Windows Phone’s Past Performance Does Not Predict Microsoft’s Future Results

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I’m certainly cognizant of the uphill battle that Microsoft faces in terms of making Windows Phone a viable player in the smartphone market. They have a very compelling strategy, namely that of creating a single development environment that supports many different platforms (Windows 8.1 desktop, notebooks, hybrids, and tablets, Windows Phone 8.1 smartphones, and the Xbox One). Nobody else can match the level of cross-platform support that Microsoft is working toward.

However, this strategy requires execution, in particular doing whatever it takes to convince developers to create those cross-platform apps. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee at this point that Microsoft will manage to execute their strategy, and so it’s entirely possible that Windows Phone will end up in the same place as, say, webOS—a potentially superior mobile OS that nevertheless fails to gain market traction.

At the same time, I find this doom-and-gloom story on BGR to be very shortsighted. Nothing is ever set in stone in the technology industry, and Microsoft is financially sound enough and has enough incentive to make Windows Phone successful that it’s a serious mistake to count them out. Indeed, the BGR story sounds a great deal like those written about Android in its early days, when the argument was that Apple is simply too entrenched to be dislodged by any new mobile platform.

Microsoft went through a phase where their competitive spirit was seriously dampened by the antitrust lawsuit leveled against them. I believe very strongly that many of their competitive gaffs over the last decade or so were the result of an institutional fear of being attacked again for being too competitive.

Certainly, Apple suffered from no such restrictions, even as they created products with far more lock-in than Microsoft ever enjoyed and for which they were punished. Absent antitrust, whether you agree with it or not, I think Apple would have faced a far more formidable opponent and would have found their early dominance of the mobile space far more difficult to accomplish.

However, I see signs that the old Microsoft is returning. They’re creating a unified ecosystem that enables more interaction between many different kinds of devices than any other company can provide, and have made moves to greatly improve the quality of the hardware upon which this ecosystem is based. The Surface Pro 3, which is a stunning piece of hardware that fully demonstrates the potential of Windows 8.1, is an example of the sort of innovation that a reinvigorated Microsoft can achieve.

Google is attempting to catch up, as evidenced by Google I/O 2014, in which the company basically telegraphed a vision to match Microsoft’s “one operating system, many devices” strategy. And, Apple introduced “Continuity” at WWDC 2014, a (rather limited, in my opinion) attempt to provide more interaction between their disparate OS X and iOS platforms.

But Chromebooks simply cannot do the same things as full-fledged Windows machines, and they rely on a cloud-only model that the market simply hasn’t embraced. Meanwhile, Microsoft already provides the same basic functionality as Apple’s Continuity, and then some—even if this functionality hasn’t yet been embraced by that many developers. Perhaps most important, Microsoft already has their smartphone OS, Windows Phone 8.X, using the same kernel (NT) as their desktop and mobile OS, Windows 8.X, which has profound implications among which their Universal Apps initiative is only a start.

As I said, Microsoft’s vision requires execution, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be successful. But basing one’s predictions of Microsoft’s success on the market share that Windows Phone has so far achieved is a mistake. Doing so ignores the very real steps that Microsoft is taking to create a mobile platform that offers more promise than either Android and iOS.

I think that Google and Apple recognize this even if many technology pundits don’t.

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