x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Windows Phone looks like missed call

A lack of Arabic support and a local applications store could dampen the appeal of the Windows Phone in the Middle East.

Ahmed Adel, the director of developer tools for Microsoft, demonstrates the Mango mobile phone software in Dubai. Jeff Topping /The National
Ahmed Adel, the director of developer tools for Microsoft, demonstrates the Mango mobile phone software in Dubai. Jeff Topping /The National

Microsoft's Windows Phone has been touted as the next "iPhone killer" in the smartphone market.

But a lack of Arabic support or a local applications store could dampen its appeal in the Middle East.

Mango, a version of the Windows Phone operating system with 500 new features, was unveiled at the Burj Al Arab hotel on Tuesday evening, at the same time it was announced in New York.

New functions include multitasking, Facebook-compatible text messages and better integration of contact information with social networking sites.

Microsoft said the operating system would support additional languages, including Czech, Chinese and Norwegian.

But a full Arabic version is still in the pipeline, said Gustavo Fuchs, the director of mobility at Microsoft in the Middle East and Africa.

Microsoft was working on it with Nokia, with which the software company recently signed an agreement for the handset maker to use the Windows Phone operating system, Mr Fuchs said.

"We don't have a timeline yet to have the full user interface in Arabic," he said. "We are working very hard to have all the services of Windows Phone … available locally."

David Ashford, the general manager of AppsArabia, an investment fund supporting mobile applications development in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), said the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) operating system had "huge potential" in the region.

"Microsoft have done it right," he said. "The operating system is superb and I think WP7 will do well in Mena because Nokia is strong here, and all new top-end Nokia smartphones will run WP7."

However, he said the Microsoft Marketplace applications store, which has not officially launched in the Mena region, must support Arabic to be a success.

"It needs to support Arabic language and it needs to be fully available to publishers in this region, and to consumers in this region," said Mr Ashford.

This year, Microsoft launched Yalla Apps, a local website that gives software developers in the Middle East the ability to create mobile apps for Windows Phone devices.

But under this system, developers of paid applications receive only 50 per cent of the revenue from the sale of apps, less than with most other app stores.

"This is not attractive to app entrepreneurs - it needs to be 30 per cent to Microsoft and 70 per cent to the publisher to compete with the other platforms," said Mr Ashford.

Mr Fuchs said Microsoft was working on a full launch of the Marketplace apps store in the Gulf with revenue sharing more favourable to app creators.

"When we launch our Marketplace for developers … developers get 70 per cent of the revenue," he said.

The new Windows Phone operating system is expected to be available free to existing users later this year.

Microsoft this week announced partnerships with the manufacturers ZTE, Fujitsu and Acer to build handsets running the Windows Phone operating system. It currently runs on phones made by HTC, Samsung and LG.

Matthew Reed, an analyst in Dubai with Informa Telecoms & Media, said Windows Phone did not compare favourably with the likes of the iPhone operating system (iOS).

"[We] don't believe it stacks up well against iOS, let alone BlackBerry," said Mr Reed. "Microsoft is still a small player in the operating system market globally and in this region, too. There are only a few handsets that use the system."

However, Mr Reed said Microsoft's partnership with Nokia could change this.

The collaboration "is likely to give MS's system a bigger role. We expect Nokia handsets that use the Microsoft operating system to become available from the end of this year or early next," he said.

bflanagan@thenational.aew