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If Microsoft gives away Windows Phone 8, will anyone take it?

In a bid to increase licensees and gain some badly needed market share, Redmond won't charge for its phone OS anymore.

Rumors and speculation have swirled on this for months, but now it's official: Microsoft is giving away Windows Phone for free, at least to a pair of Indian handset makers. If this can drive sales, it might become a worldwide policy, which could be the game-changer Microsoft needs and wants.

The Times of India first reported that Microsoft has waived Windows Phone licensing fees for Lava and Karbonn. Actually, the deal was somewhat telegraphed; last week, Karbonn announced that it was going to ship a dual-boot Android and Windows Phone device in June, and rumors of the deal were floating around at last month's Mobile World Congress.

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The Times of India says Microsoft has been negotiating with Indian manufacturers since last year, and that the two manufacturers only agreed to make Windows phones when Microsoft waived the licensing fees.

"Free Windows Phone is part of a strategic partnership. For both Microsoft and us, it is an experiment. Windows Phone still doesn't have lot of appeal in the market but now that it doesn't have any license fee, it becomes easier for us to experiment with it," one unidentified executive told the Times.

If that sounds less than enthusiastic, you have to remember both Lava and Karbonn are already Google Android licensees and the phones that will run WP8 won't exactly be on the same level as the Lumia 928 or 1520. These will be cheap, low-end phones for India's mass market. It's a huge market – over one billion people.

So this can’t really be viewed as a bellwether for the U.S. or other mature markets. No offense to Lava and Karbonn, but they won’t be selling the equivalent to a Galaxy S5 to the kind of buyers Samsung and Apple cater to in the West.

It makes for a good experiment to see if the low-end market can drive demand and increase interest in Windows Phone. After all, IDC puts its market share at just 3.9%.

One thing about a product: if it’s good, you can sell it for a high price. If it’s bad, you can’t give it away. I personally like Windows Phone and I’m only using an iPhone because I felt the Nokia hardware was inferior, with terrible battery life. If that rumored HTC One running WP8 or a Galaxy model running WP8 ever emerge, I’m there.

So let’s see if Microsoft can give away it’s phone OS. It’s not like the company hasn’t given away products before to grab market share. True, it’s never given away an OS, but right now it’s not really selling it, either.

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