One reason that Android has spread so quickly is that Google allows anyone to use the bare bones of the platform for free. This has allowed venders in emerging markets such as Xiaomi and Micromax to crank out dirt-cheap Android handsets that have killer specs and that generate razor-thin margins for manufacturers. Of course, many of these cheapie handsets don’t have access to Android essentials such as the Google Play Store since Google actually does charge a licensing fee for manufacturers that want to use those features, but that doesn’t seem to matter to many buyers who just want an ultra-affordable smartphone.
Microsoft has observed how Android has thrived under these conditions and it’s apparently determined to win the race to the hardware bottom with new policies aimed at getting manufacturers to churn out cheap Windows-based smartphones, tablets and PCs. Paul Thurrott writes that “Microsoft’s real strategy to promote Windows going forward starts where it must, with the hardware makers,” a.k.a., “the companies that abandoned Windows in the smart phone market to focus on the cheaply-licensable (but not really free) Android OS from Google.”
This means that Microsoft has dumped licensing fees for all Windows devices with displays of 9 inches or lower, it’s “removed restrictions and requirements that made it difficult for Android device makers to use their handsets with Windows Phone too” and it’s made it possible to run Windows on low-end hardware.
While this has certainly help get more device manufacturers onboard with making Windows Phones, there are some questions whether this strategy will actually be successful. The biggest issue is whether consumers actually want to buy Windows Phones at all —Richard Yu, the head of Huawei’s consumer business group, said last month that his company has no choice but to stick with Android simply because it’s seen no evidence that there’s any demand for Windows Phone yet.
“We have tried using the Windows Phone OS,” Yu explained to The Wall Street Journal. “But it has been difficult to persuade consumers to buy a Windows phone. It wasn’t profitable for us.”
As we’ve observed in the past, while Windows Phone is a very nice operating system, Microsoft hasn’t really given people a reason to use it other than saying it’s an alternative to iOS and Android. Microsoft can flood the market with dirt-cheap Windows products all it wants but it might also want to think about giving more people a reason to buy into its ecosystem as well.