Why Windows Phone is barely making a dent in the market

Why Windows Phone is barely making a dent in the market

Summary: Microsoft has put a lot of dollars and effort into Windows Phone, even going as far as to buy Finnish handset firm Nokia in order to gain traction in the smartphone space. But despite this investment Windows Phone's usage share has grown from about one percent to around two percent over the past 12 months.

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(Source: Microsoft)

Windows Phone is Microsoft's latest attempt at a mobile operating system and is a follow on to Windows Mobile (which itself dated back to the days of Windows CE). The first incarnation of Windows Phone — Windows Phone 7 — was launched in October 2010, and the latest release — Windows Phone 8.1 — is currently being pushed out to Windows Phone 8 handsets.

See alsoIs Microsoft preparing to do more with the Xbox brand?

Microsoft has put a lot of dollars and effort into Windows Phone, even going as far as to buy Finnish handset firm Nokia in order to gain traction in the smartphone space. But despite this investment Windows Phone's usage share has grown from about one percent to around two percent over the past 12 months. You could say that over that time the market share has doubled, but you could also say that it's nothing more than a random fluctuation.

So what's wrong with Windows Phone?

I have a few suggestions.

The Windows brand is currently tainted by Windows 8

There's little doubt that Windows 8 isn't feeling the love from users that Microsoft had expected it to get. While Windows 7 and the now obsolete Windows XP command a desktop market share of 50 percent and 25 percent respectively, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 command between them about 12.5 percent market share.

People don't like Windows 8 for a variety of reasons, and I have little doubt that this is tarnishing Windows Phone 8 too.

That's one of the risks of aligning brands — if one product is a dud, it taints the others.

There's little room for a third player

Between iOS and Android, there's not a lot of space left in the market for a third player.

With Apple selling millions of iPhones a quarter, and Google seeing 1.5 million new device activations daily, Microsoft has to put tens of millions of devices in the hands of users to even twitch the needle.

Poor developer support

One of the biggest drivers of the mobile ecosystem is apps. The problem facing Windows Phone is that developers are busy prioritizing iOS and Android because that's where the bulk of the users are.

Lack of apps is probably the single biggest problem facing Windows Phone, and it's the hardest to fix because developers follow where the users are, but users want apps, and so the platform is caught in the middle.

Throw on top of this the thousands of abandoned apps, and a thick strata of junk apps, and that adds up to a huge app problem.

People want what they see other people using

And they don't see people using Windows Phone. It's clear that Microsoft has also tried to redress this issue by paying for clunky, awkward product placement in TV shows, but so far this isn't translating into increased market share.

People like to choose what they see others with. They feel validated when they choose Android or iOS because they see plenty of others having made the same choice. They don't get that from Windows Phone.

Too few handset choices

Unless you fancy a smartphone made by Nokia or HTC, you're pretty much outta luck. Or, to put that another way, Windows Phone is too heavily reliant on Nokia. That said, had Microsoft not acquired the Finnish firm, Windows Phone's position would by now be dire indeed.

Apple can get away with pushing a single brand, but Microsoft doesn't have the market clout to be able to pull that off. 

More handsets from more manufacturers are coming, but when, and how effective they will be, remains in doubt.

Consumers feel that choosing Microsoft is a gamble

Microsoft has left a trail of devastation in its wake in the consumer electronics space. Products like Zune and Kin that vanished as fast as they appeared didn't just represent huge cash losses for Microsoft, but they also severely dented fanboy consumer confidence. 

Wrong focus

On several occasions I've seen Microsoft take the wrong approach with Windows Phone. It concentrated on better camera hardware than helping people take better photos. It focused on the tile interface rather than on what ties offered.  

Windows Phone still far from maturity

Even Windows Phone 8.1 is far from being a well-rounded, mature platform. Here are just a few problems:

  • The tile interface is still clumsy to navigate.
  • Sharing is limited to certain files.
  • The video player doesn't support some popular formats, such as MKV. What users really need here is a good third-party option, but that doesn't exist.
  • Action Center is clunky and broken.

Microsoft is in reaction mode

Microsoft's mobile strategy doesn't seem ready for a smartwatch, but pressure from other players means it has little choice but to devote cash and resources to developing one.

Android distraction

The Nokia X strategy, where it has chosen to adopt Android but skin it to look like Windows Phone 8 and use Microsoft services over Google offerings, highlights how confused Microsoft is in that it's willing to dilute the Windows Phone ecosystem in exchange for increased share in developing countries.

This move has also raised the possibility in people's minds that Microsoft could adopt or even switch to Android, which could dampen sales of Windows Phone even further.

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Windows Phone

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178 comments
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  • They are focusing on the wrong market

    Microsoft means business and business uses Microsoft. It's been that way for some time. And when they finally get a phone worth using, where was their focus? The already flooded consumer market.
    Blackberry is dead in the water. The market was ready for a reliable business phone. iOS was designed purely for individuals, and no business was going to deploy Android. And Microsoft had the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it, but they dropped the ball.
    Even now they're still plugging away at the consumer market whilst blithely ignoring the requirements of the business market. Certainly there have been improvements as the OS has matured but now iOS and Android have caught on to business needs it's becoming too little too late.
    Maybe it's salvageable. If they concentrate on what businesses want from a phone with Windows Phone 9 (tight office-focused integration, business app marketplace, security first design) then I think they have a chance.
    keebaud@...
    • The market already had a reliable business phone.

      It was called the Blackberry.

      Then came the legal attacks which weakened the company.

      It now has a new reliable business phone - Android. Easily made to fit various markets by different vendors...

      Windows phone? only fits MS choices. Vendors don't have much say in the matter.
      jessepollard
      • "Reliable business phone - Android"?

        Are you sure about that?

        My understanding is that no businesses will go near them because of that "toxic hellstew of vulnerabilities" thing.

        Must be a different Android.
        Englishmole
        • You are right and wrong

          Security risks on Android phones outside Asia and Russia are about as infected as a Mac. The reason businesses do not like to support Android, at least not for BYOD, is because... A) The lack of Exchange support for Android. You can sync not only email and calendar with native iOS apps but also tasks and notes as well. B) Fragmentation. iOS is homogeneous for the most part and so MDM tools work well with it. Not only that but the UI is a known factor.

          Virus risks for western Android users is simply overblown FUD.
          Rann Xeroxx
        • toxic vunerability?

          oh, you must mean people actually installing dodgy apps from 3rd party markets.. because if your basis is viruses that your device can just catch.. you would be referring to Windows like codered or Nimda, there are no such malware for Android.

          If I go and source or write a script in windows that blows away my hard drive, and I run it myself.. and it blows away my hard drive. have I been attached by malware or stupidity?

          And yet that is what non android users call dodgy apps that users ignore the warnings on and install/run... they are not malware like viruses/worms. and in enterprise mode you can't install unsanctioned apps.. so no malware problem at all.
          frankieh
      • Reliable business phone and Android?

        Really? Are you serious?
        Bruizer
      • Android may be many things

        but "reliable business phone" won't be found on that list of things. Security is too great a problem.

        BYOD went crazy, and Android can be found as part of that influx, but nobody is standardizing their company on Android, that much is certain.

        I do agree though that this is the third place niche that BlackBerry brought to the table. If Microsoft wants to make the most of their third place position, that also is the thing for them to focus on - mobile security (both on the device, and in its intercommunication protocols.)
        Mac_PC_FenceSitter
        • not true, not even remotely

          I know way more businesses with fleets of android phones or devices than any other platform. I'm an IT worker who has business contacts at lots of places and I only know if one Apple only shop... I don't know any windows phone shops and the last blackberry shop I knew is now Android. I did not encourage nor was I involved in any of the decisions... But it's considerably cheaper to do a widespread deployment of locked down android phones with custom apps than it is iOS. I don't know anyone that even considered windows phone yet..
          frankieh
        • You are wrong.

          In corporation I work for standard phone is Verizon Android. It employs about 200,000 people in US.
          marchel@...
    • BYOD?

      Are businesses deploying phones? I thought BYOD had ended that practice. There are recommended lists but most businesses are now focusing on making sure they have some way to protect corporate data that ends up on consumer devices.
      robradina@...
      • Corporate Liable is alive and well

        I know vendors and blogs like to tout BYOD and it seems everyone is embracing it but reality is many companies prefer corporate owned and managed mobile devices. The allure of BYOD was different platforms and most companies have a COPE model in place.

        We have over 25k employees and 6k mobile devices and with our BYOD program we have many 300 users opted in. The bulk of employees prefer a fully paid mobile device and service - even if it's a BlackBerry - Go figure
        MobileAdmin
    • All I See is iPhone

      Whether at professional functions (law CLE) or clients' offices from mid-size to large business entities, I see a vast majority of users with iPhones, and a lesser number with Samsung Androids (see very few HTC or others).
      dksmidtx
      • As an MDM Admin...

        That's about right for the US. We have 70% iOS, a handful of WP8, and the rest Android. But the Android group is rather diverse with Samsung, HTC, Nexus, etc.
        Rann Xeroxx
        • ??

          When you say "we" you don't mean the US because there is no way Iphone has 70% market share.
          alderran
    • ummm.. not true. I know several businesses that deploy android.

      easier to rollout apps.. google have added lots of control features and even free sophos antivirus which has never found anything suss on any of my devices adds command and control features to Android. I also helped someone roll out Samsung tablets at a government institution recently. And facilities management at the uni where I worked also just rolled out Samsung tablets. it certainly is happening, and in decent numbers.
      frankieh
    • 'Blackberry is dead in the water.' Arggh!

      How many times over the past few years are we going to hear the same tired, worn, lying, know nothing remarks about Blackberry?
      Do you follow the Business News at all? No you don't.
      Blackberry is far from dead. And stayed out of the Red Ink by selling Internationally. While too many Americans think that they are the only Market in the World that matters. Keep wearing your Blinders.
      Even tho' the latest Pretense to Knowledge headlining Blackberry as a Brand defunct by 2015 is currently making the rounds.
      This massive US Centric based ignorance isn't going to be enough all combined to finish BB off.
      BB is like the Cat that came back the very next day. So far so good.
      PreachJohn
      • I wouldn't buy one. Don't know anyone who would.

        If there was room in the market for a third platform, it would have to be the Windows phone. Not blackberry!
        Jake3.1
  • 2%?

    Strange, reports last year had it beating Blackberry and heading north of 5%. Reports this year vary between 3% and around 8%.

    Where does the increase from 1% to 2% figure come from?
    wright_is
    • That 8% is in a few small countries.

      On the whole, WP is around 2%.
      Bruizer
    • I believe they have lost 12% of their sales...

      Which would bring the worldwide market down to around 2%.
      jessepollard