Windows Phone is in a "tooth-and-nail battle" with Android and iPhone that could last a decade, according to Microsoft. Windows-powered smart phones may not be selling in huge numbers now, but Microsoft promises that after Windows 8 explodes on to the scene, 2013 will be "the year of Windows Phone".
I sat down with Microsoft's Aaron Woodman, director for Windows Phone, at phone-tastic trade show Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Woodman is in no hurry for Windows Phone to take over the world, acknowledging that despite being a "tooth-and-nail" fight, the smart phone scrap could last a decade -- or even "multiple decades".
Windows Phone is similar to the Xbox, Woodman says. After a slow start, Xbox went through different forms to become the gaming behemoth it is today. With its endless resources, Microsoft has both the money and time to wait out the competition.
Woodman recognises two challenges for Windows Phone. Firstly, potential customers aren't familiar with Windows Phone and how it works. Secondly, they can't see how it stands out from other mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS. Woodman admits advertising through networks or the manufacturers that build the phones hasn't really worked out, so Microsoft will take charge of advertising Windows Phone. The solution to both problems, it seems, will be Windows 8.
Windows 8 is the next generation of Microsoft's venerable software for your computer. Windows is on the vast majority of computers around the world. Everybody knows what it is. And when Windows 8 arrives at the end of this year, it should give Windows Phone a serious leg-up.
That's because Windows 8 has a dramatic new look, cribbed from Windows Phone. Windows 8 is based on the same layout of colourful, dynamic squares called live tiles. And even better, apps built for Windows 8 will cross over to Windows Phone -- an area in which WinPho lags severely behind Android and iOS.
Woodman downplays the technical side of the crossover between the two systems. He revealed that a Silverlight app can already be ported from Windows 8 to a Windows Phone version -- but it wouldn't be suited to the very different experience of a phone. Woodman says making sure an app suits the phone -- which has both constraints like screen size and bonuses like an accelerometer -- is the hardest part of creating an app, not the technical side.
Woodman also told me it's "not hard" to bring an iPhone app to Windows Phone, and some app-makers simply don't want to spend the time until there are more people using Windows Phone. Microsoft offers inducements from merchandise to cash, but even cold hard Gatesbucks aren't enough to tempt some until Windows Phone grows further.
Microsoft has clearly realised that if Windows Phone is going to grow, it needs to land in more people's hands, and that means cheaper phones. Microsoft sets specific requirements for the specs of phones that want to run WinPho -- and has just lowered the bar, including a lower-powered processor and less RAM than was previously required.
That means Windows Phones can be built more cheaply, which means cheaper Windows Phones. And that means Windows Phone can compete with Android in the lucrative middle range of the market.
I've got my fingers crossed for lots of cool new Windows Phones: I love the playful, colourful interface, which to me strikes a perfect balance between iPhone class and Android flexibility.
Woodman says he can't think of a major phone manufacturer Microsoft isn't talking to. Sony has been talking to Microsoft for over a year, and is evaluating Windows Phone. Here at MWC, we've already seen wallet-friendly Windows blowers including the ZTE Orbit and sub-£200 Nokia Lumia 610, alongside the very slick Nokia Lumia 900, pictured above.
So what are the next steps for Windows Phone? Woodman outlines three strategies: spending on advertising to explain Windows Phone, working with phone manufacturers to bring out more enticing phones, and "working like hell to make next year the year of Windows Phone".
Can Windows 8 give Windows Phone the boost it needs? Will the long game work out for Microsoft, or does the mobile phone world change too fast? Tell us what you think in the comments or on our Facebook page.