Nokia Lumia 925Windows Phone’s biggest problem isn’t the software. It’s not the hardware either. The biggest problem is momentum, meaning the lack of it.

Sure, they’re overjoyed that they’ve moved into third place in smartphone market share, but that’s like being happy you finished third in a three person race. In other words, they’re basically in last, and worse yet, they aren’t showing any signs of gaining on the leaders.

In a market that’s heavily consumer focused, perception is everything. The market share numbers are a clear indicator of it. Android and iOS are dominating the mobile market, with combined market share numbers topping 90% and showing no signs of letting up. These two platforms have so much momentum that their sales are growing without even trying.

On the other hand, Windows Phone isn’t going anywhere. There’s little to no buzz in the tech blogs regarding Windows Phone, there’s no mainstream media mentions of it, and I see very few ads marketing it. On the other hand, the iPhone and various Android devices, particularly Samsung’s Galaxy S4, HTC’s One and Motorola’s Moto X, are getting a lot more attention. If you’re in the market for a new device, you’re way more likely to gravitate towards those devices before checking out a Windows Phone model.

So if I was in charge of Windows Phone (which thank goodness I’m not), here’s what I would suggest be done:

  1. Accelerate feature development and OS releases
    I would find a way to work outside of the normal bureaucratic confines of the Microsoft machine and start releasing more OS updates. Instead of shooting for big monumental releases, I would focus on more point releases to bring key features to the platform faster. In other words, give the tech people something to talk about and demonstrate through actions, not words, your commitment to accelerating product development. Windows Phone needs to close the feature gap between it and the leaders and start pulling ahead.
  2. Heavy does of advertising and promotion
    I would make a more concerted effort to be seen and heard, and I don’t mean at the tech conferences. I’m talking about lots of prime time advertising, online viral videos, and strong media spots. I would get permission to go outside of normal Microsoft marketing agencies and channels in order to inject fresh ideas into the mix. I would also make sure our campaigns were different. In other words, don’t copy the Apple formula – do something bolder to differentiate the product.
  3. Create handset buzz
    I’d get more vendors than Nokia on board and provide incentives for doing so. Sure, Nokia makes a good handset, but there needs to be more flagship models out there. There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to Windows Phone, and the choices that exist aren’t compelling.
  4. More developer enthusiasm
    Because of how far behind Microsoft is in the market, there’s not a lot of excitement among developers to jump onto the platform. My colleague Carl has been trying out a Lumia 925 over the last month, and even he says that the lack of app support makes it really tough to recommend the device. The same issues I had with app support in Windows Phone 7 over a year ago still haven’t been addressed in Windows Phone 8. Somehow, someway, I would get developers excited about developing for Windows Phone.

I’m still of the opinion that the market can support a third mobile operating system. Microsoft certainly has the resources at its disposal to take a run at it, and Windows Phone 8 is a well designed operating system. However, the longer they languish at the back of the pack and celebrate meaningless victories, the harder it will get to be relevant. Why? People are getting more and more locked into iOS and Android services, and unless the reason to switch is really compelling, Microsoft won’t win those users back.

The only solution for Microsoft at this point is to create more buzz and market momentum, and to do it quickly. Time is not on their side. They need to start shaking things up, and fast. Otherwise, they’re going to not only slide further behind in market share, but worse yet, they’ll become irrelevant in the mobile market.