Although Canalys predicts that Windows Phone will rival with iOS for 2nd place in smartphone market share by 2017, it isn’t possible until Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT) ramps up their development and marketing efforts. Currently, Windows Phone stands a distant third in terms of smartphone market share with just about 4% of market share. In 2013, Windows Phone had a 91% Y-o-Y growth which makes it the fastest growing smartphone platform as of now. After staying mum for too long, Microsoft has revealed some beefy details about their plan to fiercely compete with Android and iOS in terms of smartphone market share in the coming years.
Windows Phone 8.1 Is Even Bigger An Update Than Windows Phone 8 Was
Windows Phone 8 was a very big step for Microsoft as it displayed a shift to a completely new generation kernel; Windows NT. Now all Windows platforms, be it server, desktop, Xbox, tablet devices or smartphones, run on the same underlying technology. During the announcement of Windows Phone 8, Microsoft admitted that in spite of their best efforts, they fell short on incorporating some key features such as; notification centre and personal voice assistant, both of which are already present in Android and iOS. But it looks like they want to be on par with their competitors very soon.
In a press event just before Mobile World Congress, Microsoft had a soft announcement of all the major features that we would see in Windows and Windows Phone platforms. Joe Belfoire (VP Operating Systems) stressed on unification of kernel and cloud services across all their platforms and Windows Phone 8 will benefit a lot with this.
There is a huge market for dual SIM card enabled smartphones in India and other emerging markets. Microsoft is finally adding support for dual SIM card slots with to Windows Phone 8.1 platform. According to Microsoft, users can have complete control over dual SIM usage. There is also a support for newer Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM) Snapdragon processors, newer LTE bands and on-screen buttons. The hardware camera shutter key is now optional. All these hardware related changes points to Microsoft trying to make it easier for vendors to install Windows Phone on their already developed devices.
On the software side of things, there’s a huge list of new features that we’ll see in Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft is adding Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) & BBM messenger applications. There are a dozens of new features but some of the ones are;
- Action Centre – Swipe from the top will show all the notifications, settings and quick setting toggles at one place. This is very similar to Android’s notifications bar from Android v4.4 KitKat and iOS 7’s Control Centre.
- Cortana Voice Assistant – A digital personal assistant which will have features combined from Siri as well as Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) Now but with added privacy controls.
- Full Featured YouTube Player With HTML5 Support – Finally, YouTube lovers will embrace a fully featured YouTube player which stands in accordance with Google’s requirements.
- File Picker + File Saver – Some kind of file manager APIs letting users and applications pick and save files from the file system.
- Ability To Install/Move Apps To SD Card – Due to increasing size of applications and games, this feature will be very useful for entry-level devices.
- Improved Enterprise Support & Google Calendar Support – S/MIME support, auto-triggered VPN, Enterprise Wi-Fi support, better MDM support with device lock-down, richer application management, certificate management. There’s also support for Google Calendar integration into native Calendar client.
- Battery Sense, Storage Sense, Data Sense – Detailed information on which applications, processes, files are using battery, data and storage respectively.
- Location Based Reminders – A new low-power geo-fencing API allows to create location based reminders without affecting the battery life of the device.
- Screen Mirroring via Miracast – Screen mirroring is now possible to compatible large screens via the Miracast standard to rival Android and iOS (AirPlay Mirroring).
- Gesture Based Keyboard – Microsoft is also adding Swype & SwiftKey like gesture based keyboard so that it would be easier to type text with one hand.
Introducing Local & White Label Brands Will Increase Popularity Of Windows Phone
As per the numbers, the Nokia Lumia 520 was the highest selling Windows Phone device ever. It made a huge mark in developing markets like India and Microsoft has realised how important a role entry-level devices will play in their success. After the success of Lumia 525, Nokia has recently released the Lumia 525 which is priced at INR 9,800 and it is already heading to the top position in the smartphone sales chart in India. As Windows Phone doesn’t have any solid advantage over it’s rivals right now, Microsoft wants to increase sales volume as much as they can. Volume comes at low end price range. That’s where bringing more partners fits in appropriately.
A complete list of new hardware partners includes Samsung (KRX:005930), HTC (TPE:2498), Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Lenovo (OTCMKTS:LNVGY), ZTE (HKG:0763), LG (KRX:066570), Huawei (SHE:002502), Karbonn, Xolo, Gionee, Foxconn (TPE:2354), JSR (TYO:4185) and LongCheer (OTCMKTS:LGCHF). A lot of these new brands are local Chinese or Indian smartphone brands which contribute to 56% of total smartphone sales in the world. Although there were no official announcements about status of Sony (NYSE:SNE) & Micromax but according to rumours, they are already in talk with Microsoft for adopting Windows Phone OS. With a soft and unflashy launch of next Windows Phone update (it still isn’t being referred as Windows Phone 8.1 though), Microsoft has also introduced Windows Hardware Partner Portal platform where anyone including OEMs, ODMs and ever retailers can head over to and get help in building Windows Phones.
India is predicted to become world’s largest smartphone market by 2014 and brands like Xolo and Karbonn account for over a tenth of smartphone sales in India. Although it doesn’t mean that Microsoft will be successful in converting those numbers completely into their own platform but it will help in getting a lot of traction in the market. It is given that these brands will advertise their Windows Phone which in turn means more recognition for Microsoft and Windows Phone itself. The inclusion of dual SIM cards is specifically included so that these brands can sell them in numbers. As Joe Belfoire re-iterated, more sales mean more developer attraction which in turn means more apps and more sales.
As we reported earlier, Microsoft earns a lot of patent fees from all the major Android smartphone brands. But they haven’t yet tapped hundreds of local and white label brands who sell Android smartphones and tablets as of now. Did Microsoft made it possible to create a long list of hardware partners by forcing them to release Windows Phone instead of paying the patent fees? Or is it that these brands want to decrease their dependency on densely populated Android, similar to what Sony and HTC have been thinking? This will only get clear in coming years but one thing is sure, with all the hardware and software updates that Microsoft has announced, it looks like it will be a lot easier for newer brands to introduce a large number of Windows Phone based devices in a short period of time.