It is one thing to have a competitive mobile operating system and a lineup of snazzy phones. Microsoft is there on both those scores. Those assets will help buttress its marketplace position, both in developed and developing regions, by the acquisition of Nokia’s phone business.
The area in which the company may struggle most could be in attracting software developers. CITE World reports on a survey of 804 developers by Appcelerator on their preferred operating system and device. Apple’s smartphones and tablets occupied the top two spots. Google’s Android, not surprisingly, was third. Then came Microsoft:
After that there is a big gap down to Windows-based smartphones and tablets, at 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively, compared to 29 percent and 30 percent in the first quarter study. To add insult to injury more than 60 percent thought that Windows 8 would ultimately fail as a mobile platform.
The Wall Street Journal’s Sven Grundberg approached the issue of Windows Phone’s pull among developers or, more accurately, its lack of pull, at the time of the announcement of the deal with Nokia. The bottom line is that Windows Phone always has struggled. The post notes that the total number of apps pales in comparison to Google and Apple, that very important ones are missing, and that the ones that exist lack functionality and are not updated often.
The chasm between Android/Apple and Microsoft and the others may be more a law of business than about the companies or their products. In a very interesting piece at ZDNet, Matt Baxter-Reynolds floated the idea that competitive markets tend to be dominated by three players. Examples he uses: American, United and Delta. Walmart, Target and Kmart.
The application development business is no different. Baxter-Reynolds further suggests that in such situations, the third player tends to be significantly smaller than the first and second. But application development is not a big box commodity store in which precisely the same products are lined up on shelves. Writing for each OS is different and constant updates are required. If the market for the third player is comparatively small, the incentive of devoting time and effort quickly fades.
Windows Phone has gotten some good news lately. The numbers are up and the Nokia deal offers great opportunities. A good deal of the long-term health of Microsoft’s mobile effort rests on the willingness of developers to become involved. From the company’s perspective, it has to hope that these positive developments will encourage more of them to do so. Indeed, while it is tough to be third, the company that wins this spot will play a major role as a hedge against Google and Apple.