Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Perhaps the real reason Microsoft is not finding traction is they are competing against Apple for the same type of users. Remember that there is more than one way to use a smartphone (a fact that ardent fans of all stripes tend to forget). We can break consumers into rough groups based on their smartphone priorities:
- There are people that want a curated smartphone experience, with a minimal learning curve and maximum safety. Often the smoothness and polish of the OS matters more than having the latest tech. Those people often gravitate towards the iPhone.
- There are people that like to tinker with their phones, set up home screens in a manner that suits them, and have the right to install or modify anything they darn well please. They often prize flexibility and potential over UI consistency. More often than not those users tend to select Android.
- Some people like to pick a phone that simply looks cool to them, or happens to be the right size and/or form factor (or happens to be advertised on TV at the right time). Obviously you can find people like this using most any kind of smartphone (depending on personal preference) but in practice Apple tends to win the lion’s share of customers who care about hardware fit and feel, while Android’s many UI skins and form factors tends to scoop up most everyone else.
Android accounts for about half of all smartphones sold, and Apple for another 30% or so.
What does WP7 offer to those groups? The core “power user” Android fans will find little to like in the curated user experience of Windows Phone, and people who want physical keyboards or other form factors also won’t find much to interest them in Microsoft’s ecosystem either.
In short, Windows Phone is designed to appeal to smartphone users that would normally choose an iPhone. Apple and Microsoft may offer differing visions of how a mobile UI can look, but at their core their OSes have a lot more in common in terms of what they are offering to consumers.
And competing against Apple for a finite type of customer is hard to do. People who buy Apple products generally have very high satisfaction rates, and are often ardent proselytizers of the products they enjoy. Apple has more cash on hand than any other tech company, and they flex their marketing power (to the tune of almost a billion dollars a year) to promote the iPhone and other iOS products. Moreover, because they control (and profit from) the hardware, by making a single phone Apple can leverage huge economies of scale to select the best materials on the cheap and lock up emerging technologies for months (or years) at a time.
Take the Retina Display as an example. When the iPhone 4 debuted its high-density LCD screen, the sheer volume of iPhones sales allowed Apple a veritable monopoly on the output. The result was more than a year of exclusivity before other companies could tool up and start shipping similar displays in competing phones.
That’s what Microsoft is up against. Nokia, Samsung, and HTC are no slouch when it comes to hardware, but the sheer scale and buying power of Apple tends to overwhelm individual OEM efforts. The Lumia 800 is a very nice piece of hardware, but it doesn’t top the iPhone in manner that would convert Apple customers.
So yes, the carriers aren’t really keen on pushing WP7 phones in their stores. And sure, Microsoft was late to the party with Windows Phone. But what's making matters really difficult is that WP7 is positioned to compete for customers squarely against the 800 pound iGorilla, and doesn't have much to appeal to the part of the market that Android pursues.
When you think of it in those terms, WP7s 1.5% market is no longer surprising.