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Faced with an underperforming stock and slow steps to move its mobile strategy from the drawing board into customers' hands, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) loyal investors would be wise to listen in during its earnings call today for any updates on its ARM-based Windows effort.
Microsoft announced in January that its next version of Windows would support ARM Holdings' (Nasdaq: ARMH ) popular chip designs, which are found in a number of mobile devices from tablet computers to cellphones. Both tablet computers and smartphones are major players in computing's move to new, more mobile designs. And although the Redmond giant gave the industry a sneak peek of its ARM-based Windows 8 technology last month, details were scant on which computer makers it would use, and when such tablets may hit the market.
Any ARM-related nuggets on the earnings call could potentially reveal when Microsoft may become a viable competitor in the rapidly increasing tablet market, which has cannibalized netbooks. Microsoft, which has a presence in netbooks, needs to catch up with Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android tablets, both of which use ARM-based chips.
Consumers have been busy snapping up these tablets. According to Gleacher & Co. analyst Yun Kim, those consumers are king, in that they account for approximately 45% of Microsoft's $4.4 billion in Windows and Windows Live revenues in its fiscal third quarter. ARM-based chips come in a smaller form factor, and they're known for eating up less battery time, which tends to be a big deal for consumers and road-warrior business travelers. Plus, there's an army of companies innovating on basic ARM designs. Besides Apple, computing giants such as Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) , NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) , and Texas Instruments have staked tremendous resources behind their own ARM-based processor designs.
All this commotion about Microsoft's tightening partnership with ARM comes amid Mr. Softy's floundering efforts to get more traction in smartphones, the space which ARM has dominated in recent years. Microsoft was slow to respond to competitors in the smartphone industry after Apple's iPhone release several years ago. But in all fairness, so were a lot of other companies, including Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) and Motorola Mobility. It has yet to be seen whether Microsoft's partnership with knocked-around Nokia will raise sales of Windows Phone 7 once the European handset maker begins using WP7 to run its devices.
A little ARM twisting couldn't hurt in moving Microsoft toward developing its next smartphone operating system.