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Thanks to Microsoft, Apple, Nokia lawsuit/licensing triple team, OEMs might be tempted to take the deal

The Verge is citing "sources familiar with Microsoft's plan" as saying that Windows Executive Vice President (EVP) Terry Myerson is considering offering Windows RT and Windows Phone for free.  The move could be a game changer for Microsoft, which is struggling in key mobile markets including budget laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
 
I. Free at Last?
 
Some viewed Microsoft's decision to offer free upgrades to Windows 8.1 for Windows 8 users as a shift in direction; others argued that the release was analogous to a service pack, which Microsoft has traditionally released for free.
 
Needless to say, offering an operating system to OEMs for free would be a far greater seismic shift for Microsoft.  The "official" MSRP is $120 USD for Windows RT, but the rates that Microsoft sells it to OEMs at are individually negotiated.  According to a report by VR-Zone in mid-2012 Microsoft was asking $80-95 USD per license (with the median asking price around $85 USD) for Windows RT tablets.  Following poor pickup of Windows RT, Microsoft reportedly cut licensing fees to $30-45 USD by June 2013, according to reports by ComputerWorld and The Wall Street Journal.

Windows Phone license
Microsoft current charges anywhere from $5 to $30 USD per Windows Phone license.

In Jan. 2012, Chinese phonemaker ZTE Corp. (SHE:000063) revealed in an interview with TrustedReviews (UK) that Microsoft was charging between $20 and 30 USD per Windows Phone 8 license.  Larger OEMs have been rumored to get more favorable deals; Reuters reported in June 2011 that Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930) (the world's biggest smartphone maker) was paying only $10 USD per Windows Phone license.
 
Aside from ZTE's apparent tip, the closest to confirmed licensing rate info we have on Windows Phone comes from financial filings from Finnish phonemaker (and Windows Phone maker) Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V).  While there was a two-way flow of money between Microsoft and Nokia (Microsoft paid Nokia around $1B USD to use Windows Phone over Android), the net direction of the flow was to Microsoft.
Microsoft's Terry Myerson
Windows EVP Terry Myerson is considering free licensing to consumers to drive sales of mobile Windows product.

A 20-F filing by Nokia for fiscal 2012 revealed that Nokia was expected to pay Microsoft €500M ($688M USD) more than it received through the end of 2016.  Given that Nokia shipped 7m Windows Phones in Q1 20137.4m in Q2, and 8.8m in Q3, that works out to something in the neighborhood of 32-35m expected sales for 2013.  Assuming no growth (an unrealistic assumption, as Nokia doubled its Windows Phone sales from 2012 to 2013), sales should work out to 125 - 150 million units through 2016.  That's about $5 a license -- at most -- likely even less (of course, Nokia's devices unit later would be sold to Microsoft scrapping that deal).
 
But in October the rumor mill was buzzing following a Bloomberg report that Microsoft offered HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) free Windows phone licenses, if it commits to a large volume of handsets (perhaps exclusivity).
 
II. Why "Free" is Good for Microsoft's Bottom Line
 
In Q3 market analysis form Interactive Data Corp. (IDC) indicated sales of 8.9m Windows Phone units (indicating Nokia accounted for basically all of the platform's sales).  Windows RT -- the version of PC Windows that runs on CPUs bearing ARM Holdings plc's (LON:ARM) titular licensed architecture -- moved 200,000 units in Q2 2013 (about half a percent of the 51m+ tablets that were sold in Q2).  It's safe to assume that Q3 sales were bad or worse, given that some OEMs bailed on Windows RT with the launch of Intel Corp.'s (INTC) Bay Trail platform.

Windows RT
Windows RT sales are basically nonexistent.  [Image Source: TalkVietnam]
 
So Microsoft’s net loss in revenue had it offered Windows Phone and Windows RT for free to OEMs would have been around $50M USD -- a drop in the bucket for a company that made $5.24B USD last quarter in net income.
 
As the fall of RIM/BlackBerry demonstrated, it's absolutely vital to stay relevant in the mobile consumer market, in order to stay relevant in the enterprise market.  So it's a smart move for Microsoft to sacrifice roughly 1 percent of its net earnings if that expenditure will gain it ground in the mobile market.
 
That brings us to a final point -- will it work?
 
III. Will OEMs Quit Android to Save Money?
 
Currently there's only one major alternative to the Windows OS family in terms of a third party platform -- Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android OS.  Likewise on budget laptops the only widely adopted alternative is Chrome OS.  Chrome OS and Android are "free" to OEMs in the sense that Google doesn't collect license fees and offers to share advertising revenue with the OEMs.  However, these operating systems aren't truly free in the long run.
 
Microsoft has already scored licensing agreements from most Android OEMs, which typically fall in the $5-15 USD range.  Apple, Inc. (AAPL) seems to prefer to simply exclude competitors from the market, but it too will license in some cases (e.g. HTC).  Either way this is yet another cost that is borne by your device sales.  Lastly, there's Nokia, who arguably has the strongest patent portfolio in the industry.  Nokia is trying to squeeze yet a third licensing fee from OEMs.

Provisional patent
The Innovation Act does offer some positive patent reform. [Image Source: InvestorsEye]

The question is whether a free Windows OS would be cheaper.  You know with certainty that Microsoft won’t sue you, so that reduces your potential licensing fees to payments/lawsuits costs with Apple and Nokia.  Further, you're safe from most software patents, as Apple and Nokia have committed to licensing agreements with Microsoft.
 
Thus the only expense you have is potential payments on hardware infringements or infringements on design patents.  As the Nokia v. HTC conflict shows, this can still be an issue -- particularly if you buy your chips in jurisdictions where licensing deals from chipmakers don't transfer to their customers (e.g. Taiwan).  However, even if Windows Phone/Windows RT OEMs are forced into small licensing fees regarding hardware patents or small redesigns to escape design infringement claims, this still will likely be half what a top Android OEM today is paying.

HTC One
The Nokia, Microsoft, and Apple patent licensing/lawsuit triple team may make the "free" Windows Phone the only financially feasible option for some OEMs, like HTC. [Image Source: NeoWin]

If Chrome OS continues to see sales success, expect at least Microsoft to start to demand similar fees from device makers.
 
And if H.R. 3309 Innovation Act of 2013 [PDF] -- the "Innovation Act of 2013" -- makes it through the Senate and is signed into law, that scenario could tilt even further in Microsoft favor, as it could intercede and take over some patent disputes.
 
Simply put together Microsoft, Apple, and Nokia are triple teaming phonemakers.  This approach may eventually make getting the licenses necessary to sell a smartphone or tablet so expensive that Android becomes financially infeasible for top OEMs.  And now Microsoft deftly maneuvering to position itself as a seeming knight in shining armor, and offering "free" licensing -- if you use its OS.
 
Smaller Android OEMs who might be under less legal pressure invariably will have to weigh these financial benefits against the cost of redesigning for a new operating system and the cost to users of having a more limited app selection.
 
But overall free licensing could be a game changer to Microsoft's mobile campaign, and help Microsoft sustain profits in the long term in the enterprise sector, which current drives most of its revenue.

Source: The Verge



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RE: Xp
By Motoman on 12/12/2013 3:57:39 PM , Rating: 2
I know *exactly* how product development works. And product marketing.

I also know that there's a high likelihood that they could re-purpose existing hardware for their initial Windows offerings. Windows phones run on the same hardware platform as Android. So there's not any real reason to believe that the initial effort would be pretty nominal - they're not going to have to engineer a phone from scratch...they can take an existing phone, put Windows on it, test the software on that pre-existing hardware, and roll it into production.

That's a vastly different scenario from having to build something new from scratch...and it's the kind of minor intra-product variation that happens *all the time* in many industries.

Product packaging and distribution is already done. Regulatory approval doesn't change with the OS on the device. For your first foray into the new OS, train a small portion of customer support...if it flops, you won't need to train more. And marketing? Enter the market with mid to low-end devices. The kind that don't really get marketing...they show up in the store and people see them. Samsung doesn't do *any* marketing for, say, the Galaxy Express, for example. But they stock the shelves, and the product sells. Do the litmus test first to see if the market picks up the product variation, and if it does invest more in a higher-end product with dedicated marketing.

quote:
Why take on that large financial risk when a much more mature, more popular, established player already exists?


Because stagnation can be dangerous, and you can get caught with your pants down if your competitors capitalize on a market opportunity that you let go by. The financial risk of putting out a low-to-midrange product, repurposing existing hardware to do so, is almost certainly a rounding error compared to whatever else is going on in the company. And if it isn't...you may be in too much trouble already to survive in any case.

quote:
There is no compelling reason whatsoever for OEM's or consumers to choose Windows Phone over Android.


If this were the case there would be 0 Windows phones on the market and/or 0 of them getting sold. Nokia, at a minimum, would disagree with you on that point. And if making the OS free to the OEM winds up with a phone that costs the consumer substantially less, then that's one huge compelling reason for the consumer to buy one right there. If you're in the market for a midrange phone and you can buy a Galaxy S2 for $200, or a Windows phone with the same specs for $150, that 25% difference in cost is pretty GD compelling. Especially if you aren't married to some app that only exists on Android...and/or if you happen to really like the Windows UI and/or other native features. I've made it known that I hate the Metro interface on a PC...but it might be the bee's knees on a phone.

At any rate, your arguments are flat. I've been there and done this, and this is exactly the kind of small, mitigated risk that an OEM should be willing to take.


"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay














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