Every time someone mentions Microsoft’s mobile ambitions, my mind conjures images of Ernest Hemmingway’s book, “The Old Man and the Sea.” The old man Microsoft, unlucky for so long, convinced that his prize marlin is just out there beyond the horizon waiting to be caught. When he finally makes his catch after days of painful struggle, it is eviscerated by the sharks (Apple and Google) on his way back to shore. All that work, that entire struggle, and no fish (customers) left to sustain him.
Microsoft announced its Windows 10 ecosystem yesterday. Its new version of Windows 10 will work on all its devices including Windows Phone. Microsoft has not been a huge threat to Android and Apple, taking only around 3% of the market share. The lack of interest from the consumer is due to the fact that Microsoft has had little support from app developers. With such a small market share, it just is not cost effective to create applications for the Windows platform. And while recent additions of the Windows Phone operating system on such phones like the HTC M8 may give Microsoft a boost, the self-destructive circle will still continue.
The new iteration of Windows Phone is hoping to change the lack of developer interest by allowing developers to scale down Windows PC and Tablet applications more easily to Windows Phone. Microsoft is hedging its bets that by making it easier for developers to scale their Windows PC and tablet applications, that this will somehow drive innovation and traffic to their Windows Phone platform. This seems to be a backwards approach to mobile application development, especially since fewer and fewer people are buying Windows PCs. Microsoft is hoping that because Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8.1 users, that the surge in customers for Windows 10 applications will bring in mobile customers desiring an Android and Apple like ecosystem where the devices all sync and play nice with one another. What Microsoft is failing to understand is that mobile specific applications still have no real incentive to create their applications for a Windows 10 environment. There just isn’t the support in numbers to make it lucrative for these companies to invest.
So how can Microsoft change all of this? No solution will be easy. The best bet, at least until sales improve, would be to allow the Windows Phone to run Android applications. This is an idea that has been kicking around for some time and has recently returned to the forefront of the rumor mill. Another idea would be to make Windows Phone run a true Windows operating system, thus eliminating the need to scale or recode to a different platform. It is still unclear for now what route if any, Microsoft will take.
What is clear is that Microsoft needs to light the fires under developers and get them excited about creating applications on their ecosystem. However, with such little market share no one seems to be getting excited. Microsoft needs to find a way to get people excited. Even if they manage to drum up support from developers, it will be difficult to gain consumer support when most consumers are loyal to their current mobile operating system. The bell is tolling for Microsoft. That is a statement that 20 years ago I would not have made. But times have changed. Despite its best efforts; Microsoft is failing to bring in their marlin.