Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8 and the first batch of devices that ran the new platform back in September. That included the HTC Windows Phone 8X, the Windows Phone 8S, the Samsung ATIV S and the Nokia Lumia 920. Since then, however, Nokia has been the only company to push forward with new Windows Phone devices, and the Finnish phone maker is doing so at a steady rate. No surprise there; Nokia is betting its future on Windows Phone and works closely with Microsoft.
While HTC and Samsung have pushed forward quickly with plenty of new Android smartphones since Sept., neither firm has announced a Windows Phone 8 device since the fall. Either Windows Phone is a second thought to both phone makers (it very likely is) or Microsoft scared its partners off by buddying up with Nokia. I wonder if HTC and Samsung fear that, because of Microsoft's strong partnership with Nokia, there's no reason to spend money developing new devices for the platform. Nokia, after all, will likely receive the marketing money to push its own devices. Samsung and HTC, on the other side of the coin, are placing big bets on Android. The Galaxy S4 has been a resounding success for Samsung and HTC's president is betting his own job on the success of the HTC One. Why focus on Windows Phone at all?
So what happens to Nokia if Microsoft develops its own Windows Phone devices? That approach seems almost inevitable. Microsoft will be able to control the entire process, from building the device to adding, very likely, exclusive software features and other options. It has the power to do so, too: the company released its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets under its own brand.
It's a scary scenario for Nokia. If Microsoft adds features to its own Windows Phone devices that aren't available anywhere else, the company may steal coveted market share from Nokia, a firm that desperately needs growth in the U.S. and continued success in emerging markets. I fear that one killer feature could be tight integration with the company's new Xbox One gaming console, which is due out before the holidays. If Microsoft follows its Windows Phone 8 release pattern, we'll see a new version of the mobile OS in Sept., right before the console's launch.
What then, will Microsoft's Windows Phone partners do? Will it scare off Nokia? Thankfully the Finnish phone maker has its own killer camera hardware that still offers a compelling option to consumers looking for a great photo experience. We wonder, though, if HTC and Samsung will abandon the platform altogether, or simply release another couple of devices to coast out the rest of 2013 and 2014. It seems there's no real reason for either manufacturer to put a real focus on Windows Phone.
I think we need to hear Microsoft's plans sooner than later. At this point Windows Phone 8 is looking stale compared to the offerings from Android, and iOS 7 will likely be unveiled on June 10. It would do the company good to announce its plans for Windows Phone sometime this summer so that customers know what's coming down the pipeline. Otherwise I imagine most consumers will gravitate to the Galaxy S4, HTC One or the iPhone 5S well before the next iteration of Windows Phone rears its head.