Sounds like a beautiful dream...
There is no question that Microsoft has made a few big moves in the tech world over the last couple of months. They have seemed to have thrown caution to the wind in the pursuit of advancement, and in the process stepped on a few toes. With the announcement of the Surface and the Surface Pro, Microsoft sent a clear message to their partner manufacturers that they aren't waiting around for innovation to come knocking at their door. The announcement of HTC as their leading partner in Windows Phone 8 development left many wondering where Nokia was left standing. Even the new changes in their operating system, Windows 8, has left many consumers confused, trapped in an awkward universe where "the desktop" still reigns supreme. Clearly Microsoft isn't afraid to get their hands dirty, but why stop there?
Google's recent release of the Nexus 4 has opened many eyes to a new paradigm. A beautifully designed, top tier device with no carrier restrictions and a staggering price point of only $299 is a wonderful fantasy coming to life. It lends thoughts of finally breaking free from the bonds of carrier contracts, and stepping into a new age of reasonably priced mobile service, and month by month commitments. With this release Google has primed itself to serve as the "people's champion" against the tyrannical major U.S. carriers. However Google hasn't changed the game yet. They have neglected to provide the Nexus 4 with an LTE radio, which is a major point of contention for most consumers. Even if Google did release a reasonably priced carrier unlocked phone, would the absence of a subsidy contract be enough to way the market away from the current system? Perhaps Google isn't able to offer enough at the moment to release us from our bonds of servitude.
One of the few other major players remaining in the mobile market is Apple. Apple has shown in the past that they aren't afraid to stand up to carrier demands. However apple already has an unlocked version of their phone, and it comes nowhere near to the wonderfully plausible price point that Google's Nexus 4 has attained. Apple seems more willing to stand with carriers as long as they continue to rake in cash.
This brings us back to Microsoft. Arguably the only other viable smartphone operating system in the market, Microsoft seems open to new conventions, and adamant about staking their claim in mobile technologies. Though they have a relatively low market share, they have very large pockets. Their large bank account has allowed Microsoft to make rapid innovations within the last year. Microsoft has shown a clear desire to remain relevant within the future of consumer technologies, and may continue to push the envelope. They have several new phones running Windows 8, with hardware that would make any mobile geek drool. However many consumers may be hesitant to try out the new mobile operating system, when doing so locks them into a two year contract with a wireless carrier. Why should anyone take a chance with new software when they have so much to lose, especially when Android and IOS have proven themselves to be reliable in the past? Microsoft needs to find a compelling reason that consumers should choose Windows Phone 8, and they may be able to accomplish this while turning the mobile industry end over end.
One of the most attractive features of a carrier contract, is the subsidized price of phones. The ability to obtain the latest mobile technology at a reasonable price with the trivial added cost of signing your soul over for a measly two years has made carrier subsidies the "norm." Most consumers simply do not have the immediate cash, or the desire to pay for the full manufacturing cost of a phone. This is one of the reasons why the Nexus 4 is such an attractive option, even without LTE. The freedom from a wireless contract, and the ability to choose your plan, switch carriers whenever you please, and have the latest technology at your fingertips is a dream that seemed unrealistic in previous months. This is an option that Microsoft has the ability to offer consumers to entice them into the Windows Phone ecosystem.
A factory unlocked Lumia 920 runs around eight hundred dollars unsubsidized. It's a beautifully designed piece of hardware running Microsoft's latest operating system. At that price, most consumers would quickly discount that option for a less expensive option. Which begs the question of which hardware and operating system they want to be stuck with until their next upgrade. Microsoft has the ability to subsidize the price of their phones, and not through a carrier, but in house. Microsoft could entice buyers to adopt their ecosystem by offering their phones at a reduced price, in exchange for a monthly contract to several of their cloud services. Currently they own a large suite of internet based services which could be very useful to consumers. These services include Skydrive, Office 360, Xbox Music, and Skype. On their own they offer their own enticing qualities, but bundled together they become even more desirable. Many people pay for these services, or services similar to these a la carte. Microsoft could roll all of these seperate services into one bundle, and offer it under an eighteen month contract for $50 a month. Coupled with an attractive price possibility of $199 for one of their nicest pieces of mobile hardware, this offer becomes increasingly more desirable. For the price that consumers pay now for a phone with a mobile carrier contract, they would be obligated instead to pay for Microsoft software that they could use on any device. They would also receive a piece of great hardware, with the option to choose any carrier and plan they would like, along with the ability to switch phones and mobile service at any point of their choosing without financial repercussion. With this pricing model Microsoft would make a $300 profit off of anyone who adopted this policy in a given eighteen month period. If they implemented unlimited Skype calling, and added a multimedia message option to Skype, a consumer who adopted this policy would no longer have to pay for a messaging or voice plan. Their savings from this would in turn be passed on to Microsoft, and everyone would gain more from their investments.
Microsoft will most likely not implement anything similar to this, but it does make one wonder why another company hasn't made an attempt. Google has all but given up on Google Voice. Apple seems content lying in bed with carriers. Consumers are left to wonder who is looking out for their needs...