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Where in the world are the Windows Phones?

Has Microsoft squandered the brand awareness it built at the launch of the Windows Phone platform by not releasing any Windows Phone handsets for a year?

Microsoft's Windows Phone mobile OS has nearly everything it needs to become a dominant third player in the world's smartphone space. It's fast and feature rich, it has a thriving app store with strong developer interest. But there's one crucial aspect missing from this equation: new handsets.

(Credit: CBSi)

We've said it a number of times over recent weeks: 2011 has been a huge year for smartphones and tablets, with as many as 50 new smartphones launching in Australia this year. So it's mind-boggling that we have seen only one Windows Phone handset launch in Australia in the last 12 months, which was released back in January. Since then there has been very little information from Microsoft or its device partners about when we might see a new Windows Phone in Australia, and the result is a loss of what little momentum Microsoft achieved when it launched the new platform last October.

According to Telsyte research director, Foad Fadaghi, Microsoft will lose mobile OS market share in Australia this year, and is expected to finish the year with about a 5 per cent share. The story is worse still for Microsoft, however.

"According to Telsyte's Digital Consumer study, very few respondents intend to buy a Windows Phone in the next 18 months, indicating an awareness and marketing challenge," said Fadaghi.

This is in stark contrast to the growth of the Android OS in Australia, which has enjoyed a steady increase in market share this year, and maintains as much as 42 per cent of the local market as of August. This growth is driven entirely by consumer awareness of what the platform can offer, and this awareness is built around a strong portfolio of products.

The glimmer of hope for Windows Phone is Nokia. We saw a huge buzz around the company's decision to use Windows Phone as its primary smartphone platform and its Lumia 800 and 710 handsets have been well received after launching in the UK, selling as many as 2 million units since the handsets launched a month ago. Analysts at Telsyte are expecting similar enthusiasm for Nokia Windows Phones in Australia, even if this enthusiasm doesn't extend to the Microsoft OS.

"Telsyte expects [Nokia's] strong brand to attract customers who are loyal but not concerned which platform the device is running," said Fadaghi.

This may sound like more bad news for Microsoft, but the same could have been said for early adopters who chose handsets running Google's Android platform two years ago. Android wasn't the most attractive software before 2010 and so it was the lure of HTC's handset design and Sense user experience that drew customers, far more than Android itself.

This year will be remembered as a major setback for Windows Phone, a wasted opportunity on a massive scale, but it won't be the end of the story. Nokia brings new life to the platform, which until now has been hidden inside drab handset design. Nokia's phones look sleek and colourful, and are a welcomed diversion from the glossy black boxes lining the shelves at mobile phone stores. Hopefully, next year Microsoft and Nokia will give us a decent collection of new phones to play with.