Why is Windows Phone outselling the iPhone in Poland? (Hint: it's the economics, stupid)

Poland was one of seven countries Microsoft named where Windows Phone is more popular than Apple's iPhone. Why? A mixture of brand perception, operator support and good, old-fashioned pricing.
Written by Michiel van Blommestein, Contributor
The Nokia 610 is helping drive Windows Phone sales in Poland. Image: Nokia

Late last month, Microsoft trumpeted that its Windows Phone platform had outsold the iPhone in seven markets in the last quarter of last year, including Poland.  What Microsoft didn't say, however, is that Poland is the biggest Windows Phone market anywhere in the world – consumers and developers alike can't get enough of the Microsoft platform, which is second only to the Android juggernaut in smartphone market share.

The success of Windows Phone has also had side effects on the Polish development scene, Microsoft claims. Windows Phone sales have spurred the Polish app development industry to focus on the Microsoft platform, a Polish spokesman of the Redmond giant told daily Gazeta Wyborcza in February. Of the approximately 130,000 apps in the Microsoft store, 6,000 are built by Polish developers, Microsoft says. That makes Poland the third placed country for Windows Phone development, behind the USA and India.

So what makes Poland so different to so many of the world's other mobile markets, where Windows Phone's share of the smartphone market is one-tenth that of iOS'?

First, a bit of perspective: the largest smartphone OS in Poland, as in most mature markets, is still Android. Overall, it accounted for 72 percent of smartphones sold in Poland last year, according to figures from analyst firm IDC.

However, Windows Phone has been making huge strides in the country: IDC reckons in 2012, it took 12 percent of the smartphone market, while Microsoft estimates it took 16.3 percent, compared to eight percent in the whole central and eastern European region and three percent worldwide.

The iPhone, a very strong second place in the smartphone market in most other parts of the globe, is struggling in Poland: iOS' share of the smartphone market in the country is around four percent, according to IDC's numbers, compared to 19 percent worldwide. (Although it's worth noting that iPhone is more popular in the informal market, such as auction websites, because of the lower prices that can be found there.) However, in terms of new sales, Poland is one of the few countries where Windows Phone devices outsell iPhones by a significant margin.

Mobile operators' support

According to analyst Marek Kujda of IDC, mobile operators have been pushing mobile contracts with Windows Phones partly out of fear of Samsung coming to dominate the market. "They don’t want to be too dependent on one supplier," he says. "That supplier would otherwise have the edge in future sales contract negotiations."

While Kudja believes Samsung is continuing to extend its lead, others believe the operators' balancing act is paying off for Nokia. In Poland, the smartphone battle is a now two-horse race: in 2012, 32 percent of smartphones sold were Samsungs, while 29 percent were Nokias, says broadsheet Rzeczpospolita citing data from MEC Analytics and Insight. Worldwide, Nokia has just five percent of the smartphone market to Samsung's 30 percent, by IDC's numbers.

Nokia doesn't seemed to have suffered the same wobbles in Poland as it has in other markets. In 2011, Nokia sold more smartphones (admittedly which were mostly Symbian-based) than Samsung, IDC found last year. Worldwide, it shipped 18 percent fewer smartphones than its rival.

So why is Nokia holding up better in Poland than elsewhere?

According to one Polish technology industry watcher, Przemyslaw Pajak, Nokia and Samsung both spend around the same amounts on marketing in the country. However, Nokia holds the edge when it comes to reputation: "Polish consumers consider Nokia to be a trustworthy brand, which produces resilient phones," Pajak says. "Samsung still has a reputation of lesser quality. Apple is perceived as a high-end luxury."

A question of images

So why is Nokia holding up better in Poland than elsewhere? According to Pajak, while Samsung has been active on the Polish market far longer than Nokia, that history may be in a sense a handicap for the company: Poles were introduced to Samsung during the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, an era when product quality in Poland wasn't seen as especially good. When Poland opened up economically, Samsung was one of the companies whose consumer products came onto the market. Consumers still seem to remember those times, when Samsung was one of the budget choices they had, Pajak explains.

In the meantime, Nokia managed to create an image of Nordic durability and that image has stuck, Pajak adds. The choice for Windows Phone as the operating system for the Lumia line of smartphones has not tarnished that image at all.

And, while Apple may have been able to lay the groundwork for the iPhone through a halo effect from its Mac desktop line, Poland has remained resistant to the company's charm there too. "Compared to Western Europe, Microsoft has an even stronger position here in the PC market," Pajak says. "I think 98 percent of PC sales are Windows. Mac and Linux have not been able to establish themselves yet." Worldwide, Apple's share of the desktop market is thought to be five times that.

And iPhone's lack of Polish success? IDC's Kujda believes the reason the OS is not doing well in Poland and other poorer countries is simple economics. "The average salary in Poland is about €800 before taxes. The median salary is even lower," he says. In order to buy an iPhone, the average Pole would have to fork out an entire month's wages.

"Windows Phone sales have not been driven by the most expensive models, but by the cheaper Lumia 610, which costs about €150 without a contract," Kujda notes. The average monthly mobile tariff in Poland is about 60 to 70 zlotys  (€15 to €18) per month. "You cannot offer an iPhone for one zloty with those bundles," Kujda says.

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