The day has arrived that many people thought would never come: Microsoft has signed a deal to give away Windows Phone for free to two Indian phone makers. If it works, free Windows Phone could be the wave of the future. But can even that save the struggling smartphone operating system?
The Times of India reports that Microsoft has waived Windows Phone licensing fees for at least two Indian manufacturers -- Lava and Karbonn. Their Windows Phone handsets are expected to be released in a few months. The newspaper notes that Microsoft has been negotiating with Indian manufacturers about producing low-cost Windows Phones since some time last year, and that the two manufacturers only agreed to make Windows Phones when Microsoft waived the Windows Phone licensing fees.
The newspaper reports a senior executive at one of the companies as saying:
"For our planned Windows Phone handsets, we are not paying Microsoft a licence fee. The company is obviously exploring new models for Windows Phone. It must have realized that the older model where it licenced the OS did not work out well, even with Nokia's support."
Another senior executive told the newspaper:
"Free Windows Phone is part of a strategic partnership. For both Microsoft and us, it is an experiment. Windows Phone still doesn't have lot of appeal in the market but now that it doesn't have any licence fee, it becomes easier for us to experiment with it."
Not exactly ringing endorsements, are they? From the sound of things, the phone makers don't expect the world to come flocking to Windows Phone devices. Manasi Yadav, a senior market analyst at IDC, echoed their feelings, telling the newspaper:
"If Microsoft has decided to waive the licence fee for Windows Phone, it is great news for local phone makers. Local phone makers are comfortable with Android. They are still not sure of the appeal of Windows Phone. If the OS is free to use, they will feel more confident while experimenting with it in the market."
Clearly, this is a desperate move on Microsoft's part to help out Windows Phone. And it's not the only one. Microsoft is also embracing a dual-boot Windows Phone-Android strategy, in which manufacturers will be allowed to build phones that boot to either Windows Phone or Android. Shao Yang, Chief Marketing Officer China-based Huawei, told TrustedReviews that it will be making a dual-boot Windows Phone-Android device, which will be sold in the U.S. within six months.
Again, though, his endorsement was not exactly whole-hearted. He told TrustedReviews:
"Compared with Android, the priority of Windows Phone is much lower but is still one of our choices of OS. We are definitely using a multi OS strategy...If it is Windows only, maybe people will not find it as easy a decision to buy the phone. If they have the Android and Windows together, you can change it as you wish and it is much easier for people to choose Windows Phone."
Microsoft needs to do something to save the struggling operating system, which will have a worldwide market share of only 3.9% throughout this year, estimates IDC. Free is the right way to go, because it's the only way manufacturers will be willing to gamble on it. Microsoft will be following Google's lead in hoping to make money via services such as Bing, Outlook.com on mobile, rather than on licensing fees.
As to whether that will work, it will be quite some time before we know. But watching Windows Phone's uptake in India after the release of the license-free Windows Phones will be the first clue to examine.