Author(s): Peter Bryer
Fans of popular smart home devices such as Philips' Hue or the Nest Thermostat are unlikely to become Windows Phone users: while there are some impressive third-party apps for those products on Microsoft's Store, there are no official product applications. It's an evident gap for many Windows Phone owners and a discouraging fact for potential smartphone platform converts. Becoming a Windows Phone user still entails some sacrifices.
But there has been some forward momentum lately. On 28 July the maker of the Fitbit fitness band announced a native app for Windows Phone 8.1. This was an encouraging sign that Microsoft is working on gaining respect and support for its platform. Fitbit is a hip wearable and support gives Microsoft a boost to its reputation.
A few days earlier the on-demand ride service Uber also released an official Windows Phone application. Given the headlines such car services have been making lately, Uber's absence from the Windows Phone Store was widely noticed. But Uber's popular competitor Lyft has no plans to support Windows Phone, stating it's happy with the business it gets from Android and iOS users. Microsoft has reached a halfway point and again smartphone users who have done their homework are forced to make a judgement call.
Microsoft's recent acknowledgement that the company really only has 14 percent of computing users when mobility is taken into account means the company needs to take some quick action. It's in an odd position of being a second-tier player looking up at a duopoly. It's challenging to take on a challenger's mind-set, and the company realizes this. In the longer term, Microsoft's "universal" apps approach, which shares code across platforms, should help in attracting developers, but the current app gap in mobile needs immediate action (SeeEvent Report: Microsoft Build 2014). Despite progress for Windows Phone in a few countries, it needs more killer apps from developers. This will mean investments by Microsoft, but given its marginal presence in most major mobile markets, it's something the company can't risk not doing.
If cutting-edge products like colour-changing smart light bulbs and intelligent thermostats don't support Windows Phone, it'll be difficult for Microsoft to claim it's on the bleeding edge of the connected world. There have been some big leaps forward over the past few months for Windows Phone, but there's still a lot of catching up to do. Microsoft is still in danger of getting locked out.