You can feel it in the air. Or just read about it on various websites and blogs. Microsoft, long considered a bit of an also-ran in the wild new world of mobile computing and devices, is setting up for an great 2012.
At the core of the enthusiasm is the Windows Phone, which is evidently blowing everyone away at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. There are two smartphone producers who are rolling out Windows Phones in conjunction with Microsoft: Nokia and HTC. Hopes are high, but this is Microsoft. But it's not exactly springtime in Redmond just yet.
Critics may be smitten, but Microsoft still has work ahead in winning the hearts of consumers.
[An analyst who follows Microsoft say] there are four main things Microsoft needs to tackle to ensure that Windows Phone builds momentum in 2012: significant investments in quality marketing efforts; winning “flagship” positioning with carriers for several devices over the course of the year; offering a range of devices on each carrier network; and convincing salespeople that Windows Phone is just as good as iOS and Android.
It looks like Nokia, at least, plans to instigate a heavy marketing campaign to make sure the 900 gets time in the spotlight.
CES has never been a completely accurate indicator of what’s going to succeed in the year to come. What journalists and bloggers fawn over, consumers may end up shunning in favor of something else.
However, with smartphones in recent years, the “most hyped-about” phones have generally ended up faring well with mobile phone buyers. And if that’s any indication, Windows Phone stands a good chance of fulfilling our expectations.
I've fiddled a bit with the Windows Phone OS, via my daughter's KIN, a simple little phone that came out a few years back, didn't do very well, and then fell into near-freebie status at Verizon. The OS is exceptionally easy to use, a real improvement over Apple iOS and a competitor to HP's WebOS, by far my favorite smartphone operating system.
Also, Microsoft can get a "third platform" into the market now — alongside iOS and Android — because Research in Motion has been losing so much market share with its BlackBerry devices. Apart from email, which BlackBerrys still beat everyone on, the current BlackBerry OS is terrible. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you use you smartphone to get stuff done rather than play Angry Birds. This may change with the advent if RIM's new OS, QNX, but for now BlackBerrys are declining, opening a space for the Windows Phones to slip in.
Not incidentally, this could be light at the end of the tunnel for Nokia as well, given Microsoft's deal with the giant yet struggling Finnish cell phone maker. Early evaluators of the Nokia Lumnia 900 Windows Phone have called the device stunning. See the photo above, if you have doubts.
For all that joy in Vegas, my big question, however, is whether Microsoft is leaving the enterprise market — hardcore business users who have traditionally liked BlackBerrys and PCs running Windows — to Android when it comes to smartphones. The Windows Phone OS is almost child-like in its simplicity. It doesn't look efficient. It looks easy.
In a strange way, this may end up giving RIM hope, as the smartphone market pushes deeper into the consumer realm, leaving enterprise behind. But regardless, the Windows Phone looks like the hot hot hot device at CES. It's about time Microsoft managed to make something happen on this front.