5 Things Microsoft Can Do to Hurt Apple, Android

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Microsoft ( MSFT) looks as if it's out to redeem itself.

The new Surface tablet could put the hurt on Apple ( AAPL) and Google ( GOOG). That's not hyperbole.

If Microsoft properly attacks heading into the holiday season, it sets itself up to change the game throughout 2013 and beyond. It needs to work aggressively to get the following things right.

Do Not Provide Office for iPad

Apparently Microsoft has an Office suite ready to roll out for iPad, but it just cannot figure out when to make it available. I hope the hesitation has nothing to do with timing and more to do with a reassessment of the plan in the first place.

I don't get it. You're set to finally make a formidable challenge in mobile and you want to provide the one thing that differentiates you from Apple and the rest of the competition to the competition. This defies logic.

Microsoft bills the Surface as a tablet you can actually do work on. It differentiates itself from iPad and most tablets running Android with its unique design, futuristic keyboard and, maybe most importantly, Office.

Endpoint: opening up Office to iOS might have flown in the PC era, but mobile is an entirely different ballgame. Microsoft plays the role of underdog now.

Improve Voice Recognition or Ditch It and Get Better Apps

I have a Nokia ( NOK) Lumia Windows Phone. It's an impressive device. Microsoft needs to get two incredibly crucial things right with Lumia and any other smartphone that runs Windows before the marketing onslaught we should all expect come the holidays.

First, Microsoft uses TellMe voice recognition on the Lumia. While the notion of a "personal assistant" like Siri is a bit overblown, we're being told it's the future. Maybe it is. In any event, Microsoft needs to make major improvements to TellMe or just get rid of it. It's not going to make or break the company's mobile plans.

I am embarrassed to admit this, but the other day, after accidentally discovering the TellMe feature on my Lumia, I activated it and upon its command, I made a fart noise. TellMe thought for a second and responded by producing a Bing search for the word "gay." I made the same sophomoric sound effect for TellMe several more times. It either told me it did not understand or it produced Bing searches for "dinner," "booty" and other random words. This is unacceptable.

Even when I am serious with TellMe, it rarely produces anything more than a basic local Bing search on commands such as a "Find an Italian restaurant." And Bing's local feature flat-out stinks. Why doesn't TellMe route the user to the superior "Local Scout" app featured on my Lumia?

When I asked for "directions to LAX," it spit out a completely useless Bing search. For these common requests, TellMe has to do something other than waste my time.

Second, Microsoft needs to straighten out its App Marketplace. Like TellMe, it stinks.

While it's not the end of the world -- you can still get what you need quickly and easily, especially if you know your way around a smartphone -- it's attention to detail that makes Apple the pioneering leader it is.

When I look for apps on my Lumia, I have to search through absolute garbage to get to popular and useful apps I might actually want to download. And because the Surface tablet will use the Windows Marketplace as its app store, it better improve exponentially between now and launch.

Case in point: when you view the list of apps the Lumia places under "Music," you get nothing but junk. You have to scroll for far too long before something like Spotify or Slacker shows up. I gave up, manually searched for "Spotify" and "Slacker" and downloaded them to my phone. Worse yet, Pandora ( P) is not even available.

And the popular apps Windows Phone does have lack. The Facebook ( FB) app it delivers is an embarrassment.

I have seen Windows supporters boast about how many apps Microsoft has in the Windows Marketplace. Microsoft must not run this race. Focus on quality, not quantity.

I would rather have the 500 most popular apps -- expertly polished -- than thousands of inferior apps that do nothing but keep me from what I am looking for. Here's hoping Microsoft is on the phone with companies like Pandora asking for an app and strong developers asking for better apps before Windows 8-based smartphones and the Surface tablet hits the market.

Reasons to Integrate

Millions of people already have Windows-based PCs. Millions more will likely receive an Ultrabook running Windows 8 over the next six-to-12 months. And there should be more than a few Surface tablets under Christmas trees. Consider it the Kindle Fire of 2012.

When you fire up your Windows machine, it needs to automatically introduce you to the ease and efficacy of integrating with other Windows devices. It needs to make you want to integrate and feel like you're missing out on cutting edge, but easy-to-use, unintimidating technology.

It's one thing to talk the game of going cross-platform with SmartGlass and Surface, but Microsoft needs to drive that point home the second you boot up any Windows device.

Smart Marketing

I take for granted a major advertising push from Microsoft this fall. I expect Windows 8, Xbox SmartGlass and Surface to be all over football telecasts, social media, primetime television and maybe even the Olympics this summer. However, Microsoft needs to make a smart push.

It cannot beat Apple in mobile by taking away Apple's current customer base. On the strength of Apple's products and the connection it has with its market alone, Microsoft has little chance. And, practically speaking, you have the issue of wireless contracts to deal with. If I am locked into a two-year deal on an iPhone or Android smartphone, I am not bailing no matter how good Windows 8 smartphones look.

To take market share, Microsoft needs to aggressively target its phones and tablets to two consumer groups -- current PC users who will likely always be PC users and the massive segment of the world population that has not yet made the dumbphone-to-smartphone transition. And, of course, it needs to use Office and the other unique features of Surface to tap the enterprise market.

Aggressively go after these folks; forget about the early adopters. Microsoft does not need Windows 8 to look cool to Apple fans and Android geeks. It needs to drive the next wave of mobile adoption before Apple and Android do by default.

Microsoft has positioned itself perfectly to pass Apple and Google in mobile, however, it's not enough to introduce new products and services and make "major" announcements. Microsoft must follow through this time.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
At the time of publication, the author was long MSFT, NOK and P.

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