A short while back, I sat in on one of the apps sessions at the CTIA Wireless 2012 show in New Orleans. And it took a long, long time before there was even a mention of Windows Phone – Android and iOS dominated the proceedings.

The US is a market where Microsoft is at home, and where Nokia has placed a significant amount of focus. But despite all of their best efforts, it is clear that in terms of mindset, there is still some way to go.

The last couple of months have shown a mixed picture for Microsoft’s smartphone platform. While there have been positives, there have also been significant negatives, making it difficult to see how things are moving forward.

For example, Samsung announced its Omnia M, the latest device from the South Korean handset number one to use the Windows Phone platform. But the launch caused barely a ripple when compared to the debut of the Android-powered Galaxy S III.

Nokia’s high-end Lumia 900 reached the market, giving Windows Phone a strong contender at the high-end – accompanied by software glitches which saw early customers being refunded.

There were also reports that LG Electronics is putting the platform on the back-burner, in favour of Android for the immediate future.

With devices making their way into China (via HTC and Nokia), and with Microsoft adding new markets to its Windows Phone Marketplace at an impressive rate, the reach of the platform is growing.

But Distimo, for example, noted that the platform does not have the same number of apps available that iOS or Android did at the same stage of their lives. And it has still to become more than a “blip” on the operating system market share charts.

Building a market from scratch is no easy task. Obviously it needs developers, to create appealing apps, but it also needs devices to be put in the hands of consumers. And it is here that Windows Phone has so-far been lacking.

The Microsoft OS is fighting a different battle to Android, when the Google platform was at a similar stage in its life. Android was primarily fighting to gain market share from Symbian, a platform that – with hindsight – was already seriously wounded. And while there have certainly been positive responses to the updates Nokia subsequently made to Symbian OS, by this point in time Android had already started making inroads.

In contrast, Windows Phone is battling with iOS at the high end and Android in the mid-range, both of which already have thriving ecosystems in place. There is no easy ground to be won, and Microsoft’s Windows Phone supporters are all offering devices powered by other OS – primarily Android – creating competition even within a vendor’s portfolio.

There are two things in the platform’s favour. Firstly, Nokia has committed to the OS, to the extent of killing-off its “plan b’s.” While the company has seen its smartphone market share slide, if it can regain even part of its former glory, this will deliver enough volume to pique developers’ interests. Add shipments from others into the mix, and the proposition could swiftly start to look quite appealing.

Secondly, Microsoft has deep enough pockets to support the platform as it grows, at least in the medium term. While the initial reaction to the platform may have been disappointing, Microsoft can afford to let it pick up pace over time, without the immediate need to deliver placed on platforms such as RIM’s planned BlackBerry 10 or HP’s aborted WebOS.

But undoubtedly, some unreserved, positive PR would do the platform a lot of good. And at the moment, it is not immediately clear where this is going to come from.

Steve Costello
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members