Windows Phone? No App for That

Microsoft's lackluster performance in the mobile phone market may not seem consequential now, says Preston Gralla, but it will matter a lot in years to come.

Looking for the niftiest new mobile app? You might find it on an iPhone or an Android device, but not on a Windows phone. Developers' apathy and a fast-falling market share mean that Microsoft's mobile phone business is in the doldrums. And that in turn may mean trouble for all of Microsoft several years from now.

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A recent survey confirms what everyone already knows: Developers are spending their time writing nifty apps for the iPhone, Android phones and BlackBerries, not for Windows phones. In March, Appcelerator surveyed more than 1,000 developers and found that 87% were interested in developing apps for the iPhone, 81% for Android phones, 53% for the iPad, 43% for the BlackBerry, and a lowly 34% for Windows Phone 7.

That's only part of the bad news for Microsoft. The company's market share of mobile subscribers has also taken a deep plunge. Market research firm comScore says that between October and January, Microsoft's share of the market fell from 19.7% to 15.7%. RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry, remained the leader, growing from 41.3% to 43%. Apple 's iPhone increased slightly, from 24.8% to 25.1%, and Google's Android grew by more than 250%, going from 2.8% to 7.1%.

Microsoft has known for some time that its Windows-based mobile operating system is in trouble and an also-ran, and so it has revamped it thoroughly. But that revamp may be too little, too late. New Windows 7 phones won't be out until the holiday season, and in the meantime, Microsoft's competitors will all gain market share at the company's expense.

Research firm Canalys says that sales of Microsoft mobile devices will fall in 2010 compared to 2009, and sales by its competitors will soar. It predicts that for the full year, Microsoft will drop to a mere 7.2% of the market , while Android will roar past it to 18.9%. Canalys has Apple barely beating Android, with 21.3% of the market, and it puts RIM at 43%.

By the end of 2010, Microsoft will be so far behind its competitors that it will likely never catch up. The issue isn't just market share and the perception that Windows phones aren't as worthy as the competition. It's also that Microsoft is losing the app war -- badly. With developer interest lagging and market share dropping, there will be far fewer great apps for Windows Phone than there are for its competitors. And it is apps that drive mobile phone purchases.

Should Microsoft even care that the Windows Phone platform seems headed south? After all, its revenue from phones isn't significant. But the fact is, mobile devices of all kinds are the future, and they are where massive growth is.

Smartphones are essentially computers with telephone appendages. That's where most computing and a good deal of work -- even enterprise -level work -- will be done in the future. And no matter what you think of the iPad , it's another example of a nondesktop personal computer -- and, of course, there's no version of Windows on it. Expect more non-PC, mobile computers to be released without any version of Windows on them.

Today it doesn't matter. Tomorrow it will. Microsoft's problem is not just that it might not be able to tap into the greatest growth market in computers. Its main business will also be affected. What if Google forges links between its mobile phone Android operating system and its netbook (and possibly PC) Chrome operating system? Will enterprises consider moving at least in part away from Windows and toward Chrome? Will iPhones, iPads and iAnythings make more enterprises consider using Mac OS X? All that is entirely possible. And that's when Microsoft will really face trouble.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 35 books, includingHow the Internet Works(Que, 2006).

Read more about mobile apps and services in Computerworld's Mobile Apps and Services Knowledge Center.

This story, "Windows Phone? No App for That" was originally published by Computerworld.

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