Windows Phone and the Necessary Steps to Success
You know what one of the problems is with the tech press? Everything is black and white. In fact, this characteristic is not exclusive to tech publications; it is pretty much true for the Web as a whole. Generally speaking, a product is either great or terrible.
A perfect example is the mobile industry. Every phone that comes out is either an iPhone Killer or a total failure. The same applies to the mobile operating system ecosystem.
Right now, in the minds of many tech bloggers around the world, there are two operating systems, and only two. iPhone and Android. In reality, it is true that other platforms such as Nokia’s Symbian, WebOS, and BlackBerry might be suffering now, but are still far from their death beds.
Windows Phone 7 is a different story than both categories. Right now, the new Microsoft mobile initiative has insignificant market share of less than 5%, but according to almost all predictions, it is expected to make a difference in the landscape of mobile operating systems in the coming years.
The big question is, would you buy a phone that runs a Microsoft operating system after having used the mess that was Windows Mobile? Personally, if you had asked me before ever using Windows Phone 7, I would have, without hesitating, answered no. However, Microsoft has clearly internalized some of the feedback they received from Windows Mobile and reinvented their mobile offering from scratch.
A lot has been said about Windows Phone and its future, but the latest development is that Mango, the most recent update to the platform has just been released to manufacturing with a whole list of improvements that will enhance the overall Windows Phone experience. You can see the first Mango device, which is going to debut in Japan, in the video below.
This got me thinking about what it would take me to replace my iPhone with a Windows Phone device, and with the help of a little crowd sourcing on Twitter and Google+, I came up with the following list.
The following are five immediate and practical steps that Microsoft must implement in order to achieve any sort of success in the over saturated and uber-competitive mobile industry:
This is hands down the biggest factor in the success of the Windows phone platform. Take the Playbook for example. The hardware is top notch, the software is powerful, but the apps are M.I.A, and we know how many Playbook devices RIM has managed to sell. Microsoft’s top priority way ahead of anything else on the list, should be to make the lives of its developer community as easy and pleasant as possible.
As of now, the development environment of Visual Studio is indeed top notch, but if you have developed a Windows Phone app and tried to upload it to the Marketplace, you surely know how big of a headache it is. It’s as if Microsoft does not want you to upload apps. The verification process for you and your company is so painful and unintuitive; that developers have told me they almost gave up in the process.
However, the headache does not end there. Once your app is live, good luck promoting it. Now 25,000 apps is not 500,000 like the App Store but for some odd reason, unknown to anyone it seems, Microsoft seems to have chosen some big titles to promote under their own name, and a small independent developer does not stand a chance. This does not seem like a company struggling to succeed in a super competitive space.
The Cool Factor
Off the bat, I will say that the UI of Windows Phone is awesome. Except, if you ask 9/10 people about Windows Phone, all they hear is Windows, which means uncool. Microsoft has to push this platform with all its marketing might. I mean, the “Really” commercials were mildly entertaining, and Microsoft’s $500 million budget combined with Nokia’s $130 million budget to push Windows Phone is a good start, but Microsoft (and Nokia) has to try harder.
Lucky for Microsoft, they are not first in this market and they can learn lessons from some of their competitors. Have you ever heard someone refer to the Android platform as a whole by calling it a “Droid phone”? Yea, it is the same as someone calling MP3 players “iPods”.
You know why that happens? Because of marketing. Android and Verizon flooded the U.S with the Droid Does ads and guess what? They did the job and helped Android reach enough people to help the platform compete with iPhone. Microsoft, are you taking notes?
While in today’s mobile world, hardware comes second on the list after apps and software, there is no denying how well a mobile device with unmatched specs can sell. I am talking dual-core processors (or possibly more), top notch screen resolution, a camera with a ridiculous amount of megapixels and LED flash, and all the possible sensors you can imagine.
On this front, I am fairly optimistic that Microsoft will fill these shows. Why? For two reasons. For starters, the first batch of Windows Phone 7 devices such as the HD7 and others were pretty darn impressive. However, the kicker is a small little Finish company that Microsoft is partnering with. If there is anyone that can wow us with their hardware in a very software-centric mobile era, it is Nokia. I am convinced this is what will happen by year’s end.
Subsidized Phone and Service
OK, here is something I did not think of and was suggested to me on Twiter by Rob La Gesse, a.k.a Scoble’s boss at Rackspace. He suggested that Microsoft has to focus on market share and not revenue. For this cause, Windows Phone app revenue should be used by Microsoft to subsidize handsets and even service. What better way to bring users by the millions than to give them a phone for free?
Far fetched? Definitely. But as Rob said to me on Twitter, desperate times call for desperate measures. As far as Micorsoft and Windows Phone are concerned, these are definitely desperate times.
How would this work? That is something that would require some creativity on the part of Microsoft, but Rob suggested, and I like the concept, that users would pay for an app in the Marketplace and Microsoft, instead of taking a cut like Apple does, will take that money to subsidize free phones or some kind of deals on free or discounted phone service. Would this require operator cooperation? On some level, absolutely, but in order to succeed in this space, Microsoft better have already recognized the essential nature of operational ties with mobile operators around the world.
In today’s market, iPhone and Android are growing fast but globally, Nokia still holds the crown. For Microsoft to make a difference here, the company is going to have to attack the market across all continents. Of course, the fact that Nokia smartphones will be running Windows will help their cause, but let’s not forget that Nokia’s dominance in emerging markets is not based on smartphones, but feature phones that have a very small margin of profit for the Finnish company. That might explain the numbers we heard last week about the Nokia Q2 results.
If Microsoft thinks it can beat Apple or Android in its home court and ignore the rest of the world, they are in for a big surprise. Windows Phone devices are going to have to be in the displays of stores throught the US, Europe, of course, but the rest of the world is going to need some Microsoft lovin as well. It has to be a global push or it will quickly turn into a global failure for Microsoft.
All in all, I have high hopes for Windows Phone and Microsoft seems to have learned many lessons from their past mistakes. If the platform’s 25k apps are any indication of its future growth, which I believe they are, we can expect a serious explosion in the coming years, the likes of which should make Apple and Google worry and step up their game.