Can Microsoft and its new partner Nokia get swarms of developers to build apps for their forthcoming line of the WP7 phones? Can HP really squeeze the juice out of WebOS enough to build challengers to iPhone and Android phones?

The last week got suddenly full of some major market developments and announcements, as if in a deliberate build-up to the ongoing Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Spain, which concluded Thursday.

The announcement that seemed to trigger the maximum volume of discussion was of Nokia and Microsoft joining hands to develop a new fleet of Windows Phone 7-based (WP7) devices.

In the mobile device space, time is indeed running out faster for Microsoft than it is for Nokia, as despite a series of market share losses, the latter still commands the position of No. 1 mobile phone maker and has a stronghold on the basic and feature phone market segments and in important markets like India, something that may serve it as a leverage for gaining back losses in the smart phone segment as well.

When the WP7-Nokia phones finally start shipping a few quarters down the line, the event would automatically lead to a sudden spurt in Windows’ market share for at least for some period, given Nokia’s large shipment base. That does hold the potential of becoming a sustainable trend, if the duo is able to deliver well on the consumer experience front. But to be able to achieve that, both Nokia and Microsoft will need to do a lot of catching up, on aspects ranging from design and aesthetics to features and performance. Most importantly, Microsoft will have to work on getting swarms of developers attracted to build applications around WP7, and make that happen on a scale comparable to the bustle surrounding the iOS and Android platforms.

This, of course, is not to say that Apple can afford to take it easy–no way. The pressure is very much on Apple, which has widely been rumoured to be working on a smaller, cheaper iPhone, given Android’s rapid march into the mid-range segments. That makes sense, given the general hypothesis that by capturing lower-range segments one stands to build customer loyalties, and when those users upgrade to higher-end devices, there is a certain likelihood that they stick with the same OS platform.

In yet another development, HP unveiled a collection of two smart phones and a tablet. Interestingly, the portfolio includes a very small form factor smart phone and a more regular one. Some reviews have argued that the range is to demonstrate that the underlying WebOS is capable of running devices with widely varying form factors. While that certainly is a point, I wonder if wider objectives could be achieved out of this and if the tiny handset could be positioned as a device complementing the tablet, especially for voice and for image and video capturing purposes.

Let me explain this. A tablet is a tad too tedious for the user to hold and use as a phone, even with a Bluetooth, especially on the move. However, if there is a seamless switching between the tablet and the smart phone, a handover of sorts, the issue could largely be addressed. And in that case, a larger smart phone would be overkill–a tiny device that easily slips in a small pocket would be just fine. Yes, there would be consumers who don’t have application needs suited for the tablet form factor. For them, the larger smart phone could suffice.

(As published in Deccan Chronicle, Feb 17, 2011.)

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