- •Contact us
- •About us
- •Advertise with the FT
- •Terms & conditions
© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
February 14, 2010 8:13 pm
Microsoft will put design front and centre on Monday when it unveils a mobile software platform that will play a critical part in trying to make up lost ground on Apple’s iPhone and Google’s fast-growing Android software.
Steve Ballmer, chief executive, is due to show off the software operating system, Windows Mobile 7, for the first time at an event at the Mobile World Congress is Barcelona.
He is also expected to confirm that the first devices loaded with the software will be available before the end of this year. That would be nearly three and a half years after Apple launched the groundbreaking iPhone, and more than a year after the software was first expected.
In an attempt to appeal more directly to consumers, Mr Ballmer is set to focus squarely on the design of the software user interface. The decision reflects a broader push inside Microsoft to bring a bigger element of “cool” to its functional products, dominated by Windows and Office.
That push has brought strong design elements to products such as Zune HD, a portable music player that has won plaudits for its looks while failing to make up lost ground on Apple’s iPod, and the Bing search engine. By contrast, the company’s early lead in smartphone software was built on its strong practical appeal to corporate IT departments, which wanted to move applications they had developed for other Windows operating systems on to mobile handsets.
Its share of the smartphone business has withered as consumers have turned to cooler handsets and often kept these for work as well, eating into Microsoft’s stronghold among businesses. According to comScore, Microsoft’s share of smartphone software had slipped to 18 per cent in the US in the final quarter of last year, while Apple’s iPhone claimed 25 per cent of the market.
The heavy focus on the smartphone user interface was essential if Microsoft is to remain a significant player in the booming mobile software business, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. Like Nokia and Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, Microsoft had been caught out by Apple’s breakthrough with the iPhone, he said. “They’ve all been challenged in the user interface area.”
Microsoft usually left it to the handset makers that used its software to determine the user experience, but it was likely to set far tighter controls with Mobile 7 to try to raise standards, Mr Dulaney said. That would put it closer to Apple and set it apart from Google.
In a sign of its new approach, the designer behind Zune HD, Joe Belfiore, was moved across to take control of the Windows Mobile 7 interface, and the Zune interface was influential in determining the latest smartphone look, according to one person familiar with the situation.
Microsoft has also overhauled its approach to branding and marketing of some consumer products, most noticeably for the Xbox and the Bing search engine.
In mobile software, however, it was still relying heavily on the Windows brand, and trying to sell “Windows phones” to consumers was likely to hamper its efforts, said Mr Dulaney.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.