Do we trust Microsoft to know what's good?

Do we trust Microsoft to know what's good?

Summary: The conflicting reports on sales of Nokia's Lumia 800 Windows Phone reflect some interesting attitudes to both Nokia and Microsoft. Despite positive reviews for the new phone, two US analysts panned the sales prospects and gave the Nokia share price a good kicking in the process.

TOPICS: Windows

The conflicting reports on sales of Nokia's Lumia 800 Windows Phone reflect some interesting attitudes to both Nokia and Microsoft. Despite positive reviews for the new phone, two US analysts panned the sales prospects and gave the Nokia share price a good kicking in the process. Their sources? An analysis of Google Trends and an unnamed source of what they claimed were early sales figures, plus an opinion that amounts to 'a nice Windows Phone from Nokia isn't different enough from any another Windows Phone handset and they haven't been selling'. That leaves out one really important thing Nokia brings to Windows Phone; marketing muscle. As the phone hasn't gone on sale in the US, US analysts may not have spotted that marketing. And with multiple UK and European carrier sites listing the Lumia as their second-best-selling phone for the week (right after the iPhone 4S - something Microsoft could only dream of with previous handsets) I think it's too early to call sales disappointing. They might fall off after the initial interest, or the buzz might continue. And there is a buzz, not just amongst journalists, but among phone buyers I've seen trying handsets out or pointing to them in window displays as they go past.

But the reactions to the analyst predictions reveal some interesting underlying attitudes. The issue is not just that the US market (where Nokia has had terrible sales for some time) needs convincing. It's whether we trust Microsoft to pick a winner - or to recognise when it has one.

Despite the record-breaking sales of Kinect and the run of top-selling months for Xbox and the popularity of Windows 7, we don't trust Microsoft when they say something is good. It doesn't help that Steve Ballmer has not unnaturally played down the potential of the competition. You don't expect a CEO to say 'sure, the competition is going to be hugely successful and outsell us easily' but by discounting the iPhone and iPad, Ballmer also made it sound like he didn't understand the market.

The ongoing debate about the Metro start screen in Windows 8 is another good example. We know we haven't seen the finished design (the Windows team rather assumes everyone knows we never see the final look this early and they should gave been pointing this out far more clearly). And having had touch screens for a couple of years, I'm convinced they are going to be ubiquitous. But a lot of people don't trust Microsoft to be right about that, or to get the Metro portions of Windows 8 right - or to know whether the all-important launch device from their flagship phone partner is good enough to wow the market.

The analysts complained that Nokia hadn't actually differentiated the Lumia 800 from other Windows Phone handsets. Joe Belfiore, one of the senior people on the Windows Phone team, can say that yes, he thinks Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is perfectly justified in calling the Lumia 800 the first "real" Windows Phone because of how well it packages up the benefits of the platform with extra, exclusive services - but for plenty of people that carries no weight.

Some of that is a perfectly valid application of the Mandy Rice Davis principle ("well he would say that, wouldn't he," she declared in court) but many people don't dismiss Apple's claims to have a magical new device with an appealing design in the same 'prove it' manner.

From the beautiful photos on the Bing home screen to the really innovative experience with Kinect to the whimsical and effective design of Windows phone, Microsoft has spent the last couple of years proving that actually, it does get design, it does know a good thing when it sees it and the company can apply quality control to products. Would Microsoft really have been cheerleading for the Lumia 800 if it wasn't actually a good product?

Beyond the bottom line of the business relationship, there's plenty of 'new-relationship energy' between Nokia and Microsoft; it's like watching a blind date turn into love at first sight. The design teams are clearly delighted at how easy they're finding it to work together and how many things they have in common. As Nokia's head of design Marko Ahtisaari (who you may know better as the co-founder of Dopplr) put it; "we wrote down our design principles and so did Microsoft; we use different words but the principles are exactly the same". Microsoft calls Windows Phone 'people-first'; Nokia puts connecting people at the top of its list. The Windows Phone team is a little obsessive about the value of typography for making the interface look good; the Nokia designers are the same way about materials and design.

Two companies that few people would call trendy and that may have hooked up out of necessity are discovering that the other person gets them in all the important ways and that they can produce something good and recognise when something is done well.

But for a lot of people, beyond having to make up for the sins of the past, Microsoft still has trouble being seen as a company that knows what it's doing. Can anything fix that?

Well, record-breaking sales for the Lumia wouldn't hurt. We're not likely to hear about those before January because Nokia won't have the figures till then (the phone isn't even on sale in several of the key markets where it will launch this autumn, which makes comparisons with the on-sale-around-the-world iPhone 4S somewhat invalid). But waiting to see isn't fashionable in this age of off-the-cuff judgements.

Mary Branscombe

Topic: Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • I still suspect strongly it will be a hit. I'm using mine more and more over my iPhone 4S - basically it's just a better phone and a nicer form factor. Where I still go back to the iPhone is for certain apps. The Marketplace is pretty weak right now but that should be a self correcting problem.
  • Microsoft suffers from the "law of large numbers". For example, if Windows Update worked perfectly for 99% of users, the other 1% would add up to something roughly the size of the Linux PC user base, and could make a lot of noise. Conversely, with Windows Phone, even if 100% of WP7 users happened to be ecstatic about it, they'd only be (roughly) 1% of the whole smartphone market. They're not going to have much short term impact on the majority of people, who are mostly-happy iOS or Android users.

    Most new products emerge into a world where they become loved (or not) by a growing (or shrinking) user base while being ignored by everybody else. Windows Phone might do quite well on that basis, but we'll never know. Instead, it's appearing in a market where the majority of people already use products from companies that see Microsoft as the enemy and would like to destroy it. Do you really expect them to treat WP7 on its merits?

    That doesn't mean Windows Phone can't be successful (like the Xbox), but it does explain why the Nokia fan-base is so important....
    Jack Schofield
  • This is a joke, right? Trust the company who released Vista to know what is right? Trust the company who then charged anyone whom they had swindled with Vista to get the "upgrade" to Windows 7, which they themselves have said is "What Vista should have been"? Right. We should trust them. When pigs fly.
  • From companies that see Microsoft as the enemy and would like to destroy it.

    Which companies are those? most of them, Microsoft has in their Pocket! They're directly in competition when it comes to phones with Apple and the iPhone and Android which has gained popularity for being robust and open source whereas windows 7 is still very much a closed source product.

    I have no problem with using Windows 7, I just have a problem with the people who utilize it as their flagship platform in the workplace and then see no other solution but a Microsoft one.

    Course's like learn SQL at a cost of £2010.00 for a five day, all intensive course on how to use Access and SQL. You can not learn SQL in 5 days, try five weeks period! But people take these courses Microsoft sponsor the classes and part with their money to learn a few SQL pointers crammed into a five day learning course and feel that justifies paying £2010.00 +VAT for the privilege of being a numb-nuts!

    I have a close personal friend who works for the redmond corperation and at home he uses an apple, when I ask him how things are going as senior project coordinator, he confesses, still winging it, because even though he does not grasp the technology involved its what pays his mortgage to sell it to other idiots that are equally clueless about the product.

    I tried interesting him in Gnu/Linux and said this is the OS of the decade it runs on the Playstation, it runs on the ancient apple Mac power PC (PPC) it runs on the Sun Sparc IV it runs on the Moblin mobile linux platform its the OS of the future and all he could say was Visualization is the way of the future. Yes another idiot who bought into the Cloud mentality. Being in the cloud is the same as putting all your eggs in one basket, You trust your cloud provider to keep your data safe but the fact its a cloud with so many targets easily available under one roof is the first reason you should be wary. Share data by all means but make sure its data no competitor understands unless they pay you for the decryption sequence.
  • @J.A. Watson

    I wonder if Microsoft "swindled" more people with Vista than Linux fanboys swindled with their time-wasting lies about ease of use and compatibility going back a dozen years or so.

    Incidentally, although some people talk absolute crap about Vista, as I'm sure you know, it wasn't really that bad, especially after SP1 appeared. I was never a fan myself, but I know people who are still using it. Indeed, it still has roughly 10x more users than all 157 varieties of Linux put together.
    Jack Schofield
  • @icefire

    > From companies that see Microsoft as the enemy and would like to destroy it.

    Apple and Google.
    Jack Schofield
  • @Jack,
    >> From companies that see Microsoft as the enemy and would like to destroy it.
    > Apple and Google.

    Paranoid delusions!

    Not only those companies *not* trying to destroy Microsoft; they don't actually *care* about Microsoft. Not in this market, at least, and not where Microsoft has to compete on the quality of its products alone. (Microsoft's patent troll/racketeering shake downs are another matter. But then Apple's every bit as bad as them on that score.)
  • "Incidentally, although some people talk absolute crap about Vista, as I'm sure you know, it wasn't really that bad, especially after SP1 appeared. I was never a fan myself, but I know people who are still using it."

    It was certainly crap for business use, when compared to XP. We ran a small group of pilot PCs and ran in to a lot of problems, so Vista was skipped entirely for the rest of the company. Mainly with performance and also compatibility with older hardware & software. I know a couple of home users that still use it and it's "good enough" for them. Everybody makes mistakes, and Microsoft admitted that Vista was a mistake. But, to NOT offer any sort of discount to those that got stuck with Vista, is another example of the greed that Microsoft has. If you admit it was a mistake, at least step back and offer something to your customers in exchange. Nope, Microsoft went right ahead and charged them full price for Windows 7, which it got away with due to an overwhelming control of the desktop market. And look at Microsoft shareholders who have been complaining for years, that Microsoft continues to reap the profits but has not increased its dividends. Again, not giving anything back to its supporters.

    This is why I can be a lot more lenient towards open source software, because I am not getting charged every couple of years to stay on the current version, even for versions that are "mistakes". And there aren't companies in total control of the product either.
  • The arrogance of Microsoft and its apologists beggars belief. Microsoft simply *must* get a fair hearing because... well...they're Microsoft, right? Who cares if they're 3 years late to the market?

    Oops, I forgot about all their recent triumphs:

    * Windows 7: a Vista service pack that Microsoft had the brass neck to charge money for.
    * Kinect: a device that makes you wave your arms around in front of your TV set.
    * While the xBox 360's "run of top selling months" might be down to the fact that anybody that bought it very likely shelled out for two of them; that's one to play on while the other one's away for repair.

    So, it's nearly 2012 and here they are, punting a phone that has a quarter of its main rival's onboard storage and no front-facing camera. I mean, who wouldn't want to rush out blow a stack of cash on *that*!
  • Does anyone actually use front-facing cameras on phones? Or are they just a feature for a features sake?

    Certainly traffic stats for phone-based video conference show it's hardly used, and that's even after Apple introduced FaceTime...
  • @Simon,

    Well I've used Facetime and Skype on my iPhone, although admittedly, not *that* much. I have found the front-facing camera more useful for those spur of the moment "me and my mate high-fiving at the concert" kind of photos, which are hard to take if you can't see the screen to compose the photo (i.e. you need a front-facing camera).

    I'd say that the front-facing camera is one of those features that you might not use much, but when you *do* need it, you'll curse the phone that doesn't have one.