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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Microsoft Faces \'Year of Reckoning\' in Mobile Software, IDC Says

In its top 10 predictions for 2013, published on Thursday, the technology research firm IDC declares that next year will be high noon for Microsoft‘s mobile software.

It makes that prediction based on data and a point of view. A crucial constituency, IDC says, is developer support for a company's technology. “Mobile platforms that fail to crack the 50 percent barrier of developers who are ‘very interested' in developing apps for them,” the IDC report states, “will be on a gradual track to demise.” So IDC declares 2013 will be “a year of reckoning in mobile software.”

So what platforms die?

In cooperation with Appcelerator, a maker of programming tools, IDC conducts quarterly surveys of more than 4,800 mobile applications developers. In its most recent survey, 33 percent of developers replied they were “very interested” in writing applications for Windows 8 tablets, and 21 percent for Windows Phone 7 software.

For those wondering about the cliff Research in Motion must climb rather than fall over, just 9 percent of developers in the IDC survey said they were very interested in writing applications for RIM's Blackberry phones, and 8 percent for its PlayBook tablet.

By contrast, 85 percent of the developers were very interested in writing programs for Apple‘s iOS software on the iPhone, and 83 percent for the iPad. Google‘s Android Phone software was next, at 76 percent, and Android tablets at 66 percent. And 66 percent of developers were very interested in writing mobile applications with open-standard Web software, HTML5.

The numbers certainly suggest Microsoft has its work cut out for it. In an interview, Frank Gens, IDC's chief analyst, noted that with Microsoft's new Surface tablet, the company had an impressive piece of hardware to show off its tablet software. And its partnership with Nokia means Microsoft has a committed ally in the smartphone market.

“Now the pieces ar e together,” Mr. Gens said. “But will the developers come?”

Developers, of course, are but one of two engines Microsoft needs to become a challenger in the mobile market. The other is consumers, since developers follow consumers, whose purchasing decisions determine which are the most attractive products, both hardware and software. That is the network-effect flywheel that drives technology markets.

The stakes for Microsoft in the mobile market are underlined elsewhere in the IDC report. IDC predicts, for example, that worldwide spending on information technology will increase 5.7 percent in 2013, to more than $2.1 trillion. The growth rate is off slightly from an estimated 6.2 percent in 2012, mainly because of cooling demand in a few overseas markets, notably China.

But the increase in technology spending, Mr. Gens said, is still about double global economic growth. But take out the boom in smartphones and tablets, and projected technology spending growth would be only 2.9 percent in 2013.

“Without mobile, this starts to look like a pretty mature industry,” Mr. Gens said.