Elop talks up Microsoft's mobile game plan

Microsoft’s Stephen Elop says the company has its sights firmly set on Apple in an upbeat keynote address where he outlined the firm’s strategy for smartphones, tablets and the Xbox One gaming console.

Mr Elop’s speech at Microsoft’s Australian Partner Conference on the Gold Coast comes, according to him, “just hours ahead” of the launch of two new Nokia Windows smartphones at the IFA trade event in Berlin.

Nokia is gearing to unveil a new premium model, the Lumia 730, which is tipped to have a large 5 megapixel front-facing camera for taking high-quality ‘selfies’, and a budget Windows Phone, the Lumia 830, with a more high-end oriented PureView camera.

Mr Elop, the former Nokia head who’s now executive vice president of Microsoft’s services group, said he noted the levelling off of tablet sales “that some of our competitors are beginning to report”.

“Here in Australia you can see in the numbers what’s beginning to happen,” he said.

Spruiking Surface Pro 3

He said Australians were frustrated with carrying multiple devices such as both a tablet and laptop. Microsoft is talking up its new Surface Pro 3 tablet as the answer.

“From a competitor perspective with this device, we have our sights squarely set on Apple. That is exactly what we’re doing, competing head on. I don’t mind sharing with you that our model is lighter, it has a better screen, it has touch ... it’s way affordable than the MacBook Air,” Mr Elop said.

In Australia, Surface Pro 3s would be displayed at the entrance to JB Hi-Fi stores with competitor devices placed “way back” in outlets, he said.

He spruiked the benefits of Microsoft’s alternative to Apple’s Siri and Google Now -- Cortana, which he said was a personal assistant that learnt from people’s habits. Cortana could guess when you were asleep and silence the phone, he said.

He said Cortana could remind you that a friend owed you money the next time you talked with them on the phone -- if you had set the appropriate reminder.

Four points of focus

Microsoft’s four areas of focus were its digital work with its partners, the intertwining of personal digital life and work on one device, the cloud-focused nature of its operating system, and its underlying devices and operating systems.

He said Microsoft was undergoing cultural change which involved “obsessing” around customers and having a “challenger mindset”.

“We may have had great success for many years and that may continue for many years ahead but we have to think like a challenger,” Mr Elop said.

He said the focus in developing Lumia phones has shifted from the days of Nokia ownership, where it was about selling handsets, to now showcasing and offering Microsoft’s vast array of services on Windows devices.

He said Microsoft was gearing up to mass produce PPI (Perceptive Pixel) large white board screens. Microsoft acquired PPI in 2012.

Mr Elop said Microsoft would sell its Xbox One gaming console in 29 additional countries in coming weeks. He said that in Australia, the launch of Xbox One was “the single most successful console launch in the history of the country”, due in part to the availability of local content.

While its primary use was gaming, 70 per cent of Australian Xbox users were also using it as their primary source of video content, he said.

Industry figures however indicate rival console maker Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the dominant games console with claims of it outselling the Xbox One by up to two to one.

And in the smartphone business, Microsoft is facing a growing uphill battle in snaring market share from Apple and Google Android devices.

Microsoft had predicted it could snare as much as 15 per cent of the global smartphone market by 2018 but latest figures suggest it is struggling to get anywhere near that goal.

Figures by Australian telco research firm Telsyte show that the Microsoft-Nokia alliance has less than 5 per cent smartphone penetration in Australia.

Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said its poor market share was due to having missed the smartphone boom started by Apple in 2007, and the fact that people were comfortably using iOS and Android phones at work as part of the bring-your-own-device phenomenon.

This had undermined Microsoft’s ability to leverage its huge corporate Windows presence to promote Windows-based phones. “The need to be fully Microsoft in the workplace had diminished,” he said. Telsyte’s research showed a low interest in users wanting to switch from iPhones and Android devices to Microsoft ones, he said.

This story was first published in The Australian.