Home / Companies / Microsoft sharpens focus on reviving falling mobile market share in India

New Delhi: Microsoft Corp. created quite a stir earlier this year when its employees showed up in orange trucks in 400 small Indian cities and posed a challenged for people using basic, low-end smartphones: to compare their phones with the company’s recently launched Windows phones, Microsoft Lumia 532 and Microsoft Lumia 435, aimed at the low to mid market.

The Knock Out Challenge by Microsoft, which included competing on mundane tasks like clicking images and uploading it online, checking the weather forecast, Skyping with a friend and editing an image, was one among many campaigns that the company has carried out since last year to revive the interest of the so-called value customers—people who use low to mid priced smartphone—in its mobile phones. And the point behind the knockout challenge was to show the power of its operating system.

As Microsoft attempts to transition to a services company—it’s pushing its Windows 10 as an operating system for all devices and platforms—mobile devices have become critical to its plans and the company is sharpening its focus on reviving its falling mobile market share in India—9.8% in the first quarter of 2015, down from 13.4% a year ago, according to Counterpoint Research.

In April 2014, after it acquired Nokia Corp.’s devices and services business, Microsoft set up a new dedicated division for devices, Microsoft Mobile Devices. The team shifted its base to its India office in Gurgaon earlier this year in June. The division oversaw the integration between the two units.

“The big shift that we are making when it comes to phones is to not think about phones in isolation," said Ajey Mehta, managing director, Microsoft Mobile Devices (India) in an interview. “Now with Windows 10, we are looking at providing users value with good apps as well as a personalized and productive experience. We are looking at providing one unifying platform, one unifying experience (across devices)."

“Phones continue to be an integral part of our strategy. Focus will be on leading with experiences that help us differentiate," he added.

Analysts agree that the company has been addressing issues that cropped up with previous versions of its mobile operating system.

“It has learnt its lesson from the previous stint," when earlier versions didn’t synchronize with other devices, said Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and chief executive of the Greyhound Research. In that period, Microsoft lost a chunk of marketshare to Google’s Android, now the most popular operating system in India and globally. “It now understands that tighter integration between software and hardware is critical, so the focus has been on providing Windows 10 for all devices," Gogia said.

Another issue was cost. Android, being an open source operating system, was available cheaply for smartphone vendors.

“The cost of ownership was more for the Windows OS as compared to Android," said Gogia. “What it meant for OEMs that they could get licence for Android and then invest on customizing the look and feel of it. For companies like Samsung, it has been a kind of secret sauce."

To bring more users on Windows 10 operating system (OS), the company is focusing heavily on three segments of users—existing Windows customers, businesses and customers who are price sensitive.

For the last category, which remains the primary growth driver, the company has launched 11 Lumia devices since July last year

Feature phones, Mehta said, will continue to be an important segment as they play an important role in bringing the Windows experiences to the next billion.

However, Windows 10 OS for mobiles will face tough competition from other operating systems including Android, Cyanogen Inc., and even the souped up version of Chinese cell phone maker Xiaomi’s Android-based operating system, which has great traction in India.

“We plan to compete with other platforms with Windows 10 on the grounds that Windows 10 is more personalized, worthwhile, familiar and comfortable since users know the platform and they use it across devices," said Mehta. It provides apps like Cortana (a personal assistant like Apple’s Siri), Skype, new Outlook, new browser Edge that can run across devices, he said.

A key handicap for Windows in the past was the lack of apps, especially in comparison to those available on Android. With Windows 10 the company is changing that and has lined up universal apps that can work across devices, across price brackets.

“However, it is not going to be an easy walk for Microsoft," said Gogia. “The likeliness of users trying Windows 10 mobile devices, given the fact that they are already using it on desktops, has gone up....Whether or not consumers will adopt it, will be contingent on the experience it will provide between software and hardware."

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