There's little denying that Apple rules the smartphone world. The company sells just one phone model, yet that sole model constitutes 8.8% - or roughly 1 in 11 - of all worldwide smartphone sales and 73% of profits. iOS is the second most popular smartphone OS in the US after Android with 31.4% of the market (Android has 50.8%). Windows Phone 7, on the other hand, has just 4% of the US smartphone market, yet it's Microsoft that we have to worry about. We're witnessing a Kansas City Shuffle; while everybody is looking left, Microsoft is going right.
Microsoft is a lot like a freight train: it may be fat, bloated, and heavy, but once it finally gets up to speed, it's a force to be reckoned with. There's certainly something to be said for a company that commands about 90% of the US PC market and 40% of the US console market at a time when consoles are becoming less gamey and more comprehensive-entertainment-centery. That's without touching on Microsoft's impending entrance in the tablet game and the upcoming release of Windows RT and Windows 8, nor the early 2013 release of the Xbox 720.
By now, you can probably see where I'm going with this. Odds are very good that your home and work computers both run Windows, and I'm going to guess you use Office on both. Roughly 30 million Xbox 360s have been sold in the US, so I'm going to guess that a fair number of readers may have one of those too. That's our foundation: the company already has a commanding presence in many corners of consumers' lives.
But it's still a bit of a mess. Sure, the 360 has some networked PC integration built in, but any UI or UX consistency between the two is an afterthought, not a perfect fit. Yes, you can use Office on your Windows Phone, but it's not a great experience. What happens when it all comes together, as the company is doing with its next wave of devices? Windows Phone looks like Windows RT, which looks like Windows 8. I'll eat my shoes if the 720 doesn't share the same design language.
Left to right: Windows Phone 7, Windows RT (tablet), Windows 8 (PC). Without the subtitle, would you know which was which?
All three of the above, as well as the Xbox 720, show extreme promise. Now stop and consider: what can be done if virtually every internet-connected aspect of your life shares the same platform? Apps can easily be ported, streaming/transferring/syncing could be a breeze, the cloud could be more powerful than ever, and your portable devices can be windows (hah!) into a bigger screen. Your phone and tablet can act as seamless companions to your TV or PC, becoming a complementing screen for auxiliary information or a unique controllers. It's a lot more fun to play a racing game on your phone or tablet than it is on your PC because you actually have to interact, but you're still limited to a small screen. Imagine that same interactivity but on your PC or TV screen. The Wii U is child's play by comparison.
Obviously, there's a big catch here, and it's one of MSFT's most infamous weaknesses: they have to follow through. A lack of corporate focus has often resulted in poor quality for the company in the past, and products/services with a world of potential have been absolutely ruined by a lack of attention to detail. Bill Gates famously sent an email to his senior people absolutely slamming Windows Usability - seriously, it's like 2 pages long and describes how excruciating Microsoft can make user experience.
Lately, though, the company has been doing pretty damn well, and as previously mentioned, their upcoming products and services show a world of potential. While I don't think Microsoft's next wave will be perfect out of the gate, I think they will be impressive enough to drive growth across the board.
Google and Apple offer fantastic products and services, but they don't command your den, your office, your living room, and your productivity. That's Microsoft's Trojan Horse, and that's why it's the biggest threat to Android.