On the eve of the Windows Phone 8.1 release date, Microsoft finds itself at a crux in more ways than one. Marketshare for its Windows Phone 8 devices is still in the single digits, and while the acquisition of Nokia may make for more streamlined product development, there’s little to suggest it’ll make the devices more popular. And the late arrival of Windows Phone 8.1, nearly a year after Windows 8.1 arrived for PC computers, points to in-house mobile software development falling behind. It’s time to once again revisit the question which has dogged Redmond for years: is it time for Microsoft to go Android?
The user base for Windows Phone 8 is adamant that it’s the best smartphone platform out there. But that base is small, doesn’t appear to be in any danger of growing to something sizable, and more importantly, almost no one outside the user base cares about the platform at all. Those who want the coherency of an in-house mobile platform have chosen the iPhone and iPad, and those who don’t care about such things have chosen Android. The lack of mainstream controversy surrounding the arrival of the Windows Phone 8.1 release date, ten months late and counting, is proof that very few users care about anything Microsoft is doing these days. That’s got to make company execs at least a little tempted to offer up a handful of Nokia phones running Android system software just to see what would happen. But the results could be less than fruitful.
Despite the ever increasing size of the Android market, nearly every major Android vendor is paradoxically struggling financially. HTC is losing billions. Motorola Mobility is being passed around like a hot potato no one wants. LG can’t get anyone to pay attention to its pretty hardware. The only Android vendor to find major success in the western hemisphere is Samsung, which accounts for the vast majority of Android phone sales in the United States. That’s due both to Samsung’s endless marketing budget and its close ties to the retailers who sell phones directly to customers.
For a Microsoft push into the Android market to be successful, it would have to steal a significant number of customers away from Samsung. Microsoft can go toe to toe on the marketing side. But does Microsoft have close enough ties to retailers like Best Buy and the AT&T Store to influence those salesmen to start pushing Microsoft Android phones over Samsung Android phones? If not, Microsoft Android phones wouldn’t make any more of a dent in the mainstream marketplace than Microsoft Windows Phone 8 devices have. And that would make it a waste of time.
Then again, the day (ahem, eleven month) late and dollar short arrival of the Windows Phone 8.1 release date next week suggests that Microsoft is unwilling or unable to put sufficient resources into Windows Phone software development so as to keep up with iOS or Android development. With that software being used on such a comparatively tiny number of devices from which to recoup the investment, it’s hard to blame Microsoft if it’s underfunding or underemphasizing Windows Phone software development. But the alternative of getting its system software from someone else may not be any more realistic.