Towards the end of May, Microsoft revealed a new smartphone platform – code-named Mango, the corporation hopes it will help them bite off a big chunk of the smartphone market.
At the end of June, senior manager of Microsoft Taiwan’s Business Marketing Organization Cathy Yeh revealed that Mango may hit the market in August or September, earlier than previously anticipated, in order to meet its competitors head-on. Lately Apple’s stock has been falling, sparking concerns among investors that the smartphone craze has passed. Mango’s introduction might just be the stimulation needed for renewed market growth.
Microsoft will release Mango in August or September, hoping to liven up the smartphone market.
Cell Phone Manufacturers Lined-up
At the end of June, Microsoft Taiwan brought together more than 2,000 programers at their annual developers conference, hoping to encourage app development for the Mango platform. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made the Mango announcement at the end of May – at present they have indicated that the new OS is ready to go and has been released to cell phone manufacturers, with the first Mango devices expected to be available this summer or fall. Manufacturers to adopt the new OS include HTC, Acer, Samsung, LG, ZTE, Nokia, and Fujitsu.
Wanting to give Mango a strong introduction to the market, Microsoft actively sought out cooperation with international cell phone manufacturers. In addition to the first seven companies confirmed to be working with Microsoft, the company is currently in talks with others as well, with Dell and ASUS rumored to be included in the bunch. It seems that Microsoft is looking to follow Google Android’s successful strategy of partnering with manufacturers.
Test phones loaded with the new OS were introduced at the developers conference. Currently Mango is still in beta phase, with many features still in the works – but the traditional Chinese interface, People Hub, various Chinese input methods, and numerous other functions are already complete. Mango will support 39 different languages (including traditional Chinese) and over 500 functions. Furthermore, the Market Place app store will be available in Chinese, with localized support for Taiwan.
Seven domestic and international cell phone manufacturers, including HTC, are partnering with Microsoft on the first wave of Mango devices.
Market Place – Plenty of Room for Improvement
With the successes and failures of both Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android as examples, Microsoft understands that while a smartphone’s hardware is still important to consumers, the availability of an abundance of apps and functions is a critical factor when it comes to the final purchasing decision.
With 23,000 existing apps and approximately 200 new apps being added to the database daily, Microsoft’s Market Place has already surpassed RIM to become the third largest app store, coming in behind Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market. Differentiating itself from the two leaders, Microsoft has uploaded Xbox games to Market Place, a smart move for attracting mobile gamers. Another factor that sets Microsoft apart from the pack is the corporation’s emphasis on localization. In Taiwan for example, by the end of the year Microsoft is expected to have over 500 apps with Chinese interfaces, tailored to Taiwanese consumers. As the Windows Phone OS is still relatively new there are only 20,000 or so apps available for download; still a far cry from the amount available in the Apple Store and Android Market. If Microsoft can get more developers to create more interesting apps, it will undoubtedly help in their quest for a larger share of the market.
The number of apps available in Market Place still falls far behind those in the Apple Store and Android Market.
Success Dependent on Both Software and Hardware Manufacturers
Mango’s predecessor Windows Phone 7 has been on the market for over six months now, but as a new OS lacking support for non-English input methods, WP7 has garnered a rather lackluster response from consumers in Asia. In Q4 2011, about 2 million smartphones equipped with the Windows Phone 7 OS were sold worldwide (accounting for 2% of sales volume for the global smartphone market). According to a report by international market analysis firm IDC, smartphone shipment volume is expected to increase to 450 million units in 2011, from 330.4 million units the previous year. In terms of percentages, IDC predicts the Android will take the lead in 2011 with 39.5% of the market, with Symbian in second place at 20.9%, and iOS in third at 15.7%. Blackberry and Windows Phone 7 (combined with Windows Mobile) come in fourth and fifth with 14.9% and 5.5%, respectively. The “Other” category, which includes HP webOS and Linux, takes up 3.5%. After Nokia announced that they were on board to carry the Windows Phone, IDC went even further with the bold prediction that by 2015, Microsoft will have replaced Apple as the second largest player in smartphone market. Whether Mango will devour Apple, as IDC predicts, will depend on how well Microsoft manages to cooperate with both software and hardware manufacturers.
Mango’s Innovative Functions
The Mango platform not only improves upon some of Windows Phone 7’s weaknesses, it also provides messaging, apps, Internet browsing, and over 500 other new functions. These include cloud service and social network integration. It also comes with the newest version of Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer 9. Display and input for traditional Chinese is supported as well, which curries favor with consumers in Mandarin-speaking areas of the world.
Social network integration is Mango’s key function, and it includes cross-platform integration for Facetime and Twitter. Microsoft search engine Bing integration is another big plus for Mango. Three functions were demonstrated at the launch ceremony – QuickCards, Local Scout, and App Connect. There is also support for QR codes, the ability to identify a book by pointing your device at its cover, etc. For the most part, similar services are offered by Google Goggles and other competing products, but Mango brings a good number of innovative search methods to the table. The newest version of Bing Maps even provides indoor searching of large-scale buildings.
The new OS also supports Microsoft Office’s cloud storage service Skydrive for storing files up to 25 GB, and is integrated with Skydrive’s website as well. Mango has indeed added a decent number of integrated functions, including some that are popular on other operating systems, but most of these additions are merely slightly tweaked versions of competitors’ offerings and not innovative functions. Perhaps “copy, catch up, conquer” is a feasible development strategy, but in this analyst’s opinion, Microsoft needs to take other steps to increase its smartphone market share. Educating developers on Mango’s unique functions and including developer tools on the platform to increase the number of apps in Market Place is certainly important – but Microsoft might want to also educate consumers about the new OS so they know what “Mango” is, understand why it’s better, and embrace the newcomer.
Mango Function Highlights:
◆Cloud Storage Service: Supports 25 GB of Skydrive storage space, fulfilling users’ cloud storage dreams by providing access to documents from anywhere. The generous allotment of 25 GB surpasses iCloud’s initial offering of 5 GB.
◆Instantaneous Photo Album Sharing: A press of a button tags photos and uploads them to Facebook or Windows Live Photo Gallery.
◆People Hub Social Integration: Integrates cross-platform social networks like Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter, cell phone contacts, etc. on the same interface, and provides instant updates.
In addition to their own investing on development, during the developers conference Microsoft also invited independent developers to work on cloud service and social network integrated functions of the Windows Phone platform, introducing cross-platform development tools and other resources for programers.
Nokia Support Not Enough
In February 2011 Nokia announced their partnership with Microsoft, indicating that the Windows Phone OS would become Nokia’s smartphone platform within two years. Nokia is more than just a phone manufacturer paying royalties for the Windows Phone OS – they are the company that will help Microsoft become an equal competitor for iOS and Android platforms. Nokia brings to Microsoft its expertise as a leader in hardware design, as well as multiple language support technology. However, the companies will need to complement each other if they are going to succeed in the smartphone market. In 2011 Q1 Nokia sold 107.6 million units, a decrease of 5.5% compared to Q1 of the previous year. During the same period, Symbian OS lost the throne to Android – with consumers quickly switching over to Android and iOS, Symbian’s future as a smartphone competitor looks bleak. Nokia thus turned to the Microsoft camp, hoping to secure their share of the global cell phone market with the Windows Phone. It has been confirmed that Nokia’s first model of Windows Phone 7 is equipped with Mango OS, but the exact release date, price, and model of the device remains uncertain. Market rumors abound, and some say that the next alliance Microsoft forms will be with Motorola. If Microsoft can manage a contract with Motorola, their chances of success will undoubtedly increase.
The rumored Nokia Windows Phone, code-named Sea Ray, is similar in appearance to the Nokia N9.
The Key Role of Software Developers
International market intelligence firm IDC is very optimistic about the Windows Phone’s future development, going so far as to predict that Windows Phone 7’s OS will surpass Apple iOS in the global smartphone market, becoming second only to Google Android. In this reviewer’s opinion however, besides the importance of the phone’s hardware, another primary factor of Microsoft’s success is the number of apps that will be available in Market Place.
The App Store already has 400 thousand apps, and Android Market currently has 300 thousand apps available for download. With only 23 thousand apps in Market Place, Microsoft falls far behind its main competitors. From a developer’s standpoint, with over 200 million iOS devices in use globally this year, third-party app developers stand to gain much more from working with Apple’s platform. Android Market is also gaining developer appeal because of their fast growth. Under the current circumstances, developers are still waiting to see how well Microsoft’s Windows Phone is received. In addition to actively pursuing partnerships with manufacturers, Microsoft should introduce Windows Phone developer tools or training courses to attract independent developers, thereby increasing the number of apps in Market Place. By doing so, Microsoft might just be able to fulfill their dream of dominating the smartphone market.