What makes him powerful: Following the autumn retirement of Microsoft's longtime Entertainment and Devices President Robbie Bach, Andrew Lees is now unquestionably the face of the software giant's mobile efforts. A 20-year company veteran, Lees spent the majority of 2010 spearheading the creation of Windows Phone 7, the mobile operating system overhaul that most pundits feel represents the company's last gasp at relevance in the smartphone segment. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA will introduce Windows Phone 7 to the U.S. consumer market this month--initial reviews are mixed, but Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to divert consumer attention from the iPhone and Android, and plans to spend up to a reported $500 million on marketing. It has no choice: According to recent comScore data, Windows Mobile presently makes up just 10 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, down from 12.8 percent in the second quarter and far behind pacesetters BlackBerry, iOS and Android.
Microsoft first announced Windows Phone 7 in mid-February during the annual Mobile World Congress event. Promising an experience distinguished by a more user-friendly design, Windows Phone 7 includes a series of "hubs" integrating related content from the web, applications and services, as well as the Xbox and Zune multimedia platforms. According to Microsoft, WP7 is the most thoroughly tested mobile platform the company has ever released--in addition to nearly 10,000 devices running automated tests daily, the OS was subjected to more than 500,000 hours of active self-hosting use, more than 3.5 million hours of stress test passes and 8.5 million hours of fully automated test passes. Windows Phone 7 struggled to attract the interest of mobile developers, however--Microsoft earlier this year confirmed it is offering financial incentives to stir interest in the platform, providing everything from free tools and trial handsets to software development funding, even offering revenue guarantees in the event apps fail to sell as expected. As of late October, more than 12,000 Windows Phone 7 developers have registered to market their applications via Microsoft's Windows Phone Marketplace storefront when it goes live later this month, with the developer ranks increasing 40 percent over the last month alone.
The success or failure of Windows Phone 7 inevitably will define Lees' tenure as Microsoft's mobile czar--and frankly, failure is not an option. Lees' résumé already bears the stain of the Kin One and Kin Two, a pair of social networking-themed phones designed by Microsoft and manufactured by Sharp that were introduced by Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) in May and supported with a full-scale nationwide advertising campaign, Kin device sales reportedly numbered only about 500 total when Microsoft abruptly discontinued the initiative in late June.
Microsoft also has struggled to gain a foothold in mobile search--digital ad network Chitika recently reported that Google carries about 97 percent of all search traffic on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, with Yahoo at 2.25 percent and Microsoft's Bing responsible for just 0.58 percent. Given that Microsoft almost certainly won't abandon the mobile software market, chances are there will be a Windows Phone 8 sometime in the future--but if WP7 doesn't improve the platform's fortunes significantly, it's doubtful Lees will still be along for the ride. --Jason