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4 Obstacles Windows Phone 7 Mango Must Overcome To Succeed

First, a non sequitur, but there's no way we're not going to mention your editor's favorite professional sports franchise, the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, today. This party was 39 years in the making, and it's going to rage for a while. (Vancouver, on the other hand, needs to cool it.)

Anyway, while we're discussing winners, let's talk about Windows Phone 7. See? We told you it was a non sequitur. Well, that's not entirely true. WP7 is not a winner. It's very much a loser for the time being. But that might not always be the case.

IDC certainly believes in it, and, much more importantly, so does RCP Editor in Chief Scott Bekker, who makes a very solid case for why the Mango update to WP7 will set the mobile operating system on its way to greatness. If there's anybody we at RCPU trust almost as much as we trust Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, it's Scott Bekker.

Having seen Mango demoed at Tech-Ed, your editor is a fan of the new OS -- just not enough of a fan to actually go out and buy a device that runs it. (How many people will fall into that category?) And therein we find the problem for Microsoft and its snazzy new mobile OS: There's a lot more to succeeding in what is essentially a consumer market than just coming up with a good product. In fact, the sizzle is usually just as important as the steak, and Microsoft doesn't tend to sizzle.

The way we see it, WP7 could eventually be a serious competitor to Google's Android OS and Apple's iOS. But it's going to have to get past some big obstacles first, and four of them are these:

  1. Retail indifference. Evidently, there are some serious issues with retailers not selling Windows Phones, or with them steering customers toward Android or iPhone. Why that's happening, we're not sure, but we wonder whether Microsoft or its hardware partners need to come up with some sort of incentive plan. A great product nobody sees will never make it off the shelves.

  2. As with any consumer product, marketing and branding will be huge in this race. More than huge -- absolutely critical. Microsoft is way behind Apple and Google in that area and has frankly never been all that good at advertising for consumers. A phone can have loads of features and apps, but if it looks uncool in the office or at a party, there's a large swath of people who won't buy it.

    We at RCPU believe that one of the things that makes iOS such a strong competitor with Android is the cool factor. The iPhone is a great device, but it's limited by the fact that it's an Apple device, as all Apple devices are. (Oh, go ahead and get mad. You know it's true. Apple makes great stuff, but open it is not.) The difference in apps is not that great these days (and getting smaller all the time), and Android is available with much better deals from a larger number of carriers on a wider range of devices. Android itself isn't uncool, but it's no iPhone. The iPhone is still the standard. There are still some consumers who use "iPhone" the way they use "Google."

    Will Windows Phone 7 ever approach that level of brand recognition? Microsoft hasn't been able to do that in arguably 20 years now. Nothing about WP7's current campaign suggests that it will anytime soon.

  3. IDC's prediction of huge market share for WP7 is predicated mainly on the idea that the OS will have huge uptake in places where the iPhone and Android don't already dominate -- largely in the developing world. It's our take that people have overestimated markets in developing countries for years.

    China and India, for instance, deliver a huge chunk of users these days, but they still don't deliver the market power a lot of analysts and firms thought they would by now (from what we can tell). Change is slow in places where many people are still relatively poor by Western standards.

  4. Radical departure doesn't always work. WP7 looks nothing like iOS or Android; the latter two systems basically look like each other. There's a lot to the WP7 interface that's extremely appealing and will get better with the Mango release. But how conditioned are consumers to think that iOS and Android are just what phones look like?

    Sometimes, radical departure from the norm -- think of the Wii, or even Kinect, here -- is a blockbuster. Sometimes it's a flop. As a kid, your editor had a video game system called Intellivision. Its graphics were far superior to those of the super-popular Atari system; its games were more sophisticated, and it delivered an experience that was arguably well ahead of its time. But there was one problem (in your editor's view, anyway): It didn't use a joystick.

    Players controlled Intellivision games with a sort of remote control that featured a wheel not unlike the one on the original iPod. It was, frankly, a little hard to get used to, but with some practice it delivered more accuracy and subtlety than a joystick, which was Atari's default controller.

    The problem was that for gamers of the day, particularly casual gamers, the joystick was just how people played games. Sure, the wheel thing might have been a better controller on a better system (we said might have), but it wasn't normal. It wasn't familiar. The joystick was.

    Both Atari and Intellivision eventually tanked, of course, but Atari outlasted its competitor and (we feel pretty sure, without actually looking it up) outsold it, too. WP7 could face the same kind of problem: The more people get used to the icon interface on their phones (and tablets), the more that interface will just simply be the way phones work. WP7 might actually offer a better experience, but if it's not familiar -- and, let's face it, Microsoft has a way to go in catching up to its competitors in terms of market share -- users won't feel comfortable with it. WP7 could end up being the Intellivision of smartphone OSes.

Your editor became a die-hard Bruins fan in 1993 after visiting Boston for the first time. In the years that followed, the franchise declined steadily before flat-lining a few years later as the worst team in the NHL. Microsoft is far from flat-lining (very, very far), but it is arguably in decline. But like the Bruins, Microsoft can still pick itself up in the mobile market and make itself a winner again.

Whether the obstacles it'll face will prove to be as tough as the Montreal Canadiens, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Vancouver Canucks remains to be seen. And whether Microsoft can overcome its four obstacles the way the Bruins fought through the playoffs is another question altogether. Really, though, the takeaway from this entry is that the Boston Bruins are 2011 Stanley Cup champions. That's the important thing here.

Posted by Lee Pender on June 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM


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Reader Comments

Tue, Oct 4, 2011

I'm an early adopter of W7P from the initial release through recent Mango update. I absolutely love it and rank it ahead of android phone that I had and got rid of for this W7P. I've never had an issue or problem with the phone or OS. Android and iPhone are just the same old icons on a desktop to run an app type UI. Big deal. And I know my W7P is more customizable than iPhone and Android. iPhone only has one signature for all email accounts. What's that all about? So someone needs to provide details about how W7P isn't as customizable as the others. And I've never had an iPhone owner ever tell me that they loved their phone. Microsoft has to do a better job of marketing their product. That's the only problem.

Wed, Jun 22, 2011

There is a reason people are saying "don't buy it". Look at the Kin debacle. How is this very different. MSFT made their bed and can sleep in it. Reputation is everything. Sloppy, immature products, withdrawn or abandoned, do not a loyal following make.

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 Captiosus Virginia

Part 2: --- 3. Predictions are meaningless. Show me current statistics. Microsoft is losing mobile marketshare like water in a sieve. Granted, that includes WM6 and WM6.5, but no place has concrete numbers on WP7's sales performance. WP7 is not keeping up with the pace of the loss of WM users. Anyone can make a bold claim about 5 years down the road. Show me the numbers now - and the numbers now do not look promising. --- 4. Radical departure works if you're willing to listen to your early adopters. So far, Microsoft hasn't really listened to us. Or the early developers. They're just plodding along, in typical Microsoft fashion, telling us what we're getting is clearly what we want. This is where I'm afraid I have to depart with Doug from MI - the iPhone wasn't REALLY a "radical departure". It was a radical attempt at making a more accessible smartphone platform for the masses beyond Blackberry, but iOS, itself, isn't radically different tech. Compare iOS's screens with Windows 3.1's program manager. Same concept, nearly same execution, except the input device is your finger. iOS built on the menus that made Palm a raving success. Microsoft is trying to reinvent the wheel with Live Tiles, and, while undoubtedly pretty, they're really clunky. Mango isn't really going to help that much. Alphabetical jump lists or not, the entire interface, while pretty and unique, is NOT user friendly. --- Those are just your four things. Let's not forget several other points: The device is lacking features every other smart phone have had for years. Simple functions like setting a recurring calendar option doesn't even exist. It took away local sync ability, which is a big problem in the enterprise. Xbox Live integration is a misnomer, with multiplayer not even coming until post-Mango. Mango is going to come out and still be behind Android Ice Cream Sandwich and iOS5, the latter of which is already showing signs of processing HTML5 better than the Mango demonstration at MIX11. LG and Samsung have openly questioned the sales numbers and openly criticized the platform. The update problems STILL have not been resolved, and the NoDo mess was covered by all three mainstream media outlets (never good for sales)! I could go on and on. --- Simply put, Microsoft has, once again, put out an also-ran in the smart phone market - and this one does less than previous Windows Mobile for the sake of trying to be revolutionary. The Nokia and Skype collaborations WILL be too little, too late. At the current rate, by the time the first Nokia WP7 device comes out, Microsoft's mobile marketshare will be sub-5%.

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 Captiosus Virginia

Part 1: As an early adopter of WP7 (LG Quantum on AT&T), I regret my decision every single day. I could go on for paragraphs on this but it's inconsequential ranting. So on to the four hurdles: -- 1. Retail indifference - Although Doug from MI is right that sales associates matter less than before, people are still suckers for things like flashiness, pizazz, and store placement. Gone into any AT&T, T-Mobile or Best Buy Mobile stores lately? WP7 has been shoved off into the far reaches of the netherspace where almost no foot traffic goes. There are no displays for them, no wall hangings, nothing. All of the above exists for iPhone and hot new Android phones. It's only a LITTLE better in Sprint and Verizon stores, but that's because their WP7 offerings are still new. I've noticed my Sprint store is slowly creeping the HTC Arrive further away from their other big name, new, stars - all of which run Android. Sales associates may not matter, but if the phone is shoved off in the back corner with the "el cheapo" selection, it won't be seen, or it will be viewed with suspicion. -- 2. Not only is Microsoft terrible at marketing, so is LG and Samsung. The only of their current WP7 manufacturers who has been any good at it has been HTC. Nokia? Forget about it. Their ad for their recent phone - the name escapes me now - was horrendous. Then there's the carriers. AT&T and T-Mobile ran ads for WP7 for the launch month and a month there after and then - BAM - gone. I see the AT&T $49 iPhone 3GS ad at least three times a day. I see the AT&T Samsung Focus ad once a WEEK, at best. So far, I have yet to see a single Sprint or Verizon WP7 ad, at all.

Fri, Jun 17, 2011 Stop the FUD

Windows 8 is NOT going to be used on phones, as a matter of fact any device with a screen res lower than 1024x768 is not allowed to even use the touch interface of Windows 8.

Fri, Jun 17, 2011 J Goodall

Windows Phone 7 / 7.5 is itself a stopgap to Windows 8 on phones. The WinCE base will be ditched, as will Silverlight. To replace it will be HTML5 + JavaScript.

Fri, Jun 17, 2011

I've had a WP7 for a month now, I love it. It is so easy to sync with my computer, emails, etc. It works great with all of the MS programs + one note integration is great. I wish they had some way of using skydrive, looks like the next version will. I use dropbox for that now. All in all a pretty good and easy phone to use. Maybe if you are into reprogramming your phone and lots of customization, this one isn't for you. If easy, stable and quick setup are good, WP7 is great.

Fri, Jun 17, 2011 Scott Herring Manhattan Beach, CA

To your point about retail, my wife (who has worked in mobile for years) was evaluating WP7 phones at my request, and EVERY sales rep pointed her to Android or iPhone - either the commissions are better or they have more than an indifference to it. Better tech doesn't always win, so Microsoft has their work cut out for them to reshape this market.

Fri, Jun 17, 2011

For point #4, looks like MS is trying to address this with its big gamble on Windows 8. If people who get new PCs get that same interface & get used to it, maybe they will prefer a phone with the same interface. But it is a big gamble.

Fri, Jun 17, 2011 Doug Michigan

After 2 Blackberries and 2 iPhones (3GS currently), I have been waiting for the new iPhone5 this year to upgrade once again. No devices I have owned or used have been perfect, but the iPhone is pretty good. After reading about Mango, and looking at the current Nokia hardware (I have had a couple of Nokias years ago and really liked them), I will probably hold off on the iPhone5 purchase until I can see Nokia + Mango in operation. From what I have seen so far, that looks like the best setup. As to your 4 obstacles: 1. For tech products, especially higher end ones like smartphones, the store reps are becoming more and more inconsequential - largely by their own doing. More and more tech-savvy folks have learned that many, if not the majority, of these people do not know the products (and competition) that they are selling. We are doing our own research on the internet, and what we buy will be what we recommend to others that don't have faith in the salespersons either. 2. Remember that the OS is Microsoft - the device is Samsung, HTC, Nokia, etc. This is not the iPhone where Apple is 100% responsible for both. The individual manufacturers will need to step up and handle much of the marketing process. 3. Predictions? Largely meaningless. 4. Radical departure worked for the first iPhone, and will probably work better for MS than creating another me-to OS. In tech, people like big change every so often. iOS and Android are currently making evolutionary changes. It's time for a revolutionary change in these devices again, and the Mango update, on the right hardware (and that is very important), might just be as big a hit as was the original iPhone.

Fri, Jun 17, 2011 Andy Lees Bangkok, Thailand

I had an iPhone first gen, then got the iPhone 3GS, my contract came up for renewal and I wandered into a store in the UK and saw an HTC HD7 and I immediately dumped my iPhone for it. There are quite a few bad points about WP7, the main ones being - app prices are very high, there is no turn by turn navigation out of the box, in fact in Thailand it can't even find where I am at all! No multitasking, so you hit the home key or search key by accident and it dumps you out of your game/app, and you have to wait for the app or game to reload and find you have to start over with it, because it didn't save. There are so many niggles it's untrue. However, despite its shortcomings I do not regret my purchase, the reasons are simply these - it is amazing for web browsing, taking photos and auto uploading to skydrive, checking out in my phone directory how people are doing (through the auto info from facebook, msn etc), being able to edit word docs and excel docs on the go. I love the interface, I have live-tiles for my girlfriend and my closest friends so it's easy to call them. I can msn chat in realtime. It's already great, there aren't any apps on the iPhone that I miss very much, and gaming is good on the WP7. The Mango update will get rid of all of the problems I have mentioned. Nokia devices soon to be released will please everyone. Just think, with Nokia and Mango WP7, you'll get Carl Zeiss camera, amazing screen and more than likely proper buttons (not the touch sensitive things that the Koreans/Japanese love so much). Also, if anyone knows how to market a phone there's no-one like Nokia to do it. They had been market leader for nearly 30 years. I love my WP7 phone, and in a funny way I kind of like it's little quirks. Oh and for everyone moaning about Zune, I wonder how many corporate machines allow iTunes on them? Not too many. Zune loads to its full interface in 2 seconds on my laptop - try it, click the zune button, oh and it's up before I've even minimised internet explorer - it's rocket fast!!! iTunes, grinds and burps it's way into life in about 15 to 20 seconds. So for easy phone software, it doesn't come much easier than Zune. I could go on for hours about the benefits of WP7 over Apple. However, I couldn't go on for hours about how it's better than Android, because I personally don't think it is. If I were to buy a new phone tomorrow - well not tomorrow, I'll hang on until the new Nvidia chipset comes out and buy an Android phone then :) Or, if Mango delivers the goods and Nokia do a monster with Carl Zeiss lens then I might just have to go for the Nokia - Have you SEEN the video and photo quality on the N8? Staggering for a camera phone, if the Nokia WP7 phone improves on that then that's what'll be on my Xmas list..

Fri, Jun 17, 2011

Personally I don't think the WP7 is a good, stable and reliable smart phone OS, but I guess people may get caught in a hype like they did with the iPhones, but hyped and locked in solutions, it will not give any freedom for the users and I have to say I would hate to get unwanted advertisements just for I have installed an application and be unsure if my stored data will be there or not the next time I use the phone. Please, don't read this as I would like Andriod, it's crippled, but I do hope that we will see an increasing number of MeeGo devices which has the ability to give freedom to the users.

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 WT So. Cal.

Best Buy knows what they're talking about. Try recording a 1 hr lecture in OneNote. It takes several minutes just to save it when done. The idiotic WinPhone7 OS doesn't know a file transfer is going on, times out & turns off the phone! OK, so set the time delay to its max-5 minutes-and keep the phone alive during saves. After a while, the file system gets corrupted and you lose all your OneNote notes! No way to recover them because WinPhone7 doesn't have something as simple as a file system browser. It's too "cool" to have something so utilitarian. Can't even delete files without first uploading them to the security-hole-in-the-sky Skydrive. Having a Delete button wouldn't be "cool" or 21st century enough. I've now lost OneNote files twice, all my contacts that weren't saved on the SIM card twice, and all my photos. So much for being stable or dependable. So how do you get something to your PC? Nothing simple like attaching a USB cable directly to you PC and doing a file download. That wouldn't be "cool" enough for WinPhone7. You have to go through their Zune crapware - which you can't load on most corporate PCs. Even AT&T can't load Zune on the PCs in its stores, and with good reason. So much for business users. I could go on. WinPhone7 v0.0 is a piece of crap. That's why its market share is low and going lower, not (just) the reasons you give.
And why is it that I would ever want my PC/laptop/tablet to work like that?
PS - When it first came out, I was very pro Win Phone 7, even writing an app for it. Not now.

Thu, Jun 16, 2011

Just wait until Windows 8 will the synergy between having your PC work just like your phone be a turning point? I wonder.

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 Kevin Fream Tulsa, OK

Try buying WP7 at Best Buy and you will be emphatically told "don't buy a Microsoft phone". At a recent conference, I was the only one recording notes with OneNote and uploading to SharePoint. Next year everyone probably will.

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