Today Microsoft did what it was forced to do. It made Windows for mobile devices, with screen sizes of less than nine inches diagonally, free of charge. Microsoft acted both shrewdly and desperately by joining Google’s Android operating system in conferring its operating system for mobiles free to licensees.
Microsoft made the announcement at its Build developers’ conference in San Francisco in tandem with the announcement of the Beta version of Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft is offering a newer, and presumably better, product at no cost.
Microsoft first launched the current iteration of its operating system for mobile telephones in October of 2010. According to IDC, Windows Phone finished 2013 with a 3.2% market share for smart phones. The numbers would be even lower were all mobile telephones taken into account. In other words, Microsoft is all but invisible in the mobile world. Google’s Android holds a 76% market share. Apple’s iOS holds a 14% market share. Microsoft is neck and neck – or rather ankle to ankle – with Blackberry. Matters are worse considering how Microsoft paid $7.2 billion (US) for Nokia just over six months ago.
Microsoft had to do something to change the facts on the ground. The reality is that not only Microsoft is not registering on the mobile platforms, but also with the advent and growth of mobile devices its domination of operating systems overall is very much threatened. By some accounts Google is now the number one operating system provider in the world.
- Microsoft has joined Google in providing its operating system freely to licensees in order to
- Compete with Google and Android
- Penetrate the consumer market, which Windows Phone has all along been aimed at
Nullify the anti-competitive effect of its purchase of a hardware maker (Nokia) on the very licensees it aims to (re)attract, namely Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony.
It is worth remembering that this would fundamentally be a risky move and negative precedent were this any other category of software. Unlike Google, Microsoft is actually a software company and relies on its endless lines of code for revenue. Having said that, Windows Phone is a mere footnote in Microsoft’s annual earnings’ statements. Additionally, and contextually, in 1995 Microsoft entered and dominated the web browser market in the same way. While the dominant Netscape was for sale Microsoft entered the browser market by offering its variety for free. The difference is that this time Microsoft is not competing against a for-profit organization, but is competing against a free operating system. As a side-note, Google’s Chrome is also the market share leader in browsers. In a bout of pragmatism, Microsoft’s Nokia unit is also offering an Android telephone.
Elsewhere, in Microsoft mobile announcements 8.1 also includes the beginning of a catfight with Cortana, a rival to Apple’ Siri, Android’s Google Now Skyvi/Iris, Blackberry’s Vlingo and the many other independent applications out there. The catch/trump card for Cortana is that it is powered by Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Windows 8.1 will also come with an Action Center akin to Blackberry Hub.
The software, like 8.1, is now in Beta and due for release later this spring.