Microsoft on Windows Phone 7: "We're in it for the long run"

Microsoft is finally ready to talk about numbers for its Windows Phone 7 platform, announcing that 1.5 million devices have been sold in the first six weeks. But those numbers need a bit more parsing than usual.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is finally ready to talk about numbers for its Windows Phone 7 platform. But the numbers they've released need a bit more parsing than usual.

My colleague Mary Jo Foley already picked up the eye-catching number that Microsoft wants to see in headlines: More than 1.5 million Windows Phone 7s sold to date. That number comes from an "interview" with Achim Berg, Microsoft’s vice president of business and marketing for Windows Phones, published on the Microsoft News Center.

Here's the full quote:

Sales are ramping well as our reputation is growing for offering users a unique experience and are in line with our expectations – especially when compared to other new platform introductions. With a new platform you have to look at a couple of things, first of all customer satisfaction. As I mentioned before, we’ve seen great response on the complete mobile phone experience.

Another is phone manufacturer sales – phones being bought and stocked by mobile operators and retailers on their way to customers. We are pleased that phone manufacturers sold over 1.5 million phones in the first six weeks, which helps build customer momentum and retail presence. [emphasis added]

Had this interview been conducted by an actual journalist, you might have seen a follow-up question here: How many of those phones have been activated by customers? That's the real metric for market share—Google, for example, now claims that it is activating 300,000 new Android devices a day—and it's telling that Microsoft isn't sharing that number. If those phones aren't flying out of the stores, then it could be a classic case of channel stuffing.

(And directly comparing Windows Phone 7 sales to the original iPhone isn't that easy. Because Apple sold the first iPhone model directly to its customers, they didn't have to worry about he channel. Still, it's worth noting that it took 74 days for the original iPhone to hit 1 million units sold, back in 2007.)

I don't want to dismiss these new numbers completely, because they do represent a serious commitment on the part of carriers and retailers to buy and stock and sell the phones. And a key part of Microsoft's strategy is to get those devices out into the world so potential customers can try them out. As Berg notes:

We introduced a new platform with Windows Phone 7, and when you do that it takes time to educate partners and consumers on what you’re delivering, and drive awareness and interest in your new offering.  We’re comfortable with where we are, and we are here for the long run; Windows Phone 7 is just the beginning.  Our opportunity is to make sure people get to play with a Windows Phone. Once they do, they love it. This is very important for us.

Ultimately, Microsoft wants this story to be about momentum. Developers are building apps for the new platform, customers who try it are loving it, and—most importantly of all—it has a future. Berg uses the "long run" phrase twice in this press release:

We know we have tough competition, and this is a completely new product. We’re in the race – it’s not a sprint but we are certainly gaining momentum and we’re in it for the long run.

Indeed, the 1.5 million number is most significant as an expression of confidence on the part of carriers worldwide. But we won't be able to judge whether that momentum has reached takeoff velocity until Microsoft begins to talk about activations.

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