Microsoft has made a huge announcement today in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress 2014. This announcement is probably one of the biggest announcements for Windows Phone since the announcement of the platform a few years ago. As of right now, Microsoft has four primary hardware partners in Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Huawei. However, Microsoft is about to absorb Nokia as a result of their purchase of the company?s handset division last year. So, that leaves Samsung, HTC and Huawei, all of whom that have been left as secondary partners to Microsoft?s clear #1, Nokia.
Today?s announcement brings Foxconn, Gionee, Lava, Lenovo, LG, Longcheer, JSR, Karbonn and ZTE into the development of the Windows Phone platform. This announcement means that Microsoft means business when it comes to Windows Phone and that they are prepared to go after Android, iOS and Blackberry (basically dead). With the effective death of Blackberry, we can expect there to be a need for a third mobile OS. While Tizen may present an opportunity for a third mobile OS, it is far too entangled with Samsung for anyone to really find it attractive, which is a shame because it is fundamentally a good OS.
Getting back to the announcement, this is a second major move by Microsoft in addition to the reported rumor that Microsoft will be cutting the price of Windows to $15 on devices under $300. Microsoft is clearly priming themselves to attack in the entry-level as their best selling devices are already in that category. Because Microsoft is bringing so many major device manufacturers onboard we can expect to see that the choice of Windows Phones will broadly expand and improve Microsoft?s position in the mobile market. This is contrary to their past behavior where they company somewhat shunned hardware and ignored their disadvantage in making all of their partners effectively use the same base hardware.
With this announcement, Microsoft clearly shows their recognition that they need more partners for Windows Phone and that they need to open up the platform if they want to maintain the rapid growth they are currently experiencing. As such, Microsoft is actually adding support for more Qualcomm chipsets as well, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 and 400 series of SoCs, squarely aimed at the entry-level and budget smartphone markets. By enabling lower cost SoCs with more features, Microsoft is giving their new (mostly Asian) OEMs an opportunity to make a decent amount of money off of these entry-level smartphones while still allowing them to sell features like LTE functionality and such.
Because of Qualcomm?s already existent QRD platform, there is an opportunity for Microsoft?s new platform partners to work very closely with Qualcomm and Microsoft to deliver solid products to the market, and to do it quickly. With the access to Qualcomm?s QRD platforms they are also going to get access to software kits for both Android and Windows Phone that will enable them to be able to easily ship similar platforms with multiple operating systems for little cost difference. Not just that, but they can actually ship one Windows Phone for multiple carriers, including different bands and software customizations. This is possible due to Qualcomm and Microsoft working together to allow for a software suite that quickly customizes a OEM?s device based on the SIM that gets injected.
With all of these developments, we can expect that Microsoft will ship a lot more phones than they have in the past few years. Not only that, but there?s a good chance that Qualcomm could remain the sole SoC vendor for Windows Phone devices. By being the sold vendor of Windows Phone SoCs, Qualcomm?s outlook for 2014 could actually be much better than any analysts could have expected, especially in developing markets like China and India. Not only that, there is a unique opportunity for both Microsoft and Qualcomm to launch more flagship devices in the US thanks to their new partners LG and Lenovo. I also believe that the addition of these new partners may encourage HTC and Samsung to step up their game now that Nokia is no longer the blessed one that gets all of Microsoft?s attention.
I think that today marks a huge change in Microsoft?s hardware and software strategy and that this could be the big inflection point for the company?s mobile efforts. If Microsoft continues to make major announcements like today?s, there?s a good chance we could be calling Mobile World Congress by a new name next year, Microsoft World Congress. Sure, it remains to be seen how many of these new hardware partners will actually come out with successful new devices, but this news broadens Microsoft?s horizons like never before. The new Microsoft is already starting to look a lot better under Satya Nadella, even though I?m quite sure this has been in development long before the choice to pick him was made.