Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

Summary: Microsoft created a solid product with Windows Phone 7 but it suffered from one fatal flaw: The burden and baggage of the Windows brand.


Windows Phone 7 is the best product Microsoft has built in a very long time.

Of course, building a great product -- it could even be the best product in its category -- never guarantees success. Microsoft benefited from that dynamic in the 1980s and 1990s when its operating systems were never the best software on the market but prevailed as the dominant platform in personal computing.

Timing, key partnerships, sales savvy, even geography can play an important role in a product winning a big share of the market. Oh, and one other factor: branding.

I'd argue that the number one factor that has torpedoed Windows Phone 7 is branding.

We talked a lot about this earlier this week in the ZDNet Great Debate that I moderated between Matt Miller andLarry Dignan over the future trajectory of Nokia and Windows Phone 7.

The bottom line is that Windows Phone 7 has been dismal failure in 2011, failing to even take a meager 2% of the smartphone market. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has admitted that Windows Phone 7 sales have been a disappointment and recently changed the leadership of the division.

While Ballmer and the rest of the tech industry have puzzled over why more people aren't buying Windows Phone 7 devices, the answer is almost too obvious to consider. The biggest thing that's wrong with Windows Phone 7 is Windows.

One of the reasons people love smartphones and tablets so much is that they aren't as complicated and confusing as the Windows computers that they've been using for years. Other than the small-but-rabid cadre of Windows enthusiasts, most people shudder when they think about having a phone that runs like Windows. The last thing they want is a device that locks up for no apparent reason, gradually gets slower over time, and is constantly getting bogged down by spyware, malware, and crapware.

Of course, Windows Phone 7 doesn't have any of those desktop Windows problems, but the burden and baggage of the Windows brand has brought the factor of guilt by association. The fact that Microsoft's earlier mobile attempt -- Windows Mobile -- was slow and confusing also doesn't help.

If Microsoft had jettisoned the Windows brand from its mobile product line, the devices could have competed on their own merits and attracted a lot more buyers. After all, the operating system itself is fluid and self-evident. It runs quickly and has a high-quality app ecosystem that is growing by leaps and bounds.

Imagine if Microsoft had followed its Xbox strategy and given the phone its own branding. In fact, Microsoft could have drawn on the popularity of the Xbox and used the name "Xphone" (which would have also playfully mocked Apple's "iPhone" a bit). The "Xphone" would have been better than "Xbox Phone" because not everyone is a gamer and a phone also needs to be able to do get work done -- which Windows Phone 7 does (especially if you already use Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Office, and Microsoft SharePoint), even though the device is primarily aimed at consumers. The "Xphone" would have been shiny and new, instead of looking like Microsoft trying to squeeze its way back into the market after the failure of Windows Mobile.

The other big problem Windows Phone 7 had was that its big hardware partners, Samsung and HTC, didn't take it seriously and ended up putting WP7 on their second class Android hardware. That's why Microsoft had to make the salty $1 billion deal with Nokia to get at least one big phone maker putting Windows Phone 7 on their most innovative hardware designs. However, Samsung, HTC, and Motorola (which passed on Windows Phone 7) certainly sensed that consumers weren't going to get excited about the Windows brand on a phone. Better branding like "Xphone" could have energized them.

I'm not saying that Microsoft would have leapfrogged Android and iPhone in 2011, but better branding could have turned a solid mobile product into a hotter commodity with phone makers and mobile carriers and grabbed at least 5-10% of the growing smartphone market.

Also, keep in mind that Microsoft will be heavily promoting the Windows brand when it launches its tablet strategy in 2012 with Windows 8. In fact, the success or failure of Windows 8 on tablets will be one of the most important things to watch in the tech industry in 2012. Unfortunately, the fate of Windows Phone 7 in 2011 could be a bad omen for Microsoft. Again, one of the main things people like about tablets is that they aren't PCs -- specifically Windows PCs. It's hard to imagine many people getting excited about "going back to Windows" on a tablet. But, Xtablet? That might have been a different story.

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

    "its operating systems were never the best software on the market..."

    Really? I beg to differ. Windows have always had largest set of features and the best or one of the top GUIs. Success was not for nothing. Linux and Mac tried their best but Linux could not even capture 2%!
    • DOS was never ever the "best"


      And Win95? Please. For example, the Amiga blew DOS out of the water back in 1985.

      Yes, MS captured market share but it did it with very poor and mediocre product at best.
  • Xpad

    I agree! I still hope for an XPad. Windows Phone is essentially an XPhone, just with a less cool name.
    Tim Acheson
    • They should have built off the "X" name

      @Tim Acheson

      MS missed the boat on this One.
    • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

      @Tim Acheson I agree, too. I really like my HTC 7 PRO Windows Phone 7.5 a hell of a lot better than Android although the games aren't as good as iPhone's but the interface is... They definitely should have put more thought into its name.
  • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

    WP7's biggest problem, at least here in Canada is that nobody knows the phones exist. No demo units in stores, no advertising in weekly flyers, no announcement of Gen 2 phones. When I show people my phone they're blown away, nobody has ever made reference to issues they have on their desktop as a reason not to get Windows Phone. The hope is that with Nokia's muscle, advertising will start in 2012 and I'll be able to walk into a store and see hardware for WP7, heck there is no reason why the XPhone couldn't exist today, it just happens to run WP.
    • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

      @rwalrond <br><br>Exactly! MS advertising has been terrible. Stop giving me hokey adds and make the dang thing look cool! "It's a great time to be a Windows family isn't going to cut it, Larry! Hopefully, Nokia will change this. And, MS committed an enormous blunder by not immediately extending the Zune brand to phones three years ago. Doing so would have kept the Kin debacle from happening. Moreover, MS would have released Mango right as Android was starting to take off and would not be so far behind in all sorts of areas: apps, flagship hardware, LTE, etc.
      • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone


        "MS advertising has been terrible" and why is microsoft the one making ads??? what about Samsung and HTC and LG. look at nokia! they have done what they can to sell their windows phone. yeah people say "Lumia 800 doesn't even have FFC, while titan and samsung focus S does" bla bla. but look the difference, people KNOW and LIKE and WANT Lumia 800! even when it doesn't have FFC and all, people pay attention to that, why? because Nokia CARES about WP7. samsung, htc, and LG no! and then they dont advertise enough or at all. you know, they have their android phones, so they expect faeries to sell the windows phones with no ads.
        even right now some people want Lumia 710! and thats because Nokia advertise it.

        Microsoft can only advertise the OS, and what if you go to stores and you saw the phone and then people push you to Android or Iphone?... but Nokia makes sure people look at the phone first and then the OS. so its not Microsoft Job to advertise what sells the OS... you know, the PHONES! thats each company job! and Nokia is the one doing it right.
        if Nokia is doing it right and by themselves... why in the hell is microsoft the one who has to advertise Samsung and HTC and LG if they didn't do it enough in a year or at all?... just because they dont want to and because they dont care? i reallly dont understand why people like you expect Microsoft to do others job. they aren't Microsoft phones. they are Samsung, HTC, LG, Nokia... with a Microsoft OS. and the only one advertising because they actually care its Nokia.
        Emi Cyberschreiber
      • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

        @Emi Cyberschreiber<br>You sir, know what you're talking about!<br>(unlike the author of this article, who is clearly biased and anti-MS.. that's poor journalism)<br><br>I think the problem is that MS is a software company, therefore they can't advertise and single out one model. And at the same time, none of their hardware partners are advertising their WP phones!<br><br>In that sense, Nokia is the one (and only) true partner.<br><br>Also, another reason WP is not selling well is because there are almost no in-store demos or posters, and the sales reps never mention WP. How would people know?!<br>There was a blog about this, and people were sharing their experiences at carrier and cellphone stores.. it just shows you that this an actual problem!<br><br>If you're shopping for a smartphone and you walk into a store, you'll see they have more than a dozen Android phones, (Apple fans will systematically head to the iPhone stand), and somewhere in the dark, a dummy WP phone. How would anyone even consider buying it?<br><br><br>Once again, poor journalism!
    • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

      @rwalrond I get that a lot, too. NOBODY seems to know what it is but when they see it they are very impressed...
  • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

    Back Lash Against M/S For Their "Android Extortion" Tactics !! IMHO.
    • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

      ..and the consumers are aware of that "android extortion tactics" ?, it's purely the lack of marketing me thinks
  • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

    All Windows Phone hardware is old hat. That's one of it's biggest problems. Are there any dual core Windows Phone handhelds?

    I agree the branding is wrong too. I'm not sure an entirely new brand would help either though. That said, Microsoft have been clever by not calling the Xbox, Microsoft Xbox. Most people don't even know it's made by Microsoft. It's Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows but just Xbox.
    • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

      @bradavon News flash most people don't know anything about their phones hardware. Windows Phone does not have a dual core phone because it is not required. Windows Phone runs better on its single core hardware then Android or iOS runs on its single or dual core hardware. It is just a better coded OS

      The main reasons it has not completely taken off is Store presence. When you have a sales clerk pushing Android/iOS and who still thinks the windows phone is windows mobile 6.# yea you are not going or generate many sales there. Especially when stores do not have demo units or signage.
      • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone


        Amen, couldn't have said it better. Windows Phone is appropriate branding for what is. A mobile version of a computer OS. It is not a small gaming phone.

        Calling it XPhone would have had little impact. Their true miss is marketing in the stores, and mostly lame TV marketing (which is getting better now).
  • MS' main problem with Windows Phone ...

    ... was its lack of influence over the retail experience. Salespersons simply refused to sell Windows Phones, and the phone presentations in stores, in many cases, were poor. Nokia and MS seems to have addressed this, and that, along with strong marketing, is why Nokia Windows Phones (WPs) are selling well in Europe. It appears to be MS' and Nokia's plan to address this problem everywhere - including the U.S. - and I believe we will see WP's market share increase past 20% in 2012. MS also needed a partner that was all-in on WP. (Nokia had for assurance, among other things, MS' track record of conquering markets that were critical to the company.)

    As for using Windows as the brand for its smartphone platform, I think that it was the smart thing to do. Generally, it is better MS grows and improves the Windows brand, because this simplifies and lessens the cost of marketing. This is true, even if MS endures turbulence in the short term because of the history of Windows Mobile. As for the suggestion of Xphone, it appears to me that MS wants to use Xbox as a consumer brand, whereas Windows Phones is supposed to target both the business and consumer markets.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: Salespersons simply refused to sell Windows Phones

      @P. Douglas

      Oh how I agree with that Statement. I was Christmas Shopping last week and decided to stop in the Cellular Department at Best Buy to take a look at the HTC Titan as a possible replacement for my iPhone 4. The salesperson was all Android this and iOS that and Windows Sucks. I ended up telling his manager I did not appreciate his unprofessional sales methods and walked away. I had a similar experience at the AT&T Store. I guess that is what you get when you have poorly trained sales staff that sell based on personal bias.
      • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

        Staff at Bust Buy is selling way over their heads. My experience at ATT was a little better. Love my P7, hoping the apps grow.
      • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

        @bobiroc That is exactly why Apple opened its own stores to sell its own products. Do you think MS can't afford a store in NYC and LA to showcase its products? That would have helped too. And I totally agree with WP name - it is not way too dull.
  • RE: Microsoft could have rocked mobile in 2011 with the Xphone

    Unfortunately, perception is reality. I can't tell you how many BSOD jokes I've seen made about WP7, obviously from people who haven't used it or are still hanging onto the public perception of MS from years ago. Sorry, I should spell it M$ because apparently they're the only software company that has a business plan to make money. Why can't they just make products out of the goodness of their hearts like Google and Apple? <br><br>The thing that bugs me the most is watching football on Sunday and seeing it sponsored by Windows 7? Really?'s an OS and you can make a PowerPoint slide to woo your parents to buy you a dog. Let me run down to Best Buy with my pepper spray cuz this baby's one hot mama. <br><br>I don't get why they don't tout their ecosystem. I could totally picture a commercial that had someone starting in their office and ending up at home, all while taking advantage of the productivity of Windows 7, Windows Live, Windows Phone, and Xbox/Kinect during their journey, but I'm not a marketing person so what do I know.