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SALT LAKE CITY -- There were four major smartphone operating systems available at the end of 2010: Android (developed by Google), iPhone (the Apple offering), Symbian (Nokia’s) and Blackberry (from RIM). Each manufacturer controlled a sizeable portion of the market and had plans for expansion. Then came a new challenger: one not unfamiliar to most who have used computer-related products. Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 with the hope that it could become a significant player in the arena.
Six months into the venture, Microsoft seems to be making small inroads with its products. Android is the market leader, with iPhone and Blackberrry following close behind. Market share for Microsoft is still weak, a paltry 1.7 percent, and the horizon wouldn’t seem to hold much hope for growth. But a recently announced alliance with Nokia may indicate that there will be another major player in the smartphone market. Nokia, the former handset leader, is planning to phase out Symbian, its current operating system, and replace it with the Windows Phone 7 operating system over the next several months. As the second-place phone maker, Nokia will give instant credibility to Windows Phone 7 and will offer Microsoft a significant opportunity to jump right into the very competitive market for smartphones.
Will all this make a difference in acceptance for the new Microsoft offering? Analysts are uncertain, but the sheer power of the Microsoft-Nokia alliance is sure to have an impact on the industry as a whole.
Much will be determined by the ability of Microsoft to convince users to change from an apps-oriented operating system to a closer focus on productivity. Instead of showing a home screen full of individual applications, the Windows Phone 7 home screen shows tiles that are focused on specific categories of productivity. Other issues, like limits on the number of home pages and no cut-and-paste option, will also affect acceptance.
One other item that may affect growth — at least in relation to Android — will be the path Microsoft has taken with openness. Unlike Android, Windows Phone 7 is not based on an open architecture. Most users will not care but smartphone providers may be reluctant to move away from the advantages of Android in this area.
There are still wide-ranging opinions on the future of Microsoft’s entrance into the smartphone market but the next year will probably give a good indication where things might go. Will Windows Phone 7 be the next “Microsoft Word” or will it have the same impact as Bing? Time will tell.
Mike Whitmer is a smartphone user and resides in West Valley City. You can reach him at email@example.com or visit his blog at mtwhitmer.blogspot.com