Despite iOS and Android's huge consumer mobile sales and the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) policies, Microsoft still has a shot at becoming the dominant force in mobile enterprise.
Business connectivity, SharePoint and Office integration for Windows Phone 8 will earn it many friends in the enterprise. And Microsoft will place increasing emphasis on its mobile offering as the desktop market continues to stagnate. As sales rise, developers are returning to populate the app marketplace.
On the Way Back Up
While the Microsoft mobile comeback might be at quite an early stage, as expertly summarized by Paul Thurrott, it has the potential to return as a major force in the enterprise. Windows Phones may never garner the following of Android or iOS among consumers. But the strength of Microsoft's enterprise tools and the move to enterprise mobility could propel an interesting turn around in that space.
As we see BlackBerry refocus on the enterprise, Microsoft, having been able to do little right recently, is learning the lessons from its rivals and pushing its devices at the productivity crowd. From small things a recent remote control app to devices becoming an extension of Dynamics CRM, SharePoint and other key enablers, Microsoft is putting Windows Phone 8 devices firmly at the forefront of IT buyers and business users' minds.
Fast forward six months or so from now, and as Nokia and Microsoft become one entity, it can drive those devices as part of combined offerings to business. Microsoft can tie in and integrate business software and hardware in ways that its rivals can't, leaving it ahead of the pack. So Lync is integrated into the Windows Phone OS, even as it offers discrete apps for iOS and Android devices.
It is not hard to imagine Yammer, Skype, SharePoint and Office apps on Windows Phone being better specified and offer exclusive features to keep them a step ahead. How long before Windows Phone users get discounted or free Office 365 subscriptions? Yes, there are third-party apps for SharePoint on other devices, but pure integration is usually preferred by IT.
Stalking the Charts
Windows Phone is already back to No. 3 in the overall mobile rankings by device sales, thanks largely to Nokia's efforts. It would be useful for the analysts to breakdown sales by business and consumer, and with Android's ranking skewed huge numbers of cheap devices, the reality is probably a lot different.
As businesses, executives and power users come to upgrade the increasing prominence of Windows Phone will see it added to their buying options. Once there's a proven case that Windows Phone work better with enterprise apps, then it will be hard for buyers to justify other devices. And with Nokia and Microsoft now selling a compelling tablet offering, it can appeal across the productivity spectrum.
Finally, there's the inevitable acknowledgement that desktop sales won't see some miracle recovery as many CIOs focus on a mobile future. We could eventually see a time when Microsoft's user-apps lead on the mobile platform, won't that be a strange world.
Adding it All Together
If that sales snowball begins to roll then there is little Apple and Android firms can do, beyond better volume deals and tighter security features like Knox from Samsung or Apple's iOS 7 improvements plus Google's own business aspirations. BYOD can only get them so far.
As Windows Phone sales grow, and continue to do so, the developers are returning with signs of enthusiasm already showing. The Marketplace may have just passed 200,000 apps, but enterprises only need to see enough business and productivity apps for them to feel more confident in Windows Phone.
Of course, there's plenty that could go wrong here. The Nokia deal still isn't 100% complete. Microsoft's new CEO could have other ideas and If it starts racking up dominating enterprise sales, there are all manner of anti-competitive angles that rivals can take.
Still, as we've seen with BlackBerry, things move pretty fast in mobile, but Microsoft is the one with the tools and financial firepower, and expertise to secure a renaissance. Would you be surprised if Microsoft pulled this one out of the bag? Or are the odds still on the company managing to fluff this effort too.