Microsoft Not Sitting Still with Win 8, May Intro Surface Phone
By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated November 28, 2012.
Amidst continuing mixed news about Windows 8, Microsoft may be getting ready to become more involved in its mobile destiny. New reports suggest the technology giant is readying a branded phone that will share the Surface name with its recently released tablet.
On Tuesday, Microsoft announced on its Windows blog that it had sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses in the first month of the new operating system's general availability. The figure does not distinguish between upgrades, new sales, or sales of PCs with Windows 8 pre-installed.
Microsoft also reported that the Windows App Store, which it said launched with more apps when its doors opened than any other app store at that point, has doubled the number of available apps in this first month.
Previous reports from the field and industry analysts have indicated sluggish sales. Forrester Research, for example, found that only half as many enterprises have expressed interest in Windows 8 as did for Windows 7, over the same period of time.
In addition, Web analytics firm Net Applications has said that its data through Nov. 18, three weeks from the launch, showed Windows 8 penetration at only 1.19 percent -- behind Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, the three most recent versions of Mac OS X, and even Linux. Windows 7, for instance, has 46 percent, while XP, facing the end of its supported lifecycle, still maintains 39 percent market share. Windows 7 had nearly twice 8's market share at this point in its lifespan.
But that good news comes following a steady drumbeat of less-than-good news for the new and dramatically different OS. The sudden departure of Windows chief Stephen Sinofsky, a lukewarm reception to the Windows 8-specific apps in the Windows Store, a scathingly bad review of the new tile-based interface by usability expert Jakob Nielsen, and reports of hesitation among business adopters and confusion among consumer buyers are only the top headlines.
A Surface Phone?
Windows 8 has been built around touch-based computing, which has been slow to come to laptops and desktops but has become common in mobile devices. While Windows 8 has been getting mixed reviews at best, the company's Surface tablet, either using Windows 8 or Windows RT for ARM-based tablets, has been getting a more positive reception.
Now there is news that Microsoft may be looking to take a more direct approach to increasing its footprint in the mobile market while building on the growing Surface brand, by releasing a Windows Phone 8-based smartphone of the same name.
Foxconn International Holdings has reportedly received orders from Microsoft for handsets that will be released in mid-2013 and will bear the Surface brand. Foxconn, which also makes Apple's iPhone, has denied the report. Among other things, this direct entry by Microsoft could conflict with Microsoft's smartphone alliance with Nokia.
Interestingly, the same reports indicate that Foxconn is also making handsets for another supposed major entrant into the smartphone sweepstakes -- Amazon, which assumedly would use the Android platform.
Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, said that it was "way too early to issue a warning about Windows 8, let alone claim a death knell." He said it was as unrealistic to compare Windows 8 to its predecessors' receptions, as it is to "compare a group of middle-aged guys playing football" to their younger selves.
King pointed to research from Intel showing that a touch-enabled interface was the highest rated feature desired by business users and consumers. He said that coming PCs based on Intel's Ivy Bridge processors will offer speech recognition and gesture parsing that will be "better adapted to Windows 8's capabilities," as the hardware catches up with the OS.
He also noted that Microsoft was "very badly burned by the actions of some of its OEM partners" with Vista, in that some manufacturers said their machines were Vista-capable even though they weren't, and this could be a driver behind Microsoft's interest, if there is one, in making and releasing its own smartphone that can display Windows Phone 8 as it should be.