Windows Phone: Is any relief coming?

Latest numbers show Microsoft's mobile market share continues to sink, but leaked Windows Phone road map raises some hope

The latest Mobile Subscriber Market Share report from ComScore shows Microsoft's average share of smartphone subscribers in the United States has fallen yet again, from 5.7 percent in the three months ending August 2011, to 5.2 percent in the period ending November 2011. It's a significant hit, specifically because ComScore measures the total number of subscribers, not the number of new smartphones purchased, and the number of Windows Phones purchased in the United States is approaching oxymoron territory.

A Microsoft planning graphic leaked last week has brought a ray of hope to the Microsoft faithful, but the situation for Windows Phone is bound to get worse -- much worse -- before it gets better.

And the downward trend through the end of November pales in comparison to what happened over the holidays, when the market had Android and iPhone written all over it. Windows Phone didn't even rate a cameo as Ghost of Christmas Past.

Back on Dec. 21, Android head Andy Rubin tweeted that Google was activating 700,000 Android devices a day. One week later, Andy tweeted that Google had activated a total of 3.7 million new devices over the two-day period Dec. 24-25.

We haven't heard officially from Apple, but a company called Flurry Analytics claims to be able to track total activations for Android and iOS, via mobile applications that use their services, and it pegged the total activations for both platforms combined at 1.5 million per day during December, peaking at 6.8 million on Dec. 25. Give or take a bit,  Flurry Analytic's numbers indicate iOS and Android activations were in the same ballpark in December, and all together Android and iOS added 50 million or so new devices.

Windows Phone fans have reason for some optimism. Windows Phone enthusiast site WMPoweruser leaked a small graphic that appears to confirm Microsoft's Phone "game plan" as of last October. The graphic lists the Windows Phone 7 initial launch in Q4 2010, and the "Mango" update in Q4 2011. It then lists a new effort called "Tango" in 2Q 2012 aimed at "products with the best prices," and a fourth project called "Apollo" in Q4 2012 with three objectives: increase overall volume, produce competitive superphones, and appeal to business customers.

But the fact that the graphic seems to represent the state of Windows Phone planning prior to Windows Phone president Andy Lees's dismissal should add a large grain of salt to any analysis. The "Tango" project, subject of rumors for many months now, looks like it'll kick off at CES this month. If the graphic is accurate, it sounds like an excuse for Nokia to get back into the low-end market, and nothing more. The "Apollo" project states the obvious -- Microsoft will try to get back in the smartphone game by the end of 2012 -- but surely the game plan for "Apollo" changed markedly with Lees's departure. I'm still betting that Windows Phone will get hitched to the Windows 8 juggernaut, most likely with Windows honcho Steve Sinofsky in charge of the mobile platform as well.

"Windows Phone 7 Secrets" author and Microsoft observer Paul Thurrott claims to have seen internal documents that say three handsets running Windows Phone 7 will run on AT&T's LTE network "before the middle of 2012." Paul says the less-capable Nokia Lumia 710 is due on T-Mobile next week and on Verizon in April, though it's unclear whether the Lumia 710 will run "Mango" or "Tango." To some that sounds like a hopeful development. To others it smacks of me-too and also-ran.

Can Microsoft pull it off? Consumers have shunned Microsoft smartphones in droves. Carrier retail reps scoff. There's no sizzle, no buzz. The one gaping market -- enterprise, which seems to have been shunned by RIM -- could use a new champion. But Microsoft certainly isn't ready to fill RIM's shoes. Six or eight months from now, a rebranded Windows Phone 8 launched in conjunction with Windows 8 might turn a few IT heads. But then it becomes a question of whether IT champions can convince legions of iPhone, iPad, and Android users to abandon their well-entrenched devices ... for what? Better security? More corporate control? A bigger Big Brother?

Would you, personally, buy a version 1 Windows 8 phone or tablet when you could have an iPhone 5 or iPad 3 or an Android Koconut?

Microsoft's going to have a helluva tough sell.

This story, "Windows Phone: Is any relief coming?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. 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 InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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