Article first published as In the Battle Between Giants, is There Room for a Titan? on Technorati.
Last week, Microsoft released a web app for Android and iOS (which can be found here), allowing users to test a limited version of Windows Phone 7 on their devices; It was very intriguing to say the least. This was another part of Microsoft’s recent push to bring users onto their platform, following a free $25 gift card (U.S. only) with the purchase a Windows Phone. But with Android dominating the smartphone space, and Apple holding an 84 percent retention rate, is there any way Microsoft can do what it hopes, and surpass one of them? I think so, and there may be a correlation between this and the browser war.
Since 2006, two players have dominated the browser battle; Internet Explorer and Firefox, Android and iOS in this scenario. Then came Chrome, which has quickly grabbed market share since its launch in 2008, surpassing Firefox in November. Windows Phone has the potential to be Chrome-like player in the near future.
Most people would agree that WP7 is, at the least, aesthetically pleasing, but the interface is so different from what we are used to, many do not know if it is practical. You can have all the integration with Microsoft Office and the Xbox 360 you want, but if the device is too complicated, it will not gain enough traction to be a long-term success. The web app can help alleviate some of these worries.
As an iPhone and Android (I prefer the iPhone), The web application was a pleasant surprise when I heard about it last week. The first thing that caught my eye was the integration. On WP7, contacts social outlets are brought together, seamlessly combining text, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn updates in one place. (A full breakdown of WP7 features can be found on Engadget)
While the interface is elegant, and there are enviable features if you are a smartphone owner on another platform, the main challenge for Microsoft to grow its platform is the lack of similarity. People don’t like change, especially when it comes to their phones. Windows Phone is an immense departure from the squared app and widgets that Android, iPhone, and even Blackberry users are accustomed to. This air of unfamiliarity may change in the near future.
The design inspiration for WP7 comes from Microsoft’s Metro UI, which some of you may remember from Windows Media Center, will be well-known after Windows 8 is released at the end of 2012. You can bet that there will be integration between Windows Phone and Windows 8, and probably with the next iteration of the Xbox. Microsoft is pushing for a Mac/iPhone or Google Products/Android synergy, on a much broader scale. With so many PCs, they may have a chance.
After using a Windows Phone for a few days (HTC Radar 4G), my interest has been piqued. the interface is productive and easy to use once you get the hang of it (much like Android). But as much as I enjoyed my time with the device, I still can’t see myself switching from iOS. With Android, I don’t have as much invested into the OS as I do with the iPhone, which would make a switch from Google to Microsoft a possibility. A count totaled $94 for iOS apps compared to $35 for Android, which is more in line with the free $25 gift card that comes with the WP7 device.
I believe that Windows Phone can be that third player, but I don’t know how they will get there. Will the security risks with Android that will drive users to Windows Phone, or will it be enterprise users? Will Microsoft do what I called for them to do months ago and buy RIM, bringing its market share with them, or will Nokia get them over the hill? It seems the best bet would be to focus on the 60% of cellphone users that don’t own a smartphone.
As more and more people purchase smartphones over the next few years, Microsoft will be in prime position to take advantage of it. You would be hard pressed to find a Mac owner that doesn’t own a smartphone, which would leave Windows as the OS of choice for dumb phone users. The tiles interface will become familiar, and integration is always a selling point. Microsoft will have it’s chance, but will it take it, or will Google and Apple fend them off? Hopefully, Windows Phone will prevail to rival the dominance that is Android and iOS.