Microsoft Targets Long-Term Growth With Free Windows Mobile OS

BMI View: We believe Microsoft's Windows Mobile 8.1 OS will continue to struggle in the Middle East's Consumer Electronics (CE) market in the short term, despite the free licence offer and the potential for windows-based devices to become more price-competitive on the back of a possible decline of their average selling prices (ASPs). Our view is based on Microsoft's late arrival in the mobile OS market as well as Windows Mobile's weak apps ecosystem, especially for Arabic content, compared to its major rivals.

Microsoft Wants A Bigger Share
UAE Handset Sales Growth

The Middle East has a very vibrant smartphone and tablet market, driven by the rapid development of 3G/4G networks and Wi-Fi hotspots across the region, particularly the GCC states. Tablet sales rose by 82% y-o-y in Q413, according to IDC, compared to a 9.7% y-o-y decline in PC sales in FY13. Some of the leading local OEMS, including Touchmate, Prestegio and HCL, have recorded strong volume sales, especially with low-cost models. The uptake of 3G/4G subscriptions across the region reflects the growth trajectory of the smartphone market. 3G/4G subscription as a proportion of total mobile subscriptions exceeded 40% in the UAE at the end of 2013, according to BMI data, and is forecast to rise to nearly 80% by 2018.

Microsoft is keen to tap into this growth by allowing OEM partners and white label brands to install the Windows Mobile 8.1 OS on their devices for free. The company revealed the offer at the Build 2014 conference in the US on April 2 2014 and introduced it to OEMs in the Middle East at an expo for the members of the Dubai Computer Group (DCG) in May. According to Microsoft, OEMs and white label brands will be able to install the OS on smartphones and tablets with screen sizes of 9-inches or below. Microsoft's move is part of a strategy to gain a foothold in the mobile devices OS market, which is currently dominated by rivals Apple and Google through their respective platforms, iOS and Android.

In the Middle East, we expect Windows Mobile to continue to underperform in the premium and low-cost segments, at least in the short term, considering recent market trends. Apple dominates the top end of the market with its range of iPhone and iPad products, although Android, with strong support from leading OEMs such as Samsung and HTC, is gaining popularity. According to the UAE's telecoms regulator, the TRA, Apple's iPhone 5 had the biggest market share in the smartphone category on UAE's mobile networks at the end of 2013, followed by the Samsung SIII, iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and BlackBerry Bold 9900 in that order. However, Android was the major outperformer in the three months to December 2013, nearly doubling its share of the market to 23%. This indicates the growing popularity of Samsung, Huawei, HTC and other Android-based smartphones in the UAE.

Despite our bearish short-term view of Windows Mobile, we do not rule out stronger uptake in the medium to long term on the back of some positive factors, including Microsoft's recent acquisition of handset OEM Nokia. Furthermore, the launch of universal apps which allow developers to build apps that work on Windows 8.1 tablets as well as Windows Phone 8.1 devices, and the offer of free Microsoft Office 365 for one year on the devices are further positive developments. According to the TRA, Nokia still dominates the overall handset market, with 51% of all handsets registered on UAE networks in Q413 manufactured by the vendor. We believe the brand sits in a similar dominant position in other markets in the region, a situation Microsoft will look to take advantage of by installing in the Windows Mobile OS in more Nokia devices.

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Telecommunications, Consumer Electronics
Geography: United Arab Emirates

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