Microsoft evangelists pull page out of BlackBerry handbook

Aggressive marketing for Windows 8 and Windows Phone tries to convince developers and users to look beyond iOS, Android

Microsoft is starting to sound like the company once named Research in Motion, the stalwart maker of BlackBerry smartphones that has fought desperately against Apple's iOS and Google's Android as they became the mobile market leaders. In its struggle to claw back market share, BlackBerry (RIM's new name) has aggressively advertised and promoted the new BlackBerry 10 platform -- almost to the point of desperation.

Now Microsoft appears to be doing the same for its struggling Windows Phone and Windows 8 platforms, which are also under threat from iOS and Android. It has conducted a seemingly nonstop media blitz in magazines and on TV. It even bought the back cover of the February 2013 issue of Macworld magazine to promote Windows 8 tablets to an audience very unlikely to switch. And Microsoft employees are fanning out across the globe proselytizing hard at conferences big and small the new Windows platforms that the company hopes will fend off the rising sales of Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.

The PC software giant believes the world's apps "build out" -- that is, the apps used in new-school devices like tablets and smartphones -- is still in its early stages, says Matt Thompson, general manager of developer and platform evangelism. "We believe that there's still a ton of opportunity out there, and it's growing."

He claims that Windows Phone and Windows 8 "together will represent the largest market opportunity for app developers going forward." As proof of developer interest, Thompson cites 18,000 new registered developers since Windows Phone 8 shipped last fall. So far, of course, Apple's iOS greatly dominates app sales, followed closely by Google's Android; Apple's App Store sold 20 billion iOS apps in 2012 alone, and Google's Google Play store sold more than 15 billion. How many Windows Phone apps were sold in 2012? Microsoft's not telling -- which usually means very few.

Windows Phone is unlikely to gain much market share in the next five years. Analyst estimates vary widely, but tend to be around 5 percent of market share. One of the more optimistic market research firms, Analysis Mason, recently reported that although it expected Windows Phone to be the fastest-growing mobile OS over the next five years, it would still grab just 9 percent of smartphone shipments by 2018. Analysis Mason predicts the iPhone at 23 percent and Android smartphones at 53 percent in the same period.

Already, the perception problem is evident. Windows Phone just doesn't have the buzz of Android or iPhone. For example, Michael Greeves, director of digital marketing at sales compensation management company Xactly, hasn't even bothered to look at a Windows Phone. "I haven't seen it, I haven't put it in my hand. I personally have an iPhone 5.... If I had to prioritize my native app development, I would do iPhone, Android, and then Windows, in that order."

As for Windows 8, there's no guarantee that it will succeed Windows 7 as the predominant PC platform -- after all, its uptake is slower than the much-maligned Windows Vista. Windows 8's significant UI change and expensive touch hardware make rapid adoption unlikely, says IDC analyst Al Hilwa.

Aggressive marketing may tempt some developers, but it doesn't change the facts on the ground. Developers ultimately need customers to buy their apps. That means Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 need significant adoption, at least in lucrative niche markets, to get their attention.

Microsoft need look no further than BlackBerry to understand that reality's challenge. BlackBerry execs have been crisscrossing the globe bragging for months about all the 70,000 new apps (15,000 were allegedly ported in just the week before the Jan. 30 launch) and developers who've signed up for BlackBerry 10. But the reality is that nearly half of those apps were quick-and-dirty Android ports, and at the BlackBerry 10 launch event a couple weeks ago, BlackBerry executives had to play up "commitments" to develop for Blackberry 10, as there weren't that many significant apps actually available.

This story, "Microsoft evangelists pull page out of BlackBerry handbook," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.