Firefox OS adds to pressure on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 OS

Newcomers like Firefox OS, and big competitors like Android, iPhone push Microsoft to refine Windows Phone marketing plan

BARCELONA, Spain -- The emergence of the Firefox OS is just one more reason that Microsoft and BlackBerry will need to sharpen their marketing savvy to sell more smartphones in 2013.

Microsoft officials at Mobile World Congress (MWC) here conceded that the company's Windows Phone 8 platform must be differentiated from the technology of market leaders Android and iPhone as well as newcomers like Firefox in order to grow above a 5% share of the smartphone market.

"Firefox's arrival indicates the smartphone industry is so competitive and dynamic," said Greg Sullivan, a senior product manager for Windows Phone, in an interview with Computerworld at the Mobile World Congress here this week. "It's far from game over in the mobile space."

It seems obvious that Firefox will run on lower-cost smartphones, but the market is still waiting to see what kinds of devices emerge to run it. Meanwhile, Windows Phone can produce a high-quality user experience across a variety of low- and high-end devices, Sullivan contended.

Nokia's Windows Phone 8-based Lumia 920 offers "killer hardware," Sullivan said, adding that the company this week also introduced the Lumia 520 and Lumia 720. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop called the new phones a bid to "push innovation to more people." (Only the Lumia 520 will be sold in the U.S., by T-Mobile, so far.)

Microsoft didn't have a booth at MWC, but used shuttle buses to ferry reporters to a hotel where officials showed off how a Windows Phone 8 lets users run an application over various platforms, including a PC and Xbox in a combined Microsoft "ecosystem," Sullivan said.

"The notion is that I have all different ways to get to stuff," Sullivan said.

Microsoft officials here conceded that the company needs to do a better job of showing consumers that they can run Office 360, Excel and other productivity apps on various kinds of computers -- a message Microsoft tried to spread when Windows Phone 7 was first introduced.

Still, users have complained that they must pay for three different versions of many games and apps to run them on three different platforms, such as Xbox, PC and smartphone.

During a demonstration of the Skulls of the Shogun game, a Microsoft marketing official said that he had to buy three versions of the game for Xbox, a Windows Phone 8 and a laptop, which cost $25 in total.

Sullivan said it is possible that Microsoft will eventually have a single app store for buying applications that work on different devices. So far, Windows Phone and Windows 8 share the same kernel, but are not synonymous and need to be different to allow app developers to accommodate different screen sizes and resolutions and many other factors, Sullivan said.

Windows Phone has attracted honors and recognition for some basics, including its "live tiles" concept on the interface that allows a person to set up a "theoretically endless" number of applications to run on the home screen, Sullivan said.

BlackBerry picked up some of the live tile concept in its new BlackBerry 10 smartphone, the Z10, and some Android phones are even showing design (if not function) similarities to the live tiles concept, Sullivan said.

"It's flattering to see others adopt elements of the Windows Phone design and philosophy," he said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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