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Microsoft's Un-American Windows Phone Strategy

You can't begin to imagine how flattered your editor felt when he saw MWC news popping up all over the Web earlier this week. Texas Christian University, your editor's alma mater, might be leaving the humble Mountain West Conference for the greener prairies of the Big 12 in the fall, but TCU does leave the MWC with four football championships in seven years in the conference. And now the worldwide press wants to write about this? That's flattering.

Of course, it wasn't really flattering because MWC in this case stands for Mobile World Congress, a name that we at RCPU find very confusing and borderline insulting. Couldn't it be the Mobile World Expo or something? Is it really a congress? We hate when real-world abbreviations copy the well-known names of college football conferences. (We're looking at you, Securities and Exchange Commission.)

In any case, this week's event in Barcelona gave Microsoft a chance to show off Windows Phone, which is kind of like showing up for a Super Bowl party when everybody else has moved on to March Madness -- a Super Bowl party in 2010, that is. But we digress. Microsoft talked up its mobile operating system in Barca and also revealed a bit about how it's going to try and actually sell it. And when we heard that part of the story, we started to wonder whether Microsoft had paella on the brain. (OK, so paella is Spanish and not really Catalan, but we couldn't come up with a famous Catalan dish. No offense intended.)

Check out this nugget from CNET:

"The software giant said today that it had lowered the minimum requirements to build a Windows Phone, a move that allows vendors to construct less-expensive devices that can appeal to more budget-conscious customers and first-time smartphone buyers."

Allow us a diversion here. It'll make sense eventually. Soccer is not a particularly popular sport in the United States for lots of reasons. One of them is that the level of the game we play here is considerably below that played in Europe and South America, for the most part. Lots of Americans -- even a lot of American soccer fans -- won't watch American soccer because it's not the best in the world, and we here in the United States tend not to like anything unless we have access to the world's greatest version of it. (That might explain why we've mostly invented our own sports and stolen hockey from Canada.)

Microsoft's ploy to sell cheaper phones to cost-conscious users might work -- and very well -- in other parts of the world. But it's not likely to work here. Microsoft is trying to sell American soccer to Americans, and we don't want it. Cost-conscious or otherwise, American consumers want iPhones. We want Android phones. We want the "latest and greatest," as the old expression goes. And if we can't afford it today, we'll wait and get it tomorrow, or we'll wait until our carrier lets us upgrade. Or we'll just put it on a credit card. What we will not do, however, is settle for second-best -- not when it comes to electronics. How'd that Kin work out, Microsoft?

Watch a friend or colleague whip out a flip-phone or some other communication fossil and see the reaction it gets. People now apologize to your editor for producing old phones from their pockets (which isn't necessary, by the way). The point here is that phones are about status now, and they're a status symbol a pretty wide swath of Americans can stretch to afford. So, maybe the data plan isn't unlimited, but, yeah, the phone's a smartphone. A real one. The best.

The notion of settling might not be a bad one for us in this country to explore, but it runs upstream against the raging river that is our consumer culture. And while not everybody can drive a Mercedes, if we can afford an iPhone, we're darn well going to buy it. And we do. Because we won't settle for anything but the best if we don't absolutely have to. And when it comes to smartphones, many of us don't have to.

So, Microsoft can take its cheap phones to the humble (or reasonable?) people of Europe and elsewhere, but that strategy isn't going to fly here in the USA. Go hard or go home, Microsoft! Compete straight up against Apple, Google and BlackBerry, or don't get into the game at all. Offering a relatively simple "starter" smartphone for a reasonable price might seem like a wise idea, but it's fundamentally un-American. We have a feeling, though, that Microsoft and its unfortunate Windows Phone partners are going to learn that the hard way.

Would you be interested in a cheaper, simpler smartphone from Microsoft? Leave a comment below or send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com.

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Posted by Lee Pender on March 01, 2012 at 11:56 AM