Will Windows Phone be the third wheel in the mobile party?

It's been  a year of massive upheavals in the volatile mobile phone market. First of all, smartphones now constitute 30% of mobile shipments worldwide. Secondly, according to Gartner, in Q3 2011, Android gained more than 50% market share globally, doubling its market share over 2010. And Samsung overtook Nokia to become the world's largest cell phone manufacturer. The casualties were RIM and Nokia - Symbian lost nearly half its market share while RIM plummeted below 10% in the US market. Nokia continued to maintain some momentum thanks to a slew of low end devices aimed at  the emerging markets, but RIM did not have the same fortune.

Now in a scenario where Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS rule the market, is there room for a third player? And who is it likely to be?

The logical answer is of course Microsoft with its WP OS. Microsoft has so far not made a dent in the mobile market - it is stagnating at less than 2% market share even  after the launch of the new operating system. Even the old Windows Mobile OS has  a better share, with nearly 8% of the market, thought it's expected to dip rapidly.

But it's still too early to write off the still-nascent WP platform. The operating system has been praised in the tech press for its polished UI  and its potential integration with Microsoft Enterprise, Office, Web and Cloud products. And with Skype in its arsenal, and a growing base of apps and developers, Microsoft can offer an attractive proposition to both business and individual users - a secure, well built operating system optimised to run well on handsets at different price points.

Till now, the growth of WP OS  has been hampered by  the less than enthusiastic response of hardware partners like HTC and Samsung, who have released very few handsets compared to the steady stream of Android handsets from both companies. Of course, Microsoft is also to blame for this, as the company  has imposed severe restrictions and controls on the hardware from the start. It's not an ideal position to control specs when you have no real control over what manufacturers do! But Microsoft would seem to have overcome that hurdle through the partnership with Nokia. Now that Nokia has thrown in their fortunes entirely with WP OS, Microsoft has a powerful ally in their battle to build a strong market. And while Nokia may have failed to create a viable smartphone operating system, they sure know how to build good phones!

Gartner seems to have a positive outlook for the alliance, predicting that Microsoft will gain upto 11% market share in 2012 and 19% by 2015, pushing it to third position behind Android and iOS in the smartphone market.

The low hanging fruit for Microsoft is really the enterprise/business segment - which is rapidly being vacated by  RIM, creating a gap that MS is uniquely able to fulfill. Android and iOS smartphones are increasingly being used for business, but they  do not command the equity that Microsoft has already built in this segment. If Microsoft is able to convince businesses on the aspect of security, and ability to integrate smartphones with enterprise needs and applications, then they might have a winner on their hands. Of  course, they did not have great success with Windows Mobile, but WP is a new proposition altogether.

I for one, am looking forward to the launch of Nokia's new WP handsets. I do feel that we need a viable third  alternative and frankly, no one else seems to be offering one right now!


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