Assuming we’ve correctly identified the sources of Windows Phone’s woes, what is Microsoft to do? Kindel is of the opinion that if Microsoft is patient and holds the course that customers will eventually decide that the WP experience is better than Android. As we discussed above, this doesn’t seem all that likely with the current version of Windows Phone, since people who like Android generally choose it for the very things that Windows Phone doesn’t offer.
Yet according to a leaked Windows Phone roadmap, that seems to be Microsoft’s plans. They have two updates coming in 2012, but the large one (which may be Windows Phone 8) won’t be out until the end of the year, and they expect to see “Superphone” hardware advancement at about the same time.
Of course Android Jelly Bean (or whatever they call it) and the iPhone 5 will be out by then, and the smartphone market will have moved past 50% of all mobile phones and be headed towards saturation.
Siegler thinks Microsoft has two options: either push even harder on properties that Microsoft owns (like Xbox integration) and carve out a niche of fans of those products, or start from scratch yet again and attempt to leapfrog Apple and Android in another year or two. As he put it, try to be the iPhone in a world of RAZRs and BlackBerrys.
Unless they plan to out-Apple iOS, what Microsoft most needs to do is figure out how to target Android users that like its flexibility, but perhaps don’t like some of the problems that crop up when a mediocre UI skin is used, or are frustrated by the lack of consistent updates to older phones. To do that Microsoft would have to build more flexibility into the OS for the end user.
Maybe that’s what they will do; the Metro UI is getting adopted in the next desktop version of Windows (which will also run tablets). The Microsoft Developer’s blog has shown quite a few breakthroughs in terms of how developers and end users can utilize Live Tiles. And desktop users will demand greater flexibility to see the information they want.
Perhaps the massive Apollo update next year can bring similar flexibility to their phones – especially with something more robust than color themes to customize a phone – then perhaps they could start to compete more directly for the customers that Android attracts. It would also help if Microsoft allowed WP OEMs to offer up a greater variety of form factors – fans of BlackBerrys or the original Droid might be more willing to look at a Windows Phone slider, or candy bar keyboard phone.
Of course the big question is whether they can bake in that sort of flexibility while also retaining smoothness and consistency in the UI.
And if that isn’t a tall enough order, they need to do it really fast – smartphones already account for more than half of all mobile phones sold in North America and Europe, and nearly 1/3 of phones sold worldwide. Saturation and commodity pricing will start to set in to developed markets in the next 12-18 months, and at that point there will be little room for new mobile platforms.
That's not to say Microsoft doesn't have some windows of opportunity (pun not intended). People that are inclined towards an Apple-lke experience but who are holding out for a bigger upgrade than the iPhone 4S could be targets. Perhaps the same types of people who would like LTE, or a larger screen. Combine those people with a high adoption rate among Xbox owners and Windows Phone would certainly grow their market share. But they need to hurry.
2012 is most likely do or die for Windows Phone. Competition is good, and we would like to see it achieve some success, but Microsoft finds itself in a precarious market position. It will be interesting to see how they try to correct it in the coming year.
sources: cek.log, parislemon, Gartner