Android's march to the top was long and hard. That's something often forgotten now that's its the number one selling OS in Western Europe, Japan and the US. If Microsoft is to pull off a similar feat, here's how it can go about it.
1 Ease up on manufacturers
Apart from slightly different specs and the odd exclusive app, it was pretty hard to tell the first batch of Windows Phone 7 handsets apart. And that’s because the Big M has been so draconian when it comes to customisations.
However, if Microsoft eased its restrictions even incrementally, it could result in a standout UI skin similar to that of HTC's Sense, that’d massively increase the appeal of the platform. What it needs is WP7 equivalent of HTC Sense. But that’s never going to happen while phone makers are being kept under lock and key in the walled garden.
2 Low cost phones
When it comes to Android, it’s the likes of the Desire and Galaxy range that snare all the headlines and salivating reviews. But the donkey work of bringing the OS to the mass market was done by budget blowers like the HTC Magic, which brought the platform to pay as you go plans, and the HTC Wildfire.
As it stands even the most affordable WP7 smarties are out of the reach of many. We’ve already been promised cheaper phones when Nokia comes to market. But with the Finns demurring that they might not bring a WP7 phone to market this year, Microsoft needs to cut the cost of its existing range soon. And to do so, it'd have to loosen up its stringent minimum hardware requirements policy.
3 Get the timing & stock levels right
One major factor in WP7 phones’ sub-par sales was that they landed mid-way through the quarter. That meant that when the sales figures finally came out, it looked like it had been trounced by the iPhone and Android. Just as damaging was that stock was very limited, making it too easy for would-be buyers to just go elsewhere.
Microsoft needs to plan its launch so that it avoids going head to head with Apple kit and any major new Android phones. That shouldn’t be too difficult. And, as the second-largest tech firm in the world, it oughtn’t to be too hard to ensure the supply chain is up to scratch too.
4 More regular OS updates
Part of the reason Android was in the headlines so much in the last three or so years was the sheer pace that OS bumps arrived – each time bringing very welcome features to the platform. It also made it feel like an exciting place to be and an OS that was evolving all the time.
So far we’ve had one minor update with WP7, the highlight of which was copy and paste and even that didn't go too smoothly after it rendered thousands of devices inoperable. The NoDo upgrade promises to be much more far-reaching and cause for anticipation. But given that it won’t land until June, will everyone have lost interest by then, assuming that its Microsoft’s moribund ways remain unchanged?
5 Expandable memory
Smartphones are increasingly the hub of people’s digital worlds and need to store everything from snaps, videos, music, games, apps et al. That made it even more amazing that likes of the HTC HD7 (the de facto flagship phone of WP7) didn’t offer expandable memory. If anything should have been in Microsoft’s hardware stipulations, microSD card support was it.
6 Revolt into style
While the current crop of WP7 handsets look smart enough, there’s nothing in their appearance that could tempt design-fixated types away from the iPhone. What the platform could do with is something impactful and even just a bit gimmicky. Just as the HTC Legend’s cool aluminium unibody construction and Leno-style chin helped Android transcend its geek appeal, an eye-poppingly cool handset would banish the staid image of Nokia and Microsoft quicksmart.
And the signs are they’ll do something along these lines. Especially if we can believe rumours that Nokia has eschewed the chassis 1 strictures that Microsoft lays down in favour of the more free and easy chassis 2 guidelines.
7 Release a Halo game
Microsoft’s space opera shoot ‘em up still commands incredible fervour from its fanbase. It is after all the main reason many XBOX owners picked up the console in the first place and is directly responsible for the fact that Microsoft is now a bona-fide player in the games console space.
Until now, however, the massed ranks of mini Master Chiefs and his fellow Spartans haven’t been able to play on a handheld. All Microsoft has to do is give them what they want and sit back and watch the would-be space marines part with their credits.
8 And follow it up with Gears of War
Gaps between Halo games tend to be pretty long. So Microsoft needs to leverage its OTHER big game franchise six months or so after the first Halo game lands. It might be the gaming equivalent of stuffing sweets in the mouths of kids when they’re still eating the last lot. But it’ll give gamers even less reason to shun the OS.
9 Retain the refreshing openness
When the copy and paste update was delayed for the second time recently, Microsoft didn’t look to hide behind a smokescreen or blame its partners. Instead it’s published a table on its official blog that lays out update plans by carrier to keep users in the loop every step of the way.
Compare that to the dribs and drabs of info we’ve been fed by networks' Twitter feeds about Android updates. Microsoft’s transparency is very welcome indeed and should be at the core of how it communicates with users in future.
10 Launch WP8 with Nokia’s debut phone
Looked at from a distance, there isn’t too much wrong with Nokia phones. It was just the OS that made them so unwieldy. For that reason, the first Nokia phone should hit the very best that the platform has got to offer.
Not only does that massively deflect attention from Nokia’s problems with Symbian. It also makes the launch even more of a bona-fide, stop-the-press event on the scale of Apple’s WWMDC showcases.