Back in 2010 Steve Ballmer said that Microsoft “missed a cycle” in mobile. That’s true. While Microsoft was still selling Windows Mobile 6.5, Apple and Google were selling millions of touch friendly iPhones and Droids. Today Apple and Google own 82% of the smartphone market and Microsoft owns about 3%.
To their credit, Microsoft understood the problem and, in an atypically bold move, threw out Windows Mobile and created Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 was an entirely new mobile OS with a UI very different from either iOS or Android. Despite the innovative Metro UI, Windows Phone 7 still lagged behind iOS and Android in important features. As much as Microsoft did the competition kept zooming ahead. This is why missing a cycle can be catastrophic to a technology company. Just ask Nokia or RIM.
It seems that Microsoft may have caught a break this year. This month Apple introduced iOS 6, Google introduced Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 8. The Apple and Google OS updates were both fairly minor. Both add new great features, but nothing that really brings either platform forward.
Windows Phone 8, on the other hand, is a very major update to the OS from the top down. Many of the deficiencies in Windows Phone 7 (poor multitasking, no support for modern hardware, poor security, no support for DirectX) have been addressed in the newest version of the OS plus new features such as support for NFC and mobile wallets have been added. It seems that Microsoft has used this time to move their platform forward.
Microsoft may have been given time to catch up to the competition, but it still has the burdens of cleanly executing on Windows Phone 8 and convincing customers to buy into their platform. At least the playing field will be more level. Having a viable third competitor in the smartphone platform game is important if we want the industry to keep moving ahead.