots of unrealized potential.
Its smartphone software has only a sliver of the market, after the company redesigned it from the ground up and gave it a new name, Windows Phone 7. Still, many are watching and waiting after Nokia, the world’s largest phone maker, said it plans to make Windows Phone 7 its primary smartphone platform.
This week, Microsoft will try to get developers off the fence to make more applications for Windows Phone 7.
At Mix 2011, a Web and Windows Phone app development conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft plans to hold workshops on building apps for Windows Phone 7. Boot-camp sessions begin Monday, and Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president with Microsoft’s mobile business, is expected to give a keynote speech on Wednesday.
Microsoft frustrated users recently when it fumbled a software update to Windows Phones that was supposed to add copy-and-paste and other performance enhancing features to speed phone performance. Belfiore said on Microsoft’s website, “We are sorry the process has been rocky.”
“They need to show that they are emphasizing quality in the platform” at Mix after the update problems, said Rob Sanfilippo, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, an independent analyst firm in Kirkland. “Then the secondary thing will be what are the new features coming this year?”
At Mobile World Congress in February in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer announced several new features that will be coming to Windows Phone 7 this year: Twitter integration with the phone’s address book, multi-tasking and Internet Explorer 9. He also showed an experimental project showing an Xbox Kinect game that a second player could control with a Windows Phone 7.
The company will likely give a progress report this week on when those features will be arriving and how developers can start building them into phone applications.
The Mix conference used to focus more narrowly on Web development, but it has grown to include Windows Phone 7 app development. The conference drew about 1,000 people in 2010. On Tuesday, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Dean Hachamovitch is scheduled to talk about progress with Microsoft’s newly introduced Web browser, Internet Explorer 9.
Microsoft will hold workshops on designing websites in HTML5, cloud computing on Windows Azure, development of its video and animation software Silverlight and mobile software.
Microsoft said it now has 11,500 apps available for Windows Phone 7. The company also dropped hints in a blog post that its competitors double count apps published in different languages and “lite” apps such as wallpaper. Apple boasts 350,000 apps on iTunes. Google says the Android marketplace has more than 150,000 free and paid apps.
Phone sales have not added up to a blockbuster, but observers say progress has been decent for a new entrant. Microsoft said at the end of January that phone manufacturers bought 2 million software licenses for Windows Phone 7. Microsoft has not given numbers on how many customers have bought phones with the software installed on it.
Google said its Android platform is growing by 300,000 phones a day, and analysts expect Android to become the dominant smartphone platform this year.
Microsoft had 5 percent of the mobile-smartphone market share in 2010, according to research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass., and is expected to grow to 5.5 percent in 2011.
Symbian, Nokia’s operating system, had the largest share with 37 percent in 2010 but it’s expected to fall to 21 percent this year. Android, which had 23 percent share in 2010, is expected to grow to 40 percent. Research In Motion’s Blackberry, which had 16 percent in 2010, is projected to fall slightly to 15 percent. Apple iPhone’s iOS, with 16 percent share in 2010, is expected to stay level in 2011.
Research firm Gartner in Stamford, Conn., released similar projections for Microsoft and Android growth on Thursday, but predicted iPhone would grow by a few percentage points.
Will Stofega, IDC analyst, said what could change everything is the Microsoft-Nokia partnership announced in February, an arrangement that has yet to be completed and which hasn’t produced phones people can buy. While Nokia’s smartphones are not as popular in the U.S., the Finnish phone maker has immense market share in the rest of the world.
“What everybody is waiting for is still the big bang,” Stofega said. He thinks Microsoft could move into second place behind Android in 2015 if the partnership comes out the way the companies say it will.
Neither company has said when Nokia would begin selling Windows Phone 7 units. Stofega says he expects large numbers of those sales to start in the first half of 2012.
“We’ll have a better understanding of what’s happening toward the end of the year,” he said. “It’s going to take them quite some time to sort out what they need to sort out, get everyone on the same page and optimize the design, but we know they’re really, really racing to sort of put together the complete package.”