Ladies and Gentlemen, start your phones. Specifically, your Microsoft Windows phone. Microsoft's famous start button is coming to a mobile smartphone near you with the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5.
The Windows software debuts today on 30 different models manufactured by Samsung, HTC and LG, among others. TV ads touting the debut focus on the brand's anchor, the iconic Windows flag start button.
In a return to simplicity, Microsoft recruited former Staples executive Todd Peters as corporate vice president for mobile communication marketing. According to the New York Times, Peters inherited a product the public couldn't associate with a brand. Even worse, "consumers did not even know that Microsoft made phone software."
In the year and a half since joining Microsoft, Peters developed a strategy to brand Windows phone as an extension of Windows PC. “The key point is that the stuff you know and love on a PC you can now find on a Windows phone,” including Microsoft Office, Outlook, and applications sold through a marketplace.
Microsoft considered creating a new brand, as with their Bing search engine, but decided that reframing the phone around the Windows operating system would offer consumers a familiar interface and ease of accessibility, compared with other smartphones on the market. By making the phone an extension of the PC, Microsoft hopes to position Windows as the tool people need to manage all aspects of their digital lives.
These changes come amid a drastic decline in market share, a dismal 9.3% belo2 last year's 12% share. Microsoft has been unable to compete with Nokia, RIM, Google's Android (now in partnership with Verizon) and Apple in technological advances.
Critics say Windows Mobile 6.5 does not offer any catch-up. Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, called the phone merely "a placeholder." Microsoft contends that version 7 will feature more advances, hopefully silencing critics and boosting sales.
Windows needs to offer consumers more than an interface similar to their PC. Microsoft acts like they don't understand that they don't hold the same monopoly over phone software as for PC's. Customers don't flock to computer stores to buy a Microsoft Windows PC: they buy a computer with a competitive price and capacity that happens to have a Microsoft Windows operating system.
Nor is it clear how consumers will react to the idea of a phone as an extension of their PC, a concept that has been slow to take hold even among Apple's iPhone users.
Microsoft is attempting to trade in on brand loyalty that may be just an illusion. To compete with Apple, Android and RIM they have to innovate their software instead of currying consumer favor with brand recognition.