Even in the days leading up to the Build conference, it was clear Windows Phone was getting some wind behind its back. Windows Phone has surpassed 400,000 apps and the Windows Store now gets 14 million downloads a day. IBM has sort-of endorsed WP as its mobile OS of choice, although not officially.
Now there are more endorsements coming in the form of company-issued phones. Nokia just announced it has struck a deal with Spanish financial services group CaixaBank for 30,000 Lumia 925 smartphones to be issued to staff, with options to upgrade to future Lumia models.
CaixaBank employees will also be able to acquire Lumia phones for their personal use and for their family and friends as part of this deal. This comes on the heels of a deal with Delta Airlines to provide their 19,000 flight attendants with Lumia 1520 phones.
The latest news is what I've been waiting for. Samsung seems finally ready to make an effort. It was supposed to jump into the WP market with the ATIV S, a Galaxy S III handset, but now The Verge reports Samsung will reportedly release the ATIV SE, a Galaxy S IV running Windows Phone 8.
Now, I know that I slagged the Galaxy S IV in the past, but that I felt was more due to Android and all of the extra stuff Samsung loaded on it. The hardware, at least on paper, should be high-performance. We'll see if that's the case with the ATIV SE, assuming Samsung doesn't kill it right before shipping it like it did before.
The only area of contention, at least according to The Verge, is whether it will ship with Windows Phone 8 or 8.1, which Microsoft just announced at Build. Either way doesn't matter much, since Microsoft plans to start rolling out 8.1 in the next few weeks.
So what more does WP need? It's still hovering at the 3-4% mark for overall market share, even with BlackBerry out of the way.
Well, Microsoft is making headway on apps, with 400,000 (vs. one million for iOS and Android), and at Build, it announced an update to Visual Studio that will make it possible for a single code base to be easily ported between Windows 8.1, PC and tablet edition, and Windows Phone. Microsoft claims developers will be able to reuse 90% of code between the two disparate platforms.
That helps, but the big news is the new price for Windows Phone: zero. Just a few weeks ago Microsoft hinted this was coming by making Windows Phone royalty-free for some Indian handset makers. Now it has announced that anything with a screen under nine inches will get Windows for free as well, both Windows and Windows Phone, depending on the device.
That's a smart move, because IDC's tablet research shows the greatest interest is in devices smaller than 8 inches. The company projects tablets 8 inches and under to grow from 27% of the market in 2011 to 57% by 2017, compared with 8- to 11-inch tablets dropping from 73% of the market in 2011 to 37% in 2017. Tablets larger than 11 inches would only reach 6% market share by 2017, because who wants to carry something that big?
So Microsoft made a great strategic move. It targeted the growth market with the free OS. You could argue that it should have made the desktop OS free because it needs more help, what with PC sales in decline. But that's a mature market and, while in decline, it will always be there and doesn't need seeding. PCs aren't going away. But tablets are a growth market and Microsoft is now in a position to grab some share.