Beating Apple to the announcement may be best for Windows Phone 8

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Beating Apple to the announcement may be best for Windows Phone 8
This is a story that has been filtering out across the web for a couple days now, but there have been conflicting reports. We've sorted through, and here's what we expect to come in September with regard to Windows Phone 8. There are really two stories that have been reported: that Microsoft and Nokia will be unveiling Windows Phone 8 and launch devices in September, or that those devices will actually be released in September. 

The last we had heard about WP8 was that the launch itself was being delayed until November, just after the release of Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface tablet. Given that it was just leaked that Windows 8 and the Surface would be launching in late October, it seemed even less likely that Windows Phone would launch before that, and Nokia has steered people away from the idea that its September event will feature actual product announcements. Of course, we all know that Windows Phone 8 is coming, and it is relatively assured that Nokia will be the first manufacturer out of the gate with the flagship device for the new platform. And, the September 7th announcement, which seems to be about a store relauch, has nothing to do with Nokia World, which is happening September 5th and 6th. 

Announcement leapfrog

All we've seen so far from Microsoft is a developer preview of Windows Phone 8, not even the real consumer-targeted features that the platform will offer. So, we know that Microsoft still needs to do a proper announcement for Windows Phone 8 targeted at the general public, and Nokia World is a perfect place to do that. We certainly don't expect Nokia Windows Phone 8 devices will be released at Nokia World, but that doesn't mean we won't see them. 

Remember, the newest rumors have the next iPhone being announced and launching in mid-September and if there is anything that companies love to do these days, it's try to take the air out of an announcement. We saw it most recently with Google and Apple where Google announced its new 3D maps feature just 5 days before Apple showed off the same feature at its iOS 6 event. Every year, Apple announces something just after CES, which is an event that has become overrun with Android news in the last couple years. It's just the way to play the game really, and we expect Microsoft to play that game right along with everyone else. 

If it is true that the next iPhone is to be announced on September 12th, that puts Nokia World one week before Apple's big event. We said we don't expect products to be released to consumers at the Nokia World event, but that doesn't mean that we won't see any releases at all. Given the timing of the event, we would be very surprised if Microsoft didn't announce Windows Phone 8 consumer features at the event, and at the very least have the RTM version of WP8 ready to go to manufacturers. 

That would definitely make for a pretty impressive announcement, especially if there are a couple Nokia handsets to show off at the event as well. The trouble is that it's unclear how much it will really matter overall. Jumping out ahead of Apple's event worked well for Google with its Maps announcement for two reasons: 1) Google is a more direct competitor in mobile right now, 2) Google knew that it could not only announce first, but ship first. We've already seen Google's 3D Maps hit Android in the proper Google Maps app, and it has even come to iOS as part of Google Earth, while iOS 6 won't be released for at least a month and a half. 

Microsoft doesn't have that luxury. Announcing first doesn't help to put the product in the market faster, it just serves to take attention away from Apple, and attention is an extremely fickle thing. In general, attention doesn't go to the best thing, it goes to the established thing. So, even if Microsoft can show off something incredible at Nokia World, that doesn't change the fact that Windows Phone holds an extremely small portion of the market, and Apple is still steering the biggest hype machine around. 

Making the announcement worth it

We already know what to expect from both Windows Phone 8 and iOS 6. As far as features go, there really isn't that much difference between any of the top mobile platforms (in no particular order - WP8, iOS, & Android - we use "top" in terms of platform quality, not market penetration). And, despite some slight differences in hardware specs, the only things that really matter are screen quality, battery life, and OS optimization. For the most part, hardware doesn't make that much difference, and all of the platforms can do mostly the same things out of the box. Android and Windows Phone have options for widgets/live tiles, and Apple has no answer for that, but otherwise it's all a matter of personal preference as to which platform you prefer. This also means that one killer feature can really swing things. That was Apple's aim with Siri, which worked enough to be the attention-grabbing feature in mobile for a while. If Google had a better marketing team, maybe it would be touting Google Now as the next big thing, but that kind of campaign is always hindered by Android's slow update cycle. So, Google will continue to push Hangouts (and by extension, Google+). 

Microsoft doesn't really have a killer feature for Windows Phone 8. Or, more accurately, Microsoft doesn't have a single killer app for WP8. Instead, Microsoft has the "shared core" idea, which will make it far easier for developers to port apps from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 and back. This is what Microsoft needs to be pushing at Nokia World. What Microsoft needs to do is have a parade of software partners come across the stage showing what can be done when your phone can work so closely with the most widely used desktop OS around. 

We saw this a lot a couple years back. Apple routinely had software partners coming through for the iPad launch or an iOS announcement, showing off games and apps. Even Google attempted this to an extent during an announcement, but in general Google sticks with its own products. Microsoft needs to have a show of support from developers, and it needs to prove that the Windows Phone Marketplace is comparable to the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store. There may not be any chance of the WP Marketplace gaining parity in the amount of apps, but as long as there is choice enough for the most common needs, that should be okay. We've mentioned before that in general there is choice enough in the Marketplace, but aside from games, it is still lacking in big developer support. 

If recent mockups are to be believed, the next iPhone won't really look much different from the last two. It seems that the back glass will be replaced by metal, and the screen will be lengthened just a bit, but otherwise, the iPhone will continue to look like an iPhone. If this is how it plays out, Nokia definitely has an opening to show off something memorable as the flagship Windows Phone 8 handset. Microsoft has proven it has good ideas when it comes to hardware design, judging from the recent Surface announcement, and Nokia has proven to at least be able to design something that stands out, as with the cyan Lumias.

Conclusion

It may sound like pretty basic logic, but if Microsoft and Nokia can announce something impressive, it may be able to steal some thunder from Apple. The trouble is that the bar is going to be set extremely high. It's been a long long time since Microsoft was the underdog, but Apple has a sizeable market share advantage, and it has the cultural cachet that has been built up by a combination of passionate fans and mass media covering those passionate fans. All Microsoft has is the name recognition, and a chance to really connect the desktop and mobile experiences.

There is still a fair chance that whatever Microsoft and Nokia show off will be forgotten the second Tim Cook takes the stage, but what if Microsoft did something a bit crazy, like offering a free copy of Windows 8 to anyone that buys a Windows Phone? Or, at the least, maybe a discount on a Windows 8 computer, or maybe swing it the other way around for a discount/free Windows Phone if you purchase a new Windows 8 machine. Microsoft needs to do something big, especially if it does choose to announce products two months before their release in an effort to get the jump on Apple. 

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