At a Nokia event last week, many known faces from the company introduced themselves as Microsoft employees. It was, in a way, a clear statement of the fact that the future of the Finnish phone giant was now captive to the plans of its new master from Redmond. This alliance is also a great opportunity for Nokia to regain its place at the top of Mount Mobile Phone and for Microsoft to finally become relevant in the conversation about smartphones and mobility.
The return to greatness might not be powered by a cutting-edge flagship phone, but simple, affordable phones that will try and hit Android where it hurts the most—the entry level. After all, 80% of the smartphone market in India is under the R10,000 price point.
Android is a powerful operating system, especially when you have a device that is built to harness this power. While the Google operating system has been instrumental in democratising technology across the world by making smartphones affordable and the internet accessible to those using these devices, it is an accepted fact that Android struggles to perform on low specced devices. It is a bit like tying an elephant in a cowshed, if you ask me.
If someone can promise a more stable experience at sub-$100 price points, a lot of people might opt out of Android. This is where I think Windows Phone devices have a chance. The cheapest Windows Phone now available in the market is the Nokia Lumia 520 at under R7,500, offering a much better smartphone experience than any Android with the same price tag. However, the cheapest Android devices are billed as low as R2,500. So the Windows Phone opportunity is limited to its ability to deliver devices that can plug this price gap.
That might not be such a pipedream after all. With the launch of Windows 8.1, Microsoft has also tied up with Indian manufacturers like Micromax and Lava to offer affordable devices. This opening up of the platform will take Windows Phone to different users who have not yet experienced Windows Phone. “Because we have support for multiple chipsets you will see phones coming at even cheaper price points,” says Vineet Durani who heads Microsoft’s phone business in India. “One distinctive feature would be that no matter how low we go on the price, all Windows Phones will run on superior Qualcomm chipsets and will be 3G and not 2G like in Android,” he adds. In other words, the affordable smartphone experience on Windows promises to be much more richer than on corresponding Android devices.
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Of the 998 million smartphones shipped in 2013, research firm Canalys says 79% were Android devices. Windows Phone accounted for roughly 3%, powered by Nokia Lumia devices, placed third behind iOS. These standings are predicted to continue till at least 2017, when the volume of smartphones will be much more than a billion. But Indian manufacturers, with the large volumes they could bring, can push Windows Phone growth way ahead of predictions, especially with Apple’s iOS having plateaued in recent times.
Things are not as simple as they seem, though. The event that I mentioned earlier, the first after the Microsoft-Nokia deal was sealed, was to familiarise Indian media with the Nokia XL, a phablet based on Android. Nokia is pegging its Android-based devices as a bridge between its Asha and Lumia devices. J Gerry Purdy, chief mobile analyst at Compass Intelligence, is convinced Nokia X series is aimed at addressing the lower cost segment in emerging markets. “First, the cost of Android devices is less than Windows Phone because the volume of handsets is so much larger in Android. Second, there is already a large ecosystem of services and apps. Plus, it enables Microsoft to leverage their cloud services such as OneDrive, Skype and Office,” he says.
But then this is exactly what Microsoft also hopes to achieve with Windows Phone. So there is every possibility that Nokia’s Android experiment is going to have a very short life, putting to an end the confusion in consumer minds. With Nokia focusing on Windows Phone and newer manufacturers pushing the price points of these phones even lower, there is a chance that Android might finally find some serious competition. There is certainly a Window opening here.