Maybe it's not too late for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) to matter in the smartphone space.
Sure, the once-ballyhooed arrival of Windows Phone 7 has apparently denigrated to a mere whimper. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) owns the premium space. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) has cornered the corporate realm. Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) open source Android has dibs on everything else.
However, Microsoft's decision to make Xbox Live a key component of its smartphone platform may be a dinner bell to die-hard gamers in the market for a new phone.
Microsoft is announcing dozens of titles that will be available during the fall launch, and -- pardon my choice of words -- but Mr. Softy isn't simply phoning it in. We're talking about entries from the Xbox-defining Halo franchise and even Activision Blizzard's (Nasdaq: ATVI ) Guitar Hero 5.
No one is going to catch Apple's App Store for now, but can Microsoft prove that quality can trump quantity -- if, in fact, Microsoft is able to deliver a superior gaming experience among smartphones?
One can't underestimate the Xbox community as a shoehorn. When Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) chose to stream exclusively through Xbox Live, more than a million subscribers activated the feature within a few months -- and this was when streaming through home theaters was still a novel niche in its infancy.
On the other hand, Microsoft's Zune has yet to make a material dent among portable media players despite its link to casual gaming. Even GameStop (NYSE: GME ) -- an Xbox fan boy hangout if there ever was one -- booted the Zune from its stores two years ago.
Microsoft's real test will come quickly. Once the games are out in the wild, that's when the viral gravy will start to kick in. After all, if crowds begin gathering around the teen playing proprietary Windows Phone 7 games -- and these titles will come, as the software giant has a dedicated team of developers working on this -- more gamers will tire of angry birds or zombie-crushing plants and want a Windows 7 Phone.
Microsoft still has an uphill battle here. It's the price to be paid for arriving unfashionably late. However, it clearly wants to play to win -- in more ways than one.
Does Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 stand a chance? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.