Microsoft Mobile Is Ready to Roar in 2014

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Many don't consider Microsoft (MSFT) the sexiest of technology stocks, but rising portfolios never go out of fashion. I've been solidly bullish on Microsoft in 2013, and as we move toward 2014, I consider the tech giant a strong buy. After writing "Microsoft Is a Must-Have for Your Portfolio," I received exorbitant praise for my insights in the comments:

"I've read stories like this for the past ten years. And the stock has barely moved. They've acquired companies, tried new things, but still a flat stock. I believe it's a cultural issue and it's not easy to change the culture in such a large company for a new CEO. And if they choose Elop, it's doomed from the beginning. Look at what happened to Nokia's stock after he joined."

"Windows based servers on the cloud? Give me a break. Windows is a POS, only surviving because of inertia. It is stunningly fragile, has a truly disgusting architecture (if you could call it that) resembling a pile of excrement on top of a pile of vomit in a pool of pus. Finally, Microsoft has singlehandedly set back computing by 20 years."

Well, commenters may not agree with me, but the numbers are on my side. Since the article, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) returned 4.85%. Very respectable. But Microsoft returned over 15% while also paying a greater dividend yield. Not bad for three months. The mobile market has me excited for Microsoft in 2014, and I'll explain why.

In the battle of mobile market share dominance, Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) are normally viewed as the winners while BlackBerry  (BBRY) is considered the loser, having lost its way and income stream. With BlackBerry trading at under $6 a share, the market has all but lost faith in the company.

But I'm long BlackBerry. Shares of BlackBerry are so cheap! I think the most shareholder value would come from a sale that may not happen in time, but I'm still long. I don't suggest betting the farm on it, but as a small-allocation lottery ticket, it's compelling.

One way or another, I think BlackBerry won't be the same this time next year. In my opinion, the real mobile space winner in 2014 won't be BlackBerry, though. Watch for Microsoft in 2014 to capture market share from Google.

It's hard to deny the recent success of Microsoft and Nokia (NOK), although not so long ago they were left for dead on the side of the information superhighway. According to Counterpoint, Nokia is now the fourth largest smartphone brand in the United States and holds a record high 4% market share. That's greater than Google's Motorola Mobility. Beating Motorola isn't the end goal, but it does demonstrate that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Windows Mobile's death are greatly exaggerated. For Microsoft investors, the best is yet to come.

Microsoft can say what they will about Bing, but "just as good" isn't good enough for me to switch my searches from Google to Bing. Still, Microsoft has another compelling reason for consumers and business users alike to migrate some Google activities to Microsoft.

SkyDrive, the Microsoft web offering that includes online versions of Outlook mail, Office Word and Excel isn't new. I've used it for a couple of years now, along with Google's Drive and Gmail. What's new is that SkyDrive has leapt ahead of Google in terms of features and ease, and users are starting to catch on.

If you're like me and use Microsoft Office, you never fully embraced Google documents and spreadsheets. But after Windows phones all but left the building, what choice did you have? For most, it meant moving to iPhones (very popular) or Android (my choice). I don't consider BlackBerry to be a serious office productivity phone other than maybe for texting, and clearly its user base came to the same conclusion.

Google no longer holds a monopoly with online productivity applications. If you prefer Office's Word and Excel, SkyDrive allows you to start a Word document on your PC, edit it natively with a Nokia Windows Phone, and print it from another PC at a different location. Yes, non-Windows phones and computers can do the same, but not as easily. When the cost of use is free between Google and Microsoft, there's little incentive for Office users to consider anything else.

Combine useful software with a consistent Windows user experience on both PCs and mobile devices, and Microsoft has the makings for a winning mobile offering. That is, if the device is at least as compelling as Android devices.

And Microsoft has tapped Nokia to offer those compelling devices. Nokia is offering world-class phones including the Lumia 1020 from AT&T (T), featuring a 41 megapixel camera and enthusiastic reviews. The Lumia 1520 is pre-loaded with Office and competes on a level playing field with the best smartphones. Nokia isn't the only hardware manufacturer embracing Windows -- HTC and Samsung have smartphones on the market available today, too.

Even adding in app and storage sales, a free online Office suite and mobile platform don't necessarily increase Microsoft's bottom line enough to warrant excitement.  After all, Microsoft is already a $323 billion company. But a growing market share and potential dominance in mobile do help justify a forward P/E closer to Google.

Microsoft is currently priced at 13.3 times forward estimates, while Google is priced at 20.7. According to Search Engine Watch, Bing's market share has been growing, although it appears at Yahoo!'s expense, not Google's. In October, Bing received about 27% compared to 25% a year ago, versus Google's 68%, down slightly from 69%. Yahoo!, once the dominant search platform, is approaching single digits.

The trend is in Bing's favor, and with mobile's increasing importance, Microsoft appears well positioned for a strong performance in 2014.

At the time of publication, Weinstein is long BlackBerry.

Follow @RobertWeinstein

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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