Microsoft hasn't had much to celebrate in the mobile arena in quite some time. The market share of Windows Mobile continues to contract, down to 10% among smartphone platforms, according to data released yesterday by comScore. Its social networking-centric Kin phones launched earlier this year were a bust.
Everything now is riding on the success of Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 operating system, launched formally last month. Initial reviews of the first devices running the updated Windows OS have been mostly positive, though not without some knocks. Most notably, The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg called Windows Phone 7 "novel but not lacking" and said it was inferior to Apple's iOS and Android.
One of the biggest disadvantages for Microsoft in arriving late to the smartphone race is that it trails far behind Apple and Google in apps. "While Microsoft submits that it will have a strong stable of games and apps and that nobody needs 250,000 apps anyway, Apple has a huge lead in quality niche apps that make iOS such an appealing platform," noted Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, in a recent report on Windows Phone 7.
And while "developer relations are in Microsoft's blood," he noted developers write for the platforms where they can make the most money. A new survey of app developers, however, shows a glint of hope for the company's mobile aspirations. Asked which new app platforms they planned to support in 2011, 20% of developers said Windows Phone 7 -- the same proportion as the iPad -- and second only to the 29% that cited Android.
That's a lot better than the 6% of developers who said they currently create apps for Windows Mobile, according to the study by Millennial Media, Digiday and Stifel Nicolaus. That compares to 30% for the iPhone, 23% for Android and 21% for the iPad. But intentions are one thing. Whether developers continue to remain enthusiastic about Windows Phone 7 and help build up Microsoft's app inventory won't be clear until next year.
The new platform did get a boost this week from Michael Dell, who said Windows Phone 7 was easier to develop for than Android. Dell makes devices that run both systems. Taking no chances, Microsoft has also confirmed it's providing financial incentives to developers beyond the usual revenue-sharing splits to lure them to Windows Phone 7. The software giant is also said to be spending more than $100 million on its ad campaign promoting the new OS launch.
It still comes down to the old chicken-and-egg question:If not enough people are buying Windows Phone 7 devices, then developers won't be motivated to create apps for the platform. And if developers aren't building apps, then consumers won't be as eager to buy Windows-powered phones. But getting off to a strong start in sales would surely help get developers' attention.