Microsoft Talks Up Windows Phone’s Promise

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Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer said he is upbeat about Windows Phone despite ‘very small’ market share

Microsoft is putting a brave face on the marketplace prospects of Windows Phone.

During an 11 July keynote speech at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles, chief executive Steve Ballmer described Windows Phone’s market presence as “very small”. Nonetheless, he went on to insist that other metrics boded well for the smartphone platform, which Microsoft is counting on to counter the competitive threat posed by the likes of Google Android, Apple’s iPhone, and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry franchise.

Encouraging signs

Ballmer seemed far more willing to talk other Windows Phone metrics. “Nine out of 10 people who bought Windows Phone would absolutely recommend it to a friend,” he said, reiterating a talking point voiced by many a Microsoft executive over the past few months. “People in the phone business believe in us.”

He also referred to Microsoft’s deal with Nokia, which will see Windows Phone ported onto the latter’s devices. “Nokia could have bet on themselves, bet on Android or bet on Windows Phone,” he said, suggesting that the Finnish manufacturer went with Microsoft after “they saw our roadmaps and saw what we did.”

Lastly, he cited recent reports from research firms IDC and Gartner, which suggest that Microsoft will eventually claw its way past RIM and Apple by 2015. “We know we’ve got a lot to do,” he said. “We’re all in when it comes to mobile devices.”

Nonetheless, recent reports suggest Microsoft’s smartphone market share is trending in the wrong direction.

For the three-month period between the end of February and the end of May, comScore estimated Microsoft’s US share dipping from 7.7 percent to 5.8 percent. If accurate, that comes despite the marketing push behind the Windows Phone platform.

During the same period, adoption of Google’s Android platform rose from 33 percent to 38.1 percent, while Apple enjoyed a slight uptick from 25.2 percent to 26.6 percent. Research In Motion continued its market slide, declining from 28.9 percent to 24.7 percent.

Despite the softness in Windows Phone’s share, Microsoft is actively seeking another way to profit off the smartphone market: extracting royalties from Android device manufacturers. According to a 6 July Reuters report, Microsoft is demanding that Samsung pay $15 (£10) in royalties for every Android-based smartphone the latter produces.

Patent infringement

Microsoft insists that the Android platform infringes on a number of its patents, and has used its considerable legal resources to pursue manufacturers of Android smartphones and tablets. Some of those manufacturers, including HTC, have agreed to pay Microsoft royalties. Over the past two weeks, Microsoft has entered into a series of patent-licensing agreements with four other Android device manufacturers, including Wistron Corp, Onkyo Corporation, Velocity Micro and General Dynamics Itronix.

In the meantime, Microsoft can only hope that its upcoming Windows Phone “Mango” update will increase the platform’s appeal to consumers and businesspeople. As Microsoft executives demonstrated for a small group of media and analysts during a May press event in New York City, Mango’s new features include a redesigned Xbox Live Hub, home-screen tiles capable of displaying up-to-the-minute information, the ability to consolidate friends and colleagues into groups, and visual voicemail – more than 500 new elements in all, supposedly.

Mango is due for release sometime this fall. Samsung, HTC, LG Electronics and Nokia have all committed to building new Windows Phone devices preloaded with Mango. Meanwhile, Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE have apparently agreed to produce Windows Phone units for the first time.

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