"Predictions" that need to stop in 2012 - Windows Phone, BlackBerry and the rest

"Predictions" that need to stop in 2012 - Windows Phone, BlackBerry and the rest
When we started this journey, the framing for the articles seemed clear enough: the rumor mill around tech devices is absurd and "analysts" can get away with murder by simply stating what any reasonably educated fan would already know. Then, we realized that we are reasonably educated fans, and we have a forum in which to say all the things that we already know. So, we decided to create the "'Predictions' that need to stop in 2012" series.  

Unfortunately, we found that covering all of the absurd Apple "predictions" concerning iOS in Part 1 was just about the easiest thing possible, because Apple is an incredibly secretive company that lets the rumor mill feed in as part of the marketing for new devices. When we moved over to Google's Android ecosystem in Part 2, we found that the rumor mill doesn't churn as hard in Google's world of openness and transparency; and, since rumors are the lifeblood of "prediction", there weren't as many topics to cover. This meant we had room in the piece to add in a well reasoned rant about the semantics of Android's supposed "fragmentation" problem (spoiler alert: Android is not fragmented). This time around, we wanted to tackle the remaining players in the mobile space: Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and the mangle of misfit OSes that are wandering the world, and this is where our entire conceit of "predictions" crumbles completely.

The problem is that Android and iOS absolutely dominate the mobile landscape, which means they also dominate the news and rumors, and as we mentioned, no company comes close to Apple products in the "prediction" racket. While there are a bunch of "predictions" for the other mobile players, they all boil down to the same thing: which platform makes a move for more market share, and which loses share. And, that's not really a concept that could sustain our interest for an entire piece, let alone yours. Or so we thought, because as we were trying to figure out where to go with this, a number of amazing things happened. First, Samsung decided to merge its bada OS with Intel's Tizen. Then, RIM finally got around to losing its co-CEOs in favor of a single CEO with some interesting ideas (if he can get them past the board). Soon after, HP announced that webOS will be fully open-source by September. And rounding it all off, Microsoft (and Nokia) suddenly has a lot of buzz growing with Windows Phone. 

So, now that we're all fired up about this again, let's dive right in and start with the platform that has the clearest path going forward:

Windows Phone & Windows 8

We've said it many times before that Windows Phone has the most likely chance to become the third pillar of the mobile triumvirate. For the past few years, we could say that the big three in the world of smartphones has been BlackBerry, iOS and Android (in no specific order), but BlackBerry has been faltering and there doesn't seem to be an easy path forward for the platform. That leaves a big opening, but we can't realistically assume that bada, webOS or Symbian can take over that market share. However, as Tim Cook was clear to point out, there is one company with the resources and will to never be left out of the game: Microsoft. Microsoft has the money to push through any slow uptake (as it has been doing so far with Windows Phone), and more importantly, the money to get solid hardware partners, like Nokia, and eventually, exclusive software. 

As we've already seen, Microsoft has a lot of money to throw at Nokia in order to get one of the world's biggest hardware manufacturers to abandon its own Symbian platform in favor of Windows Phone. In addition to paying Nokia to adopt Windows Phone. we've also seen that Microsoft is going to join the ranks of Apple and various Android manufacturers in offering carrier sales reps a bonus for pushing customers towards Windows Phone. Some may get it wrong and assume that Microsoft is the first to offer this sort of bonus, but that is certainly not true. Even so, it's a necessary step in order to push a platform that is actually quite good, even though many consumers may not know it. 

Besides all of the money that Microsoft can throw around, that's the biggest piece of the puzzle: Windows Phone is a quality platform. Microsoft has been straddling the line between iOS and Android ethos. Windows Phone has been licensed to multiple hardware vendors, but it still has certain hardware requirements, meaning customers can get hardware choice without software differentiation. Microsoft has also been working hard to make sure that the OS works seamlessly, meaning it will be smooth, quick, and relatively less likely to have crashes or freezes. And now, Microsoft truly believes that it has caught up with iOS and Android as far as platform features with Windows Phone Mango and can now focus on more "innovative" applications like pushing hardware iterations like NFC and dual-core processors. 

The most interesting point for Windows Phone will come with the release of Windows 8 and WP8 later this year. No one is quite sure what to expect, but we've already seen that Windows 8 is going to be the tablet OS for Microsoft. There have also been persistent rumors that Windows Phone 8 (code-named Apollo) will use the same kernel as Windows 8, which would make a lot of sense. WP7 still uses the outdated Windows Embedded CE 6.0 kernel, and is in need of an update. Also using the same kernel across operating systems will allow Microsoft to more easily get apps to work on any device. 

As we've seen with Google's Honeycomb mess compared to Apple's iPad, developers want an all-in-one development platform. And, when the developers adopt a platform, users usually aren't too far behind. Since we know that it will be Windows 8 on tablets and not an extension of Windows Phone, it makes it pretty reasonable to expect Windows Phone apps to work upstream on tablets and traditional PCs. That means that Microsoft can leverage its huge market share in the PC market to drive adoption of its mobile products, which is sort of the opposite of what Apple did with using the iPod, iPhone and iTunes to drive adoption of Macs. Another interesting point is that Microsoft has long talked about the fabled "3 screens", meaning the TV, PC and a mobile device. Microsoft has a product hooked up to millions of screens in the XBox 360, so it will be interesting if it or the company's next game console gets pulled into the Windows 8 matrix as well.

The key for Microsoft, as it always is in times like this, is in pushing existing PC users to upgrade to Windows 8. The company has found more success in pushing upgrades to Windows 7 than it had with Vista, but it needs to continue that trend if it wants to use the platform to push its mobile systems. Windows Phone still may hold a relatively small piece of the mobile pie, but the potential is there and the means to make it successful can never be in doubt when Microsoft is behind it all. We know that the Nokia Lumia will be getting a huge marketing push over the next few months, but if the rumors are true and the Lumia 900 will be selling for just $99 on AT&T, that could be a big boost for Windows Phone awareness. And, we should see Windows Phone make a bigger move to Verizon with the introduction of LTE handsets, and that exposure will be very big in pushing the platform.

Given that Windows 8 is slated for the later part of 2012, this year may not be the year that Windows Phone makes a big jump in market share, but we would be surprised if it didn't speed up adoption and set itself up for a pretty big 2013. 

Now, let's finish off the field of mobile competitors with BlackBerry, bada and webOS. 

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