You may have noticed Microsoft is being especially bullish about its prospects in the smartphone market right now — following yesterday’s Windows Phone 8 OS launch. It’s even trying to talk up its current marginal position – spinning that it’s on comfortable, familiar ground here, and even directly comparing the launch of WP8 to the launch of an underdog Xbox in a market dominated by PlayStation and Nintendo.
Speaking at a press briefing in the UK today, UK Microsoft marketing exec Brett Siddons said the Sisyphean challenge facing Redmond — to transform Windows Phone from an also-ran into a serious, top-three smartphone contender — is actually not so unsurmountable after all, because Microsoft has been here before, and thus knows how to walk this path.
Formerly group marketing manager at the Xbox group, Siddons has just moved over to Windows Phone — as the consumer marketing lead in the UK. “With Xbox when we came into market there were two big well-established competitors: in PlayStation and Nintendo,” said Siddons. “A lot of people said to us when we launched Xbox, you’re coming into this market too late. But of course it gave us an opportunity to look at what was well established and to do something different with Xbox. And obviously now we’re sitting as market lead.”
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is again leveraging the luxury of being last, said Siddons, and this time the twin peaks it’s hoping to summit are Android and iOS. “I really wanted to get into Windows Phone… I really feel now is an opportunity for us to deliver something brand new to the market.”
Siddons bypassed the fact that WP8 is not actually a fresh launch: having launched Windows Phone 7 back in 2010, and failing to roll that rock up hill, Microsoft is once again retracing its steps to make a second pass at the mountain range (with its reboot of its reboot).
Ignoring all this recent history, Siddons instead went on to flesh out the advantages Redmond reckons it has this time around, claiming: “Over the last five years the smartphone really hasn’t changed. If anything, with more and more apps coming on board, it’s actually got more complicated for the average consumer to be able to manage that device. We’re actually asking the consumer to work harder to get that information out of multiple sources and that’s where we think we have the big, big opportunity with Windows Phone — where we actually make the phone work harder for the individual. To be able to give them that information that’s personal and relevant for them.”
Again, though, being different to Android and iOS is not a new thing with Windows Phone 8. So if being different didn’t help ferry the WP7 boulder up the hill the first time around, why should it propel WP8 upwards today?
What is different this time around is the tandem launch of the WP-inspired Windows 8 — which not only looks and feels like Windows Phone, but the two OSes are unified, built on a shared kernel, and interoperable. This is a key difference that will help Microsoft familiarise consumers with the Windows Phone UI through its Windows PCs, apps and services — and effectively do the selling for them.
As Ovum analyst Nick Dillon put it to me yesterday at the WP8 launch, Microsoft now has one story to sell — a story the mobile carriers can buy into and get behind, in a way it never did with WP7. So the coming together of Microsoft’s desktop and mobile narratives looks likely to make WP8 much less of an uphill sales slog. Ovum is forecasting Windows Phone will grow its marketshare from 4.5 percent in 2012, to 13 percent in 2017 — putting it in third place behind Android and iOS.
Microsoft’s UK marketing director also made this point today: “Windows 8 has launched, and for the first time the interface, the start screen that you had on a Windows Phone is now going to be across millions of devices — so it will become much more familiar to people in a very short space of time. That will be a huge catalyst for us.”
Millions of Windows users tapping away on a Windows Phone style interface — that’s exactly the sort of advantage that could move Microsoft up smartphone mountains.
No wonder Ballmer is feeling bullish.
[Image: Dreaming in the deep south]