This story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times on May 23, 2011. -Sharon Pian Chan
The Windows Phone will get the software equivalent of a pinkie ring Tuesday, when Microsoft shows new features at an event in New York. The additions will be coming to the Windows Phone 7 operating system in an update called Mango.
Despite the new jewelry, Microsoft’s mobile software remains far behind Apple and Google. How Microsoft performs with Windows Phone 7 continues to dog its stock, which shareholders complain has been just about flat for the past decade.
“The two obvious overhangs on the stock that investors are focusing on are its lack of offering in the tablet market, which is the hottest trend in the consumer market, and smartphones,” said Yun Kim, analyst at Gleacher & Co. in New York. “They are late to the game and trying to gain traction against iPhone.”
Setting aside the tablet issue — which Microsoft is expected to address at a September developer conference — the company’s partnership deal with the world’s largest phone maker, Nokia, offers the most hope to its smartphone efforts.
Windows Phone 7, a mobile operating system Microsoft sells to phone makers, has been available on phones for seven months.
Until Thursday, Microsoft couldn’t even say a Windows Phone is available on all the major U.S. wireless carriers.
AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile USA were the first to start carrying the phone in the U.S., and Sprint started selling one in February. Verizon Wireless said it will start selling the phone online Thursday and in stores June 2.
The premiere of the “Angry Birds” mobile game for Windows Phone 7, previously scheduled for Wednesday, has been delayed until June 29. The arrival of the game has seemingly come to mark when a smartphone is ready to be introduced to society.
The last time Microsoft gave any sales figures for Windows Phone 7 was in January. After the holiday shopping season, Microsoft said 2 million copies of Windows Phone software had been bought by phone makers. The phone makers then sell the phones to the carriers, which sell them to individual customers.
Instead of discussing Windows Phone sales, Microsoft has been publicly proclaiming the numbers racked up by another device it makes: the Xbox Kinect, which has sold more than 10 million units. At the very least, Windows Phones clearly are not the “fastest selling consumer-electronic device” ever made, which Microsoft has been saying about the Kinect.
Gartner said Thursday it estimates 1.6 million Windows Phones were sold in the first quarter of this year, which the Stamford, Conn., research firm called “only modest.”
In comparison, Google said last week more than 400,000 people are buying an Android smartphone or other device daily, and there are now more than 100 million Android mobile devices in use. Google offers Android, its operating system, to phone makers free.
In the first quarter, Google Android was installed on 36 percent of smartphones shipped to wireless carriers; Nokia’s Symbian was in 27 percent; Apple iPhone’s iOS in 17 percent; Research In Motion’s BlackBerry in 13 percent; and Microsoft in 3 percent, Gartner said.
Nokia, based in Espoo, Finland, has said it plans under its deal with Microsoft to start selling a large number of Windows Phones in 2012.
Research firm IDC says that because of Nokia, Microsoft’s chances look far better in the next few years. If Microsoft can deliver a solid lineup on Nokia phones, the Framingham, Mass., research company said it expects fast growth in 2012 and the potential for Windows Phone to get to second place behind Android in four years.
Here is what the company has already said it will add to the Windows update, code-named “Mango.” In February, CEO Steve Ballmer said Twitter integration with the phone’s address book is coming, as are multi-tasking features and a mobile version of Internet Explorer 9. He showed a demo of the phone being used as a controller for an Xbox Kinect game.
In April, the company said developers could build apps that can animate tiles on the phone’s home screen, and that the phone’s Bing search engine would search through apps, as well as websites.
The company has already sent an update code-named “NoDo” to Windows Phone users, adding the basic “copy and paste” and some improvements for software speed.
Windows Phone owners complained NoDo came later than promised, and Microsoft was slow to explain what was going on. The company eventually acknowledged in late March that the update process had been “rocky” and apologized, both online and at the MIX developer conference in April. As of early May, the company said it was in the process of delivering the update.
“I would have to think the bigger thing that is hurting them is all this discussion about updating and problems,” said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm in Kirkland.
“If they can roll out the next incremental improvement — well, if they can do it smoothly — it’s the thing people are asking for that could have a driving factor” in sales.