Will Windows Phone's bumpy start eventually lead to success?

Will Windows Phone's bumpy start eventually lead to success?

Summary: How long will it really take for Microsoft to grab even ten percent of the worldwide smartphone market?

SHARE:

I’m taking a couple weeks off before the busiest part of Microsoft’s 2012 kicks into full gear. But never fear: The Microsoft watching will go on while I’m gone. I’ve asked a few illustrious members of the worldwide Microsoft community to share their insights via guest posts on a variety of topics — from Windows Phone, to Hyper-V. Today’s entry is all about Windows Phone and is authored by Makram Daou.

If there’s one thing for which Microsoft has been criticized lately, it is its current market presence in the mobile market.

Everybody who has ever used a Windows Phone 7 handset will tell you that the best way to sell one is to actually handle one. This is, unfortunately, a major problem for Microsoft and its OEM partners, which have been historically inept at properly marketing any of the company’s consumer products besides the Xbox-branded hardware and services.

There’s no denying that Windows Phone 7, in its current state (7.5/Tango) still lacks features and flexibility compared to competing platforms like iOS and Android. But I can assure you that for the vast majority of the current users and potential future owners, what is currently offered is simply enough. People must realize that what is often written (good or bad) on blogs and forums all over the web doesn’t really matter in the long run.

I’ve been using Windows Phone 7 handsets ever since the platform launched back in Q4 2010 and can finally recommend it as a viable alternative to competing offerings now that it has matured. Prior to the Mango update late last year, Windows Phone 7 was simply nothing more than a novelty, serving Microsoft as a stopgap until the operating system was reasonably feature-complete one year later. (Lack of copy/paste anyone? Total PR nightmare.)

Yes, some still unfavorably compare Windows Phone 7 handsets against iOS or Android devices, citing hardware specifications that are no longer in the same league.But does it really matter? Seriously?

I was probably the first person to discuss this matter more than 14 months ago because I knew that this would become a PR/marketing issue later on. I can assure you (if you haven’t used a Windows Phone handset yet) that Windows Phone’s user experience is in no way, shape or form, being hurt by the fact that the devices are powered by two generations-old system-on-a-chip processors, compared to what's powering the current high end iOS or Android devices.

Higher-speed Windows Phones are just around the corner (alongside Windows Phone 8), but as of right now, what is available is simply enough for 99 percent of the population. I do want higher resolution screens and 1080P video recording (the two main complains that are brought up in most reviews), but I’m also satisfied that my Nokia Lumia 800 handset shoots 720P videos at a higher bit-rate than most competing handsets shoot at 1080P, resulting in a higher quality video even if the resolution is lower.

Windows Phone's current market share is obviously nearly non-existent, but things are moving fast and will move even faster in the coming months. Nokia has been making tremendous efforts to get their handsets out on the market and most importantly support them when faced with software and hardware issues. The Finnish handset maker is also constantly shipping out new applications and services for its Lumia line of handsets, while also pushing the platform forward by signing partnerships with software developers. Those partnerships will benefit to the whole ecosystem, not just Nokia. Microsoft has finally found (and funded) a serious mobile partner that is willing to do anything for the success of the platform.

But more than anything else, marketing will still be the key to Windows Phone’s success. This push will take years, but this doesn’t really matter because Microsoft will continue to fund its smartphone endeavor until it either dominates or owns a major part of the market -- just as the company has done in the past with the Xbox and most of its other products.

Windows Phone is, in my opinion, as critically important as Windows 8 for Microsoft’s longer term business. A simple look at the company’s careers portal shows there are more than 100 jobs openings in the Windows Phone division right now compared to “only” 55 for the Windows division, 47 for Azure and 71 for Xbox.  Redmond is investing seriously in Windows Phone and won’t stop any time soon.

So what about the pending launch of Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft's soon-to-be-publicized decision as to whether it will allow current handsets to receive the OS update or not? If Microsoft decides to make Windows Phone 8 exclusive to future handsets only, things will definitely get ugly and result in a marketing nightmare that could really set back the platform's growth in the short term. Microsoft will have to hire some marketing geniuses to spin this one because Nokia’s reputation will also be on the line, given the current gigantic push behind the Lumia handsets worldwide and especially in the US with the Lumia 900.

From a technical standpoint, there shouldn’t be anything preventing at least the second generation handsets (with 512MB of RAM) from getting Windows Phone 8. If the Lumias (800,710,900),HTC Titans, Radar and Samsung Focus S/W  get the much anticipated update, this should allow Microsoft to lessen the potential backlash if the company decides against allowing all existing Windows Phones to receive the Windows Phone 8 OS. Those handsets -- especially the Lumias-- make up the majority of the current Windows Phone user base, and first-generation device owners will be arriving at the end of their two-year carriers contract anyway.

(What doesn’t really make any sense to me is what's behind the recent announcement and release of several low-end Windows Phone 7.5 handsets like the Samsung Focus 2, Omnia M and Lumia 610 NFC. Unless WP8 comes to all handsets featuring an Adreno 205 GPU, there’s going to be a serious problem here. Why would anybody buy those handsets associated with a two-year contract knowing that Apollo, a k a, the Windows Phone 8 OS, will be out in six months or so, but they may not be able to upgrade to it?)

I personally wouldn’t rule out a simple Windows Phone 7.X update (with the same Windows Embedded Compact kernel) that would add some of the most important Windows Phone 8 user-experience features to the current Windows Phone 7 devices.  But if that happens, fragmentation, here we come: Windows Phone 7.X applications will all be forward compatible with Windows Phone 8 but not the other way around.

At the end of the day, nobody should count on Microsoft being out of the running. The journey to Windows Phone’s success will be a long and bumpy one, but it has just begun. How long will it take to for Microsoft to grab ten percent of the worldwide smartphone market? Nobody knows yet, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen in 2013.

Consumers should be happy to have a choice between iOS, Android and Windows Phone. If you already own a Windows Phone handset, then all I can say is enjoy it for what it is: An awesome mobile user experience. You will get what you paid for.

Makram Daou, the guy behind the MobileTechWorld blog, has been following the tech industry for more than 13 years --  starting with the 3D graphics/GPU side of things early on, and later the mobile/smartphone landscape. His career path allowed him to meet many people actually working on the latest and greatest tech throughout the years, thus providing insight on how things work from the inside behind the PR firewalls. You can follow him on Twitter at @mobiletechworld.

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

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

138 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Used WP7 for a year. Switched back to iPhone...

    As much as I liked the user interface (I am probably a "metro fan") - the platform simply didn't provide the basic things I needed.

    Worst part? You can visit the Marketplace once a week just to realize not much has changed... if you do the same with the AppStore - you can find at least a handful amount of new interesting apps.

    There are other things I think Microsoft is badly missing.
    I summarized them around a year ago, but unfortunately nothing much changed ever since:
    http://www.mobilespoon.net/2011/09/what-should-microsoft-do-to-order-to.html

    In Mobile World Congress earlier this year - you could find WP7 only in 2 places: Microsoft booth and Nokia.
    The the others (HTC, Samsung, LG) rudely ignored it in their booth's... Another sad indication of how poor WP7 is at the moment...
    MobileSpoon
    • Magic wand

      There isn't some magic wand Microsoft can save to fix these issues. The hard part is getting through this tough time while still encouraging developers to build high quality top tier apps. I don't think customization of the OS is the problem, but fixing the marketplace would go a long way.
      Jeff Kibuule
      • People find out their handsets are bricks

        Wait for the shock when people find out that their brand new Windows Phone handsets can't be upgraded to Windows Phone 8.

        But it gets worse.

        Then they find out that Windows Phone 8 runs a different app architecture (called WinRT), and Windows Phone 8 apps will not run on current Windows Phone 7 handsets. It's then they'll realize that their brand new Lumia is a useless brick.
        Vbitrate
      • gjafg

        "Wait for the shock when people find out that their brand new Windows Phone handsets can't be upgraded to Windows Phone 8."
        Will it still make phone calls? will it still run apps? If so it won't be a brick. It will just be a dead-end phone, requiring new hardware. Unless someone out there figures out how to create a custom ROM to run either Window 8, or Android...
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • I think you are right on for part of it...

        The way I see it, MS just has to hang on and wait for the Roid implode to happen... Roid has always been a festering cesspool of malware and wannabe 2nd rate knock offs... And it getts a little worse with each passing day... Crackberry is already toast, so all MS has to do is hang in there a little bit and the market will shift itself right over...

        Considering there are a lot of butt-hurt Apple haters out there who would never buy any Apple product regardless of how great it happens to be, MS will find plenty of customers... And once that Roid implosion happens, there will be plenty of developers interested in coding apps for MS... So regardless of the MS Market, it will get better once Roid is gone... I predict less than 2 years.
        i8thecat4
    • Truth

      For every person out there similar to you, there are more that refuse to leave WP. Looking at carrier websites and amazon, reviews for Windows Phones are almost always 4/5 stars or higher, and with the popular phones, it is closer to 4.5 stars. Those kinds of things don't happen because the platform is weak.

      I don't care how big of a marketshare Windows Phone has so long as it doesn't turn into being app-dependent like Android and iOS. I know a seemingly large amount of ZDnet readers are totally against the metro interface. While I can understand having a dislike for it on a desktop, it really does shine with touch. I love being able to see updates, email counts, weather/radar maps, etc. without launching apps nor having to see a screen that isn't default. In other words, I love that the home screen is what has the live tiles, as opposed to the list of apps.

      The marketplace is currently adding upwards of 200 apps a day. Whether or not they are apps you are interested in, that depends on the person. The marketplace will hit the 100,000 app mark within a few weeks. (source: http://www.neowin.net/news/windows-phone-marketplace-exceeds-90000-apps)

      MWC was only a couple months after CES and shortly after MWC is CTIA. There are too many shows all together. As Nokia learned at CES, you don't announce a smartphone and then release it several months later. Samsung held a press conference to announce the Samsung Focus 2 recently and it released this last weekend.

      Personally, I think so many people are used to the five year old iOS/Android UI that seeing something that strays from it makes them uncomfortable. And of course, people generally hate change. Similarly, most in the tech community weren't too sure what to do any time Windows has had a major GUI face lift. Only in tech can one company innovate and update to complaints while another company recycles old ideas, calls it innovation, and is praised.
      ikissfutebol
      • Apps apps apps

        Which market?
        Are they quality apps?

        Apps fall into four categories (IMHO) in MS:
        1Totally over the top, so overdone they looke chaotic and overwhelming
        2 It works, works well, looks good and does what I need
        3 Looks like someone built this on a TRS80
        4 This is an app?

        Unfortunately very little in the Win market falls into category 2 - where the meat of your apps should be. Or at least a good core group of them.
        rhonin
      • People who cannot stand the thought...

        ...of an operating system they have chosen to detest, cannot live with any news that the aforesaid operating system may succeed without their approval.

        Confronting them with some simple straightforward facts is not going to get them to wake up.

        Why hate any OS? I use an iPhone, I like it. Its a great phone. I see reviews on Windows phones and they have pretty much all been outstandingly favorable to WP. I know plenty who use Android phones and they are happy with them and they seem to work very well.

        A few more unbiased writers around here would do the world of good.
        Cayble
    • Missing?

      What basic things were missing?
      clcrockett
      • File transfer over Bluetooth?

        Physical keyboard?

        (yes some DO consider them basic things... most notably those are features Nokia customers where used to in Nokia flag smartphones!)
        przemoli
      • Really?

        @przemoli I wouldn't consider either of those "basic" functions, especially since the iPhone is missing those "basics" as well. The only missing feature for me was visual voicemail, and my Lumia 900 has that now.
        clcrockett
      • @przemoli

        I concur with ccrockett. Additionally, anyone here, myself included, are not the consumer types smartphones are being market toward. Most don't care if a legit keyboard is there. Namely, V's Droid line comes to mind for those pining for the days of yore, but most else is all touch. Deal. When the car was invented, I am sure the horse n' buggy crowd balked, but ya know what? We drive cars now!

        Bluetooth file transfer (which a small percentage will ever use), and even the majority of fad apps, are not deal breakers for most. WP has more than the basics: it has the social apps, the productivity apps, excellent gaming and more wrapped up in quiet, purposely understated beauty. It's not noisy, it's not in your face and it's not begging to be plugged in as often. It's just there. And that's as close to perfect as it gets.

        I think it just irks the diehards of iOS and Android that WP7 has finally become a viable option, but why would it? Why not say "yay" to another option that forces Apple and Google to keep on their toes, to try to out innovate each other? It's awesome.
        stephen_victor
      • Basic - for me

        Ability to handle encrypted email
        Ability to handle digitally signed email
        Market access outside your country (travelers and vacationers)
        VPN ability
        Etc......
        rhonin
      • Really :)

        @stephen_victor
        @ccrockett

        Come one. How many SMS do you write daily?
        Physical keyboard have its virtues. Thats why Nokia had its Comunicator line of phones. And Nokia customers have been buying them. (Even though they had Symbian and even though iPhone was there - replace with any smartphone you like).

        And bluetooth...
        Come one. Wires are BORING. When you can not sync your SMARTPHONE over air with your PC, then its not smartphone but dumbphone.

        iOS for very long time did not had MMS support but it did not meant that MMS was no longer "basic feature", and lack of bluetooth on WinP7 do not mean that it is not longer "basic feature".
        przemoli
      • Really?

        @przemoli

        Seriously? Physical keyboard? First off, that isn't a windows phone limitation. WP fully supports physical keyboards. In fact, there were at least 2 of the first gen devices that had them. If enough people want them, then I suppose they will be produced. I don't see a lot of android devices with physical keyboards either....

        Bluetooth file transfer... I think the Nokia 610 supports that actually - along with NFC. So, I guess you better talk to the OEM's if you want that feature.
        codeslave
      • iOS does not and did not set the standard

        I think one of przemoli's, very valid points is that iOS does not in any way set the standards. A bunch of idiots kicked off the iPhone revolution despite the following 'niggles':

        No apps
        Lower screen resolution
        Limited interface with no customisation (still true 5 years later)
        No bluetooth file transfer (a basic feature since, what? 2002?)
        Crappy camera
        yes - no physical keyboard
        Limited media format support
        A brick until you install iTunes and 'register' your phone with the overlords

        That is just off the top of my head. Even though some of these things do not apply to the iPhone 4S, it does not change the fact that the iPhone started life as a piece of junk, but was successful anyway. In NO WAY was it a 'benchmark reference', unless you happen to have no idea what phones were capable of before the iPhone.
        12312332123
      • @Traxxion

        To save everyone time you should have just shortened your post to the following...

        I hate the iPhone. I know this story is about WP but I need to rant about the iPhone to make myself feel better. I hate the iPhone.
        non-biased
      • @non-biased

        Well to save me wasting my time, you could have replied to the facts I stated, instead of jumping, clapping and shouting 'iPhone...Yay!'
        12312332123
    • ...and you should look again.

      The rate of top end application delivery on Windows Phone has accelreated noiticeable in the last month. Windows 8 and Windows 8 phone sharting the same dev enviornment will make this the most desirable platform to develop for, with over a billion poitential users.
      Kevinwe2
      • Big Open Question

        But what does this do for adopters today?
        rhonin