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Opinion: What explains Windows Phone's sales woes?

Posted: , by Scott H.

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And here is where Microsoft may be running into difficulty. Windows Phone resembles Android in that they both rely on OEMs to build the devices, but that’s really where the similarity ends. Microsoft allows almost no alternation by OEMs to the core user experience. The hardware specs have to be within a very small tolerance to ensure the consistency of that experience. They control updates themselves, they don’t allow much in the way of carrier bloat, and there’s not a lot of customization that customers can make.

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

The result?

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.

  • Options

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:11 4

1. redmd (Posts: 1371; Member since: 26 Oct 2011)

for me it's their price and the lots of lost functionality.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 04:52 2

17. bobfreking55 (Posts: 866; Member since: 15 Jul 2011)

i think it's their closed system and being very new.
most people have itunes only and android has mass storage.
Not that Zune is hard to understand but why look for anything else if Android and iOS is standard already... and the jailbreak and stuff... yes, it's more of an iOS competitor.

also hardware limitation.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 09:49 3

39. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5993; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)

There is also an arrogance factor with MS. They think that if they build it, the market will buy it. While that has been the circumstance in the PC/ Windows market, that kind of arrogance doesn't play well in the smartphone market.

Great article (Thumbup)

posted on 31 Dec 2011, 21:10 2

73. Whodaboss (Posts: 176; Member since: 18 Nov 2011)

MS arrogance? As oppose to whom? Please don't superimpose your thoughts on MS. If your ascertian was correct then people would be flocking to their product. So, your thesis requires some additional work. Ok, you don't like MS WP it's your right. Just like I'm not a fan of iOS nor Android products.

I always find it curious people who like both iOS and Android products are so quickly to comment on WP. Last time I checked iOS and Adroid were the best selling devices so why do so many of their users care what MS does? Why lower your standards to comment on a system that you're so positive isn't worth the time buying?

As far as this article goes it's decent and I agree with some of the ascertions but overall sentiments of this article is rubbish to me. I will never own another iOS product nor will I own the overrated Android products. That said good luck to them all.

posted on 01 Jan 2012, 06:28 1

75. ladyhaly (Posts: 106; Member since: 17 Jan 2011)

He is saying that the downfall of Microsoft when it comes to smartphones is the fact that they didn't think of things well enough before joining in on the game. The closed system, for example... There is a reason why a lot of customers who prefer an open-source platform flocked over to Android and seriously... It's hard to attract the kind of customers that have a loyalty pledge to Apple--- people who prefer a closed, structured ecosystem that display the same kind of arrogance to its smartphones the same way Windows displayed their arrogance to their PC OS. Just because they made it doesn't mean that people will go off in flocks to buy their products. You completely missed Droid_X_Doug's point.

Your bitterness to both iOS and Android is amusing. As far as I am concerned, I would actually like another OS competitor to get into the game because the more competition, the better, as long as no one actually joins forces with the other in order to topple off the other. (Microsoft is guilty of this, as they joined in a betting scale for something Google wanted to purchase last year along with SE and RIM... Because Microsoft has the same morals and practices Apple does; see something good, steal it, patent it, and bully all the others who try to do the same thing they did no matter how un-cutthroat the other company is.)

The fact is... I would like MS Windows Phone to gain a little momentum in the Market but seriously... The reason why I flocked over to Android is because I hate jailbreaking and I hate having to buy apps just to have them.

And Android is hardly overrated; the iOS products are. Every Android product has its company working hard in order to set it apart among the crowd of Android-flavored handsets available today (and then on top of that they have to compete with the iPhone) whilst your beloved iPhone doesn't need to; because Apple doesn't care enough to give their customers a choice. In their minds, that IS their latest iDevice and it's up to you to adjust to it; not the other way around. Because Android is cheaper by 50% so their product is above any other just because it costs more, because the profit margin is up there in the 100% scale. Jeez.

So no--- thank you. I'm not stupid and I hate bullies.

Microsoft should do the same as Google did. They are just not used to consumers having the power of choice above them. They're used to scheming and eliminating the competition so they can create a monopoly. All of this should change.

posted on 01 Jan 2012, 16:48

81. Whodaboss (Posts: 176; Member since: 18 Nov 2011)

As you put it "... having the power of choice..." that's the crux of the matter with MS. Their OS is as good as any if not better. (my opin) And I'm glad MS didn't go the way of Google aka Android. Using Android on a powerful device works decent/well, but using Android on a device that's not fully spec'd out is not a good combination or experience at all.

I'm glad MS has a minimum standard for the devices that will run their OS. But that's the conundrum here; Whereas there are many phones that run Android there are few Windows Phone devices. TMo currently has 1 phone until Nokia 710 is released. AT&T has 5. Sprint 1 and Verizon 1. That's the problem! And yes iOS only has one phone, but Apple makes the phone and control all aspects of their device.

I'm glad MS has joined with Nokia because Nokia makes great looking devices. HTC, Samsung, etc seems to treat Windows Phone as a step child in my opinion in terms of styling - the left over form factors.

Lastly, WP lack of sales are directly due to the lack of support by those selling the phones. As a TMo and Verizon customer I have visited many stores and when I ask about a WP device 99.9% of the time the sales person try to steer me towards an Android product. That's whats really killing Windows Phone in my opinion. If that doesn't change nothing will help MS.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 11:01 1

47. shafboy (Posts: 179; Member since: 26 Sep 2010)

You know what? I don't think Microsoft is the best OS out there, even though I have one and personally prefer it to any other OS.

But even if I pick an iPhone for an upgrade to my contract I will still support Windows Phone.

I don't know why, but I can see the OS going somewhere.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:21 5

2. HTCOE (Posts: 635; Member since: 20 Nov 2011)

The user interface is not my taste at all its pretty weird in my opinion. It doesn't seem like it targets adults well. It tends to feel more like its designed for children & teens.

To make it better in my opinion would include:

solid build structure

full live tile display for richer experience

4g connectivity

larger marketplace

professional windows interface

more functionality

better advertisement & marketing


posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:37 3

6. Uzzelien (Posts: 131; Member since: 22 Feb 2011)

So you want super small live tiles? Really would it be worth having them if they were the same size as the icons on an android phone?

4G connectivity:
Really 4G isn't worth it on a phone right now. Wait two to three years then look at an phone with it. Look at Verizon, how often is their LTE down?

A larger market place:
This is just silly. No other phone OS put as many apps up in as short of time as they did. The Zune Market place is growing and at a fast pace.

More functionality:
I hate when people say "more functionalilty." This really means more customization. That's really not the point of the phone and more and more companies are moving away from this.

The more I read this the more I find your comments to be very droneish almost like you just throw out keywords that marketers use.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 05:14 4

21. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

dude..you're an idiot that creates bogus points just for the sake of protest.

tiles are pretty much just widgets that double as launchers. it's a fine approach to simple information gathering.

4G connectivity is a good thing now, yesterday, tomorrow, whenever. innovation has to start somewhere you know. Verizon's LTE Network has only been down only like a handful of times for only a day or two at a time so we're talking a total of 1 maybe 2 weeks of outage out of around 55 weeks of 10x the speed of Verizon's 3G. so not worth it bro.

the reason the Windows Marketplace garnered the amount of apps it did in the short amount of time it did is because after a look at the amount of people using iPhones and Android smartphones companies and developers realize the significance of having Applications available on mobile platforms now. Apps have just caught on. obviously the rate of progression for marketplace growth on WP is nowhere near that of Android or iOS so until that changes WP will just keep falling further and further behind.

you know when someone is saying they want more functionality there is a good chance that they mean what they're saying. a good example would be what Microsoft themselves recently patented. it's this cool modular design for WP devices that would definitely fit the bill for increased functionality.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 06:19 1

25. Uzzelien (Posts: 131; Member since: 22 Feb 2011)

4G is in few markets and those that get it yes it's been down twice and that's two to many times. It really shouldn't be going down at all but the phone companies ( verizon in this case ) didn't spend enough time on the backbone to handle it. In two years when all major cities will have it and they've learned they need to boost the backbone more for it then I'll change my mind of that. Till then if you travel with you phone you're on 3G most of the time.

The Zune market place has grown at 2x the a speed of the Andoid market place.
http://www.phonearena.com/news/WP7-Marketplace-about-to-hit-30000-apps-doubles-Android-apps-growth-rate-devs-welcome-to-submit-Mango-apps_id21496 I'm going to qoute Mr. T here " I pitty da fool."

What you're talking about it port to allow devices to connect to it. That is much different and no other devies have that not and Android or a iOS. Though...oh wait something like that was out a long time ago called a Springboard.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 06:42 1

26. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

Verizon's 4G LTE covers over 200 Million people guy. that's plenty. well that's your decision but if everybody was like you LTE would get no where.

what they're saying is the Windows Marketplace reached that milestone in half of the time that the Android Market did when it was young and that was back in the days of the G1, the myTouch, the Cliq and the early days of the Droid. i would hope Microsoft is doing better at getting apps now than Google was back in 2009-2010. the Android Market has 500.000+ apps and the Windows Marketplace has 50.000+. Android has just been around roughly 2 years longer than Windows Phone 7.

then all the more reason Microsoft should make it a reality. that's the point. oh and modular enhancements have stuck around. take the LG Versa for instance.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 08:04 1

31. Uzzelien (Posts: 131; Member since: 22 Feb 2011)

2 years is HUGE in any type of software and in phones. People bitched aboutt he andoid market place when it first started saying it wasn't going to make it and it was didn't have as many app..blah blah blah. This is the same thing iOS fan boys and droidboy ( like I can tell by your icon you are ) say about the zune market place.

People don't want to lug stuff like a keyboard ( if they want an off screen one ) around that isn't already on their phones. The same goes with cameras and everything. That's why the Versa didn't do well and also why the Springboard didn't do well.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 08:17

33. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

yeah but WP7 is the third wheel on the scene, it's not the same as Android because Android was a direct and fresh competitor to Apple and garnered a lot of attention, it still is. the excitement was building instead of diminishing. if this article is any indication i don't think WP's app support is going to increase as much as it has with Android. trust me i like WP but it still needs lots of work.

the modular concept was just one example of what one would mean by increased functionality. it doesn't even have mean hardware. i thought the modular idea was cool though because then you could have a game control attachment, an extra battery, a keyboard, these things would be very practical to use on a WP device.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 09:51 2

40. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

there is room enough for everyone in the marketplace. the market is still young and still has more than half of the world to grow to.

WP7 is a good OS with some good thing in it, and a marketplace that IS growing fast regardless of device sales. the Android marketplace did not catch fire until after the DROID release that made it a success and started attracting developers. the WP7 market is growing despite lack of solid sales. Thats actually pretty impressive. If it keeps it up, it will have probably over 200k apps within 2 years.

4G is needed more for some people, like VZW customers that dont have a fast 3G backhaul... its a huge difference between LTE and CDMA 3G. Say what you want about tmobile, but i rarely drop between 4-5mb/s on 3g and my wife barely drops below 8-12 on 14.4mb/s 4g. Thats more than fast enough for now. That makes LTE less necessary.

The versa was a crap phone. If "modular" enhancements came out on a flagship like the SGS2 it would do much better. The Asus Transformer is a "modular" design and its one of the best tablets. There is definitely a market for it. Maybe not a mainstream one.. but enough for a few manufacturers to make a small mint on accessories.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 13:49

57. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

i agree pretty much. only thing is LTE is necessary for Verizon to get on-board and that is a big deal. ;P

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 10:21 1

43. PedroJohnston (Posts: 2; Member since: 30 Dec 2011)

Wow i completely disagree with you:
It's clearly the opposite. Windows phone 7 is the least visually luring UI for children and teens. Partly because the screen looks smaller, partly because you cant customize much of it. Its minimalistic, clean, and relies mostly on text to get a message across. Kids like things more like shiny symbols, and extravagant looking UI features which are inexistent in WP7. It is CLEARLY targeting older people. The problem is that older people don't care as much about tech to go spend the extra cash as the younger generation does.

The MAIN problem is clearly timing. Microsoft is simply to late.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 11:18

49. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

id have to disagree with you. I sell more WP7 to teens than to anyone else. They love it.

posted on 31 Dec 2011, 00:54

67. bvalde09 (Posts: 188; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)

Altough you all have a good point. Especially @remixfa Windows is just behind on the market. I mean Lets take as an example the Samsung Focus (ATT) Thats a good phone and is cheap with Mango update you could do a lot related to previous version. I Think if they would focus expanding the market they will be ok. Windows Phone has never been bad is matter of personal choice.. Give MS time for another year or two and they will be in the good track

posted on 31 Dec 2011, 14:45

72. MYTHiKAL (Posts: 34; Member since: 20 Aug 2011)

I agree with u on this... Teens and Kids would be more interested on WP7s then any others mainly due to the very unique XBOX Live Experience they dont have with the other OS..

Overall, WP7 is a solid OS.. I'm starting to see more and more with WP7 phones all around me, they just came in too late to the party thats all.. Give it more time.

posted on 31 Dec 2011, 21:46

74. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

yeah, i'm 18 and i like WP even though i'm being objective about the platform it still hits a mark with my age group. i'm an exception due to being well versed in the mobile space but to most of my friends WP is definitely on their Radar and speaking of Radar i have a friend that just bought a Radar even over my suggestion of getting a Galaxy S II or shopping around for a good deal on a GSM Galaxy Nexus. i will say however that Android has created a name for itself in teenage society, i often times see teens that want an Android device now largely due to how big it is now and because of how many of their friends are satisfied with it. like remixfa said WP needs that Droid release backed by a multi-million dollar ad campaign from Verizon.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 11:05

48. shafboy (Posts: 179; Member since: 26 Sep 2010)

I agree but I also think it has sustained well amongst its strong competitors. Especially because they are going against the two hardest OS's out there.

I'm waiting to see what Apollo has to offer.

posted on 01 Jan 2012, 06:34

76. ladyhaly (Posts: 106; Member since: 17 Jan 2011)

I think you're looking for an iPhone with 4G connectivity.

The Windows interface is already professional. If you want something that looks like an expensive toy, go buy an iPhone.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:23 4

3. Uzzelien (Posts: 131; Member since: 22 Feb 2011)

People had a bad taste in their mouth from WM 6.X so they see Windows and don't even look at it for one. It's sad I know plenty of people who are like this. I got one myself and let my friend play around with it after he was talking about how bad 6.5 was and now he's thinking of getting one for his next phone. I like how once 7.5 was RTM it didn't take five months+ to get the dam thing on my phone. People bitch about the specs on them also. They don't even think that it doesn't need the quad or dual cores to make it a smooth experiance. The major thing that is a problem with it is the retailers. It really doesn't come down the handset makers pushing it but the retailers knowing the phones they're pushing. Walk in the your local AT&T store and ask to see the phones of the sales people. They're almost all iPhones or some kind of Android. MS should sit them down and put a gun to their head while they read the stuff on info on the phones and make them use them. This isn't going to happen though...unless...nm. This is a huge part of it. When I got mine I went into the store and said this is the phone I want. I started to chat with the girl who was setting it up and she even said she didn't know anything about the phone really. Then said I knew more about it then she did....so tell me what the major thing is now?

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 12:38 1

53. rando (Posts: 1; Member since: 30 Dec 2011)

This is the most accurate comment here. I work in market research looking at drivers and barriers for different smartphone brands every day. The reason why Windows Phone is struggling has nothing to do with the OS or the hardware. Both are good and provide the most well rounded OS to hardware experience in my opinion (I have an Android fyi). The reason why WIN Phone is struggling is because of timing, advertising, branding, and the sales people as mentioned above. It's the same issues Palm had with WebOS. Because they are late to the game it is critical sales people recommend the phone and get customers to at least try the OS. However, consumers will not even consider the phone because it says Windows on it. The average consumer associates WINDOWS with "old, viruses, boring" etc. These are things consumers don't want in their phone, because they view their phone as an extension of their personality to the outside world.
We have consumers in our focus groups all of the time and show them an array of smartphones, no one ever chooses the WIN Phone and they say they would never consider a phone made by MSFT with WINDOWS. However, when we disguise the branding and have them just play with the OS, they view it as the best OS hands down. For many of them, they prefer it over iOS. This means the OS is there, it's a matter of the learning curve and getting it in the hands of people to try.
Honestly, MSFT would be better off if they somehow bought market share, meaning, give unlocked WIN Phones away to people for a month or so. Look how well the HP Touchpad is doing when they nearly gave it away: it's the number 2 tablet in the US.
Also, Android is the default phone people go to because they view it as the only decent alternative to the iPhone. Most consumers are very different from those on this chain . They usually do very little research and go with what friends,TV, and sales reps tell them. Android's timing was just perfect as the only competitor to the iPhone on Verizon when there was only BlackBerry. Most consumers who use Android find it too time consuming and exhausting to adjust the OS to fit their needs.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:29 4

4. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

EXCELLENT ARTICLE! i agree with everything here 100%.
i myself (an Android user) would like something more aesthetically simple yet good looking and complex in it's functionality all at the same time much like WP7 and i am a big user of Xbox LIVE so there's even more reason for me to have a WP but Android has me for things like powerful hardware, exponential rate of innovation from Google and OEMs alike & developer interest. i would definitely give WP a chance if the hardware was just there but like you mentioned about Microsoft's time table Apollo is coming in a time when the the world will be swept up with the next steps from Google and Apple with the iPhone 5 so Microsoft really has a lot to focus on in the next year with this plan of theirs. 2012 makes or breaks these guys without a Miracle.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:34 1

5. manuell3g (Posts: 66; Member since: 12 Aug 2011)

Seriously,when people who have never held a windows phone pass judgement on the os it pisses me off.the os or its design is not the problem but luck of apps n developer support.if windows phone equal android n ios apps it will be a very competitive os.

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:39 2

8. HTCOE (Posts: 635; Member since: 20 Nov 2011)

not true....at all buddy it needs more than just apps, even apple

posted on 30 Dec 2011, 03:39

9. Uzzelien (Posts: 131; Member since: 22 Feb 2011)

This is the stuff people said about Andoid when it was young.

posted on 01 Jan 2012, 06:41

77. ladyhaly (Posts: 106; Member since: 17 Jan 2011)

The thing is... How can developers support it when the OS itself is closed? A closed system doesn't attract a lot of small-scale developers, which are the ones who actually give away free apps. I hate having to buy apps when I want something as simple as... say, a scientific calculator or a dictionary. MS needs to ATTRACT consumers in their ecosystem. It's not the device and the OS; they're great. (Windows 6.5 and below were meh... but ever since WP 7, the experience changed.) It's something within the ecosystem that's not appealing.

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