Microsoft's Mobile Ambition: Not Dead Yet

You can be forgiven for writing off Microsoft's mobile future. Given that Apple's operating income for its iPhone and iPad devices nearly surpasses Microsoft's total revenue, or that Google's Android market share makes Windows Mobile's share look like a rounding error, it's easy to disregard Microsoft's chances in mobile. That is, unless you're a CIO. Within the enterprise, CIOs continue to rate Microsoft above all other vendors, giving Microsoft some breathing room.

The question is, how much?

The CIO's Pick

Microsoft's Windows Mobile doesn't show up in IDC's latest numbers.  While IDC declares that Windows Phone/Windows Mobile made "market-beating" progress in the fourth quarter of 2012, with sales of Windows-based smartphones up 400% year over year, Android and iOS still combined to claim 87% of the 722 million smartphones shipped globally in 2012. Microsoft's share? Just 3%, according to Gartner.

Yet in Piper Jaffray's quarterly CIO Survey released last week, a full 45% of CIOs picked Microsoft as their most indispensable "mega-vendor." This may not sound like much, but the second-place vendor, Oracle, got half as many CIO votes. The next few vendors include SAP, Cisco, IBM, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Apple, which got a mere 4%. The reports authors note:

CIOs state that 'there are really no alternatives to Microsoft. [Others said] 'MS services are getting better and will allow us to move more to the cloud,' and 'we are highly invested in their technologies and dependent on them extending their platforms.'

We believe Microsoft's dominance in the enterprise is underappreciated, and some of the threats against Microsoft, such as alternatives to the Windows desktop OS in the enterprise or productivity software, may be over-hyped in the near term. That said, keep in mind that our CIO survey does not address the large consumer business for Microsoft, which faces much more intense competitive pressures than its enterprise business.

In other words, whatever CIOs may want to buy, their employees are purchasing iOS and Android devices in droves. 

Even so, developer interest in the Windows platform may yet save Microsoft.

Sexiest Nun In The Mega-Vendor Convent

Despite its stumbles in mobile, developers continue to hold out hope. At least, developers of a certain age and vocation. According to a new Evans Data developer survey, Microsoft was picked as having "top relevance" among two-thirds of the 450 surveyed, and claimed the top spot among 90% of developers aged 46-50. Google came in second, and was listed as the mobile company set to dominate within three years. Apple? It came in fifth.

Yes, fifth.

Which, frankly, hardly seems credible. Commenting on the results, Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin suggests:

I’m not surprised Microsoft is big with an older generation of developers, but what does that tell you? They’re sticking with a platform they’re comfortable with and hoping Microsoft hits it big. I’d be surprised if any of these developers who say they’re big on Microsoft or Android are not also supporting Apple. They have to be if they want to make any money.

Such results start to make sense if we separate developer interest from enterprise imperatives. According to Appcelerator's quarterly mobile developer survey, iOS and Android interest dwarfs that of Windows:

Source: Appcelerator, 2013 Source: Appcelerator, 2013

But among the enterprise mega-vendors, the few companies that control the vast majority of enterprise IT budgets, Microsoft tops the field as showing the most leadership in mobile among these same survey respondents:

Source: Appcelerator, 2013 Source: Appcelerator, 2013

This may not seem like a big deal ("Sexiest nun in the convent"), but given that 73% of enterprises have developed and deployed fewer than five applications, the mobile enterprise is still wide open. Keeping in mind Microsoft's clout with CIOs, even Microsoft's anemic 28% "leadership" rating could be enough to pave its way to significant traction within the enterprise.

Redmond's Fighting Chance

All that said, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon has largely rendered CIO edicts as to device preferences futile. IT has become an order-taker, rather than an order-giver, with regard to mobile devices. Microsoft may be cool with the suits, but it has yet to demonstrate that it can turn the heads of mobile developers.

Even so, it's too soon to count out Microsoft's mobile hopes. Not while it retains such fealty from enterprise CIOs and developers. With Microsoft CFO Peter Klein suggesting that Microsoft is closing in on "write once, run anywhere" cross-platform capability for Windows 8 to run across a wide array of form factors, which would allow the enterprise to have its cake (Windows desktop development) and eat it, too (Windows mobile devices), Microsoft's enterprise value proposition may be too tempting to ignore.