Reviews Windows Phone Xbox - 28 December 2011
Author: Anthony Rock

Blog heavyweight Robert Scoble has recently blogged in response to Charlie Kindel’s recent interview comments, stating the reason WP7 hasn’t taken off is purely because of apps and app developers, and the market for WP7 is closed and the platform has no chance to survive.  Kindel, if you haven’t already read, believes that Microsoft’s use of quality control and wrangling in the OEM’s and carriers is the reason the OS hasn’t taken off.

First, some reality needs to settle in.  Despite the obvious reasons why not, quite a few Android phones are considered “smartphones” for reasons that are beyond most people.  I’m not talking about your Optimus V, your Atrix 2, or any of the other high-end premium phones.  I’m referring to the horrid Optimus U (“Micro”) and other phones that are hobbled, barely functional feature phones with a touchscreen.  These are as much smartphones as a jacked-up Honda Civic is a performance car because it can do the 0-60 kinda-sorta fast.  Stick an iPhone, any Galaxy S or S II phone, or any Windows Phone next to one of those budget LG Android phones or the junk they sell you at Boost Mobile and the difference is as clear as day.

Despite that rant, “smartphone” penetration in the USA is either 35% or 44%, depending on who you ask and what, exactly, qualifies as a smartphone.  So, we’ll play the numbers and hazard a guess of 40%, realistically, but it could go either way.  This leaves right around 60% of the US market still in the market for a smartphone, and if you factor in all the cheap smartphones, old smartphones, and upgrade-every-year smartphones, the number just gets higher for how many people are going to buy a new smartphone in the next few years.  This market is far from closed, and when you go outside this country, the numbers for smartphone penetration just get lower and lower.  You’ll notice the bottom of the list includes the biggest potential markets in the world, India and China, countries that mobile giant Nokia has a decent but tenuous grasp on.  Can they retain their hold?  Possibly.

In short:  The market is wide the hell open for everything.  This is anything but a two-horse race, and it’s anything but finished.

So what does Microsoft have to offer?  Well, besides stubbornness and a war chest most companies would dream of having, they have Windows 8 and the XBox.  Does this effect WP7?  That depends on how three questions are answered:

1.  Are people willing to accept Metro as the “default” interface?

2.  Will Windows 8 tablets take off as they are expected to?

3.  Are the benefits of the Windows ecosystem worth investing into?

These are questions we cannot answer yet, or even pretend to, because there is simply no way of knowing.  The Metro UI right now is weird and alien and icky, but if Windows 8 takes off and people warm up to it (Live tiles are sweet, I have to say), then Metro becomes the “default” and other systems that don’t look like it are stored in the “old” or “other” categories, a bleak place that WM6.5 and WP7 are currently inhabiting.  Windows 8 tablets are supposed to be the next generation in tablet computing, and they are currently bragging about laptop functionality in a slate form factor.  If this comes to fruition, and the tablets are hot sellers, then we could see Windows Phone take off along with it.

There are a lot of “ifs” floating around WP7.  Marketshare numbers from Microsoft are nonexistant, which gives the distinct impression that they are not very good at all.  Nokia is still bleeding marketshare, but it has the name and the distribution channels that could elevate WP7 to a higher level if Tango can live up to its promise of WinPho functionality aimed at the cheap seats.  If the Marketplace can continue to grow and thrive as it has (And snatch up those lingering apps people are bleating over), then the obligatory negative of limited apps that is put in every WP7 review will become a non-factor.  If Apollo can up the game with higher-end phones, then that becomes a non-factor.  If Microsoft can keep its updating system as smooth and silky as they have if they manage to wrangle up that penetration they want (In other words, instead of a few million they’d be updating tens of millions), then that will keep people happy.

In every “WP7 am doomed” article I read, there is an obligatory mention of the failures of Bing, Kin, and Zune.  Bing is easy:  It’s still growing.  It’s nipping away at Google’s marketshare by the month, albeit slowly.

The Zune did not fail.  The hardware was discontinued, but the software and ecosystem contribution is all Microsoft cares about.  Look, it’s simple:  The portable MP3 player market is not an essential market to own (Even iPod sales have been declining steadily over the last few years), but the still-emerging smartphone market is.  Why waste time, effort, and energy on a product nobody wants in a market that will not decide the future of your company?  Microsoft might as well try to infiltrate the digital camera market.  Much like a hermit crab, Zune lives on in a different shell and from what I understand it’s second only to iTunes as an online entertainment marketplace.

The Kin.  The Kin was representative of Microsoft trying to latch on to current trends.  As of April 2010, the dumbphone market eclipsed the smartphone market (And our friends at Gartner predicted that smartphone sales would slow during 2010) and MS, knowing nothing about the market, launched the Kin:  A Facebook powered feature phone released in the shadow of the iPhone without the power, the name, or the backing.  It was a stupid, stupid move and with the way WP7 looks it appears Microsoft learned their lesson.

Why isn’t WP7 latching on?  It’s been a year.  It’s following growth trends that Apple and Google set with their own releases, both in market share and app counts.  It’s got itself quite a bit of good press, a solid foundation, and a rabidly loyal fanbase.  Despite the doom and gloom that others predict, the thing has a fighting chance.

If you were wondering where the part was where I predict WP7′s marketshare or even tell you that is definitely going to succeed, then just go smack yourself.  This is all speculation, and with the way the tech world works I’m not dumb enough to try and predict it.  I can only give a guess on what would need to happen for WP7 to succeed, and it’s equally likely that it could succeed without any of the above factors coming into play or be dead by next year.









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(15) Readers Comments

  1. Very well said. People tend to forget it’s only been a year and Microsoft has the pockets to keep it going during the rough times.

    With Android so tied in to Google services Microsoft has no choice but to keep Windows Phone alive and once people get over the fact that the OS is called Windows and is made by Microsoft it will take off because it’s a great OS.

  2. Again, don’t be so certain WP7 will be a success. It has the potential and the monetary backing, and Microsoft knows that its future successes will almost certainly be dependent on it…

    …but we’ve seen software company regime changes before. There’s a reason nobody has computers by IBM, Commodore, and Tandy anymore.

  3. You’re spot on, Anthony, in (1) the tone of this piece, (2) the claims you refuse to make, and (3) your analysis of the surmountable (but significant) obstacles that stand between Microsoft and success.

    You have excellent taste in avatars, too. [So types the man wearing a Faulk jersey.]

  4. Indeed. This is the tech world, and things happen. Apollo could get delayed like BlackBerry 10. People may just stop buying the thing. Nokia might drop out or go under. The iPhone 5 might suck. Android could get sued into oblivion. Nobody knows what can happen, not with any certainty, so this is simply a reaction to all of these people who live in techie echo chambers and proclaim that Product X will beat Product Y when the people who decide the fate of most technology are the least apt to give a crap about it.

  5. At this point I feel there are three really good mobile OS choices. It doesn’t matter what you choose I just want it to be an informed decision.

  6. Did you see the movie Crank? Where the dude dies unless he injects himself with adreline and runs around killing people and having relations in public?

    Well that’s sort of like Bing, except instead of adreline injections, it’s billions of dollars in losses.

    Though it is left very slightly ambiguous in Crank 2, the guy dies.

    Can I join you in this game of pretend a little more? Okay, pretend for a moment that the suits, the decision makers at Microsoft not only don’t share the fire in your belly over Windows Phone, their interest in it and its relative success as a recognized contender as a third baby pony is tepid at best — and they make their decisions accordingly.

    I am suggesting you need to consider accepting that you own a phone of a platform whose market share — not user base but market share, the “horse” thing — will never, ever reach a level that you have in mind as something you’d find satisfying.

    Also, you’re wrong, it’s a two horse kind of thing no matter how much money they throw at it. You want market share? Give the effing phones away with prepaid sims in them, put them in big boxes and leave them at homeless shelters, maybe include solar chargers. That would not only get you some new users on facebook, that would catch all sorts of extraordinary press, good and bad (meaning good), and bam, now you’re a third horse.

    Sadly, the closest thing to out of the box thinking that you’re getting from the suits is an aggressive attempt to divest Windows Phone to Nokia for them to deal with.

    Nice article.

  7. Doug, I enjoy your shtick on this site–especially the part where you admit to being full of ‘shtick.’ =)

    I think you’re underestimating the role that Windows 8 could possibly–not “will,” but “could possibly”–play in boosting the viability of Microsoft’s mobile OS. There are a lot of users who would welcome the “unification across three screens” approach, much in the same way that the people found it very appealing to be able to use their iPhone apps on the iPad, as well. Even if there’s a processor-based split between Windows 8 applications, the myth of the thing could still pull in a lot of users who don’t follow tech blogs and the like.

    I realize that it’s a human tendency to treat our own experiences as representative of others’ experiences–regardless of whether they actually are–so I’ll admit that it’s possible I’m guilty of the opposite error: overestimating its possible influence because I am among those who are delaying certain tech purchases until I see what Windows 8 has to offer.

    Disclosure (provided for the benefit of those who like to pigeonhole based upon ownership): I don’t have a WP7 phone, but I’ve played around with those owned by friends and family members and my impression has been cautiously favorable. I currently work with a combination of Android and ‘good’ ol’ WinMo 6.5.

  8. Douggie:

    To believe that MS has no interest in WP7 as a commercial success is ridiculous. Although we aren’t stooped in the “post PC era” quite yet, the tablet figures show fairly impressive sales despite being a new product. Yes, there will probably close to 400 million PC’s, laptops, and ultraportables sold this year, and while tablets MAY reign in 10% of the market, they have done so quickly and in pretty high fashion. It’s only a matter of time before this becomes a smartphone/tablet world. Laptops and desktops aren’t going to disappear, but I don’t think they’re going to be top sellers either.

    Bing is a central component to the Windows ecosystem. Windows Phone and Windows 8 Tablets are the companies future success necessities, and they’re going to push this shit as hard as it possibly can. If MS up and just accepts their distant third without a fight, then they will more than likely have just shot themselves in the foot.

    MS may be a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them.

    This is all shades of the XBox, where MS came into the hottest emerging technology market at the time “late” against companies comparable in size to the behemoths that currently occupy the market. It took five years of bleeding money, but in the end MS took a bite out of Sony’s ass to the tune of 40% market share.

    Again, MS’s goose may be cooked. Or they may still have some fight in them. The smartphone market is far from closed, and the cyclical/disposable nature of this fickle market guarantees no guarantees.

  9. I am not sure if you guys see this plan is still young. There is an ecosystem being created here that will make a lot more sense when the puzzle comes together at the end of 2012. Bing, WP7, Xbox and Windows 8 seem to be headed for an integration collision. If you look at the big picture things look very exciting. I for one cant wait to see what happens.

  10. windows phone is just going to get better, that’s all i can say

  11. Scoble is a butthead and liar. Period.

  12. I like the idea of more competition in the mobile space, android and iOS are taking the lion’s share. But as far as Windows is concerned, I couldn’t care less about windows anymore.

    Working in technology as long as I have, I recommend MS products to clients, and Apple products to friends and family. I make money off fixing MS based shi^, and don’t lose any free time trying to explain ANYTHING on an iPad, iPhone, iPod, Mac, etc.

    So windows 8 could be the new ‘hotness’ in windows world, and i’ll be sure to recommend it to my clients as much as possible – i need to make the money so I can buy my next Apple devices..

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  14. My device lust began with WinMo. Maybe a little more processor power and memory will smooth out the performance.
    And the screen size, at first I chose the HTC 8125 over the Palm 650, because of the screen size.
    I found soo many places to download WinMo apps, I couldn’t keep track of them all.
    I changed platforms because of the available devices and what was coming “soonish” from WP couldn’t compete with what I chose based on screen size alone.
    I would have chosen WP for the right device, I would still consider switching OS.
    But for me it is all about the device and the features it has, screen, processor, memory, SD slot, radios (AT+T) GPS
    To a lesser degree I consider OS and OEM.
    I tried passing down my WinMo devices to my kids, they didn’t like the size of the device, and they didn’t like the OS.
    I just don’t think a young person is going to choose WP without it being handed to them. It is all about the Droid and the Apple, for now, till the next big thing.
    Unless the carriers continue to take all the fun out of having these devices.
    Peace

  15. Windows Phone UI is weird, alien and icky? I thought all you bleeding edge techno guys liked new stuff.

    Obvious that you haven’t used a phone running WP7.5.

    Likely that you live with your mommy.