Why would anyone buy a Windows Phone? Ever?

Did you hear? Microsoft offers a smartphone. The OS looks kind of cool, actually. Only, no one knows about it. Or at least, no one is buying it.

To be fair, the Windows Phone 8 OS, the one ostensibly designed to compete with iPhone and Android, is not yet available. Microsoft sent the OS to handset manufacturers in September. Samsung, HTC and Nokia, all leading smartphone makers, should have Windows Phone 8 OS phones available before Christmas. Likely – but not guaranteed, depending on where you live.

The question remains: will anyone care?

I have my doubts.

In the US, a massive and profitable smartphone market, Microsoft has less than a 4% market share. In fact, for all the reports on the death of Blackberry, in the US at least, Blackberry has nearly triple the Windows Phone market share (the figures below include both Windows Phone and the moribund Windows Mobile).

What about the rest of the world? The news may be worse. If DigiTimes is right, Android, which already has the lead market share, shows no signs of slowing down:

Android, which already accounted for more than 60% of the handset market in the first half of 2012, is expected to see the percentage surpass 70% in the second half as several major Android handset vendors such as Samsung Electronics, Huawei and ZTE are all starting to pump up their shipments in the third quarter, while second-tier vendors, regional brand vendors, and white-box players are also aggressively launching new entry-level Android-based handsets in the China market.

Time is not on Microsoft’s side.

Android claims over 500 million device activations. Apple has sold in excess of 400 million iOS devices, most of those iPhones. There are more than 600,000 apps for Android and there have been over 20 billion app downloads from Google Play (formerly Android Market). The situation is similar for Apple. There are over 700,000 apps in the App Store and downloads total over 30 billion. During the company’s 2012 WWDC, Apple stated they had over 400 million accounts with registered credit cards able to buy apps, books, music and movies.

Can even the once-giant Microsoft compete with this?

Customers are lining up for the iPhone 5 and carriers continue to profit from offering the device. Blackberry has an established (if declining) relationship with most carriers and enterprises. Android is bringing in millions of new customers eager to switch from feature phone to smartphone. Most carriers and retail outlets offer numerous Android devices at a variety of price points and form factors. Can Microsoft take shelf space in this already crowded marketplace? It will not be easy, nor inexpensive.

But wait! What of Microsoft’s strengths? They have an install base of about a billion Windows (PC) users. Won’t those users demand or at least feel more comfortable using a Windows Phone? After all, Microsoft’s Windows 8 interface and Windows Phone 8 UI are, not surprisingly, designed to look similarly.

I don’t think this matters – at all.

After decades of effort, Apple has barely made a dent in Windows PC sales. Macs are still a niche and market analysts assume that Windows controls between 90-95% of the PC install base. That hasn’t stopped Apple from having the world’s most popular smartphone. Likewise, Google’s Chromebooks are barely a blip compared to Windows. Yet Android dominates smartphone market share.

Worse for Microsoft, in my view, is that their interface, while unique, maybe even beautiful, is not what people want. The world has effectively standardized on the app. The Android and iOS interfaces are app-centric. The Windows Phone interface relies on bold type and “tiles”. What if, say, in 2002, someone developed a great PC UI that did not use the desktop metaphor. Would anyone use it? Even if you could show them it was beautiful, functional?

There are other Microsoft strengths, of course. Xbox, is a chief one. No doubt some buyers will appreciate the ability to interact with gamer friends while on their Windows phone. But, in fact, there are very few actual game tie-ins. Counter that with the iPhone 5, for example, which includes the new A6 chip. Apple showed off the device and graphics for some games, such as the upcoming Real Racing 3, are stunning. The days of the console being the lead point in gaming may already be over.

What about design?

The Nokia Lumia line is truly beautiful. HTC has shown off its upcoming Windows Phones and they look extremely similar to Nokia. Of course, Apple is known for its design. Samsung makes handsome devices. And, of course, HTC is a leading Android handset maker. Can the Nokia Lumia stand out? Can Microsoft get these phones in front of people? And how fast might both Samsung and HTC abandon the platform if it does not sell? Unlike Nokia, they already sell millions of Android smartphones.

Lastly, what of the ecosystem?

Microsoft’s content and payments ecosystem is not as robust as Android nor as intuitive and frictionless as iPhone’s. Apps., book, music, movies, TV rentals; these are a snap with iPhone, for example. What can Microsoft do to just level this playing field?

I am having a difficult time understanding why anyone would choose a Windows Phone. It’s harder to buy. Has fewer apps. Looks different. It’s not as easy to purchase content. It does not offer more functionality. It does not provide better security. It’s not simpler, nor more intuitive. There are fewer choices. The devices are not less expensive.

If we assume that just half the planet’s four billion feature phone users eventually switch to a smartphone, than the market for Windows Phone going forward is certainly huge. I’m just not convinced that Microsoft has given them or anyone a reason to not choose iPhone or Android.

Author: Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology, immortality and food for ReadWrite, Techpinions, Unwired View and other publications. His thoughts on the 'smartphone wars' and how these are rapidly de-constructing markets, industries, business models and relationships around the world can be found on his personal site at www.brianshall.com.

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  • http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002VH8ECQ Brian S Hall

    That’s a solid response. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Herman.van.der.Blom Herman Van Der Blom

    Can somebody please terminate this guy. He is polluting the Internet

  • Guest

    Windows Phone isn’t a buggy platform at all. If you were talking about Windows Mobile 6.x then you would be on to something but security holes/malware/constant crashes aren’t something you find on the WP 7.x OS, as a matter of fact you’re more likely to find those on Android than WP.

    http://www.noknok.tv/2012/08/08/how-nokia-lumia-is-more-secure-than-iphone-and-android/

  • I_Hope_For_Peace

    Let Me Say This Simply And To The Point. I Think All This Hype Is Over One Thing… Our Personal Preference. Now I’m Not Going To Say I “Hate” Any OS. I Have Used: Windows 8, Mac OS X, OS X, iOS, Android, Linux, and Many Many Many Other Operating Systems. And The One Thing I Believe Is That People Choose Something For One Of Three Reasons.. 1. They Like The Look and/or Feel of the OS 2. They Need and/or Are Required To Have Their Phone Be Compatible With Their Other Devices 3. The Style Of The Device Is Stunning To Them. So Let’s Stop Trying To Justify Our OS and/or Device.. As All It Will Cause Is Bickering Between iOS-ians, WP-ians, and Anroid-ians.. OK?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QH25RVNTUIAU7HT6DQ7CONEO2U havasu46

    Wow, an technology article written by a true technology bigot. It kinda makes me ashame that I spent 44 years in enterprise IT developing major enterprise applications only to read this sort of religious vile. Why would I ever want to buy anything from Apple or Google. Apple dumbs down simple technology so adult and baby monkeys can use it like a dog learning to ride a bicycle with training wheels. Google goes around the world stealing other organizations content and offers searching it for free to spam the results with worthless advertising and marketing crapola. No. I rather not even have a mobile device if it’s made by Apple or runs on Android. However, I do have a Lumia 900, will have a Windows 8 tablet and upgrade to a Lumia 920 while watch the lemmings and robots slide into oblivion from my confortable retirement digs in Arizona.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QH25RVNTUIAU7HT6DQ7CONEO2U havasu46

    All mothers think that of their offspring.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QH25RVNTUIAU7HT6DQ7CONEO2U havasu46

    No way Jose. Nokia should price it high and offer to those wanting ot most in the smallest international markets first thereby picking the ripest low hanging fruit. Leave the US bigots and snobs swinging while Nokia gears up production for Asia where the consumers actaully do their own decision making. The Lumia 920 blows away the iPhone 5 and GS3 in all tests that matter. I’ll bet every Lumia 900 buyer in the US will gladly pay an upgrade fee from the Lumia 900.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QH25RVNTUIAU7HT6DQ7CONEO2U havasu46

    You obviously haven;t used a Windows Phone. I;ve compared my Lumia 900 to friends iPhones ansd Samsungs and there’s no contest and I’ve only got WP7.5. Apple and Google fans have no clue about a real tech ecosystem.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QH25RVNTUIAU7HT6DQ7CONEO2U havasu46

    If you have a Microsoft ecosystem at home and work then WP excels at elimiinating dealing with another ecosystem. If your totally comfortable with Microsoft technologies than why switch which is exactly what all the XYZ’er say about their social ecosystems. There’s probably only a bilion or so people that are very comfortable with Microsoft and Nokia.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QH25RVNTUIAU7HT6DQ7CONEO2U havasu46

    Nice replys. It’s also not made by an advertising or toy company.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NV25ZPWMBDYFXEYR3AWQ43ZS5E Hein S

    Totally Agree. TILES look Flat and Boring.