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Windows Phone 7 Needs To Get Down to Business

Back in 2008, your editor was chatting with one of his wife's academic friends, a pretty well-known expert in politics. (Yes, your editor does sometimes take a break from talking sports to have a halfway substantive discussion about something important. But not often.) We were talking about the upcoming presidential election and discussing the fact that Barack Obama had endured a fairly bad month of August.

"Doesn't matter," this wise gentleman said. "Nobody remembers what happens in August."

Of course, he was right; the events of August turned out to be mostly inconsequential come November. It seems as though August is almost always inconsequential, though. Most of the continent of Europe takes vacation throughout most of the month of August -- an entirely sensible plan, in our view. Here in the United States, August isn't bad, if you don't mind brain-melting heat, television that's even more awful than usual and arguably the most boring period on the sporting calendar.

It's still better than, say, March, we'd contend, but August is mostly 31 forgettable, if not entirely unpleasant, days. September is when we get down to business again. School starts. Conferences kick back in. Discussions get serious at companies about budgets for the next year. Football cranks back up, and baseball actually becomes mildly interesting. September is memorable. September matters. September is real life.

WP7 start screen

Windows Phone 7 needs to be less August and more September. Yes, there is a point to this post, and this is it: There's nothing fundamentally wrong with Windows Phone 7; it's just that it doesn't matter. Nobody remembers it. Nobody thinks about it. Even the ditching of Windows Mobile for the new WP7 brand hasn't helped Microsoft's mobile operating system gain any sort of traction. Neither have multiple updates.

By most accounts, Microsoft's mobile fortunes are sinking, not rising. Last week's news that Windows Phone 7 had made just $613 million, and probably even less, in revenue for fiscal 2011 (that's a whole year) was another blow to the forlorn OS. Down in California, Apple was raking in $13.3 billion from the iPhone -- in a single quarter. And Android still owns mobile OS market share.

It actually gets worse. WP7's market share is 8 percent in the United States, and apparently much, much lower than that worldwide. And Microsoft's supposed saving grace, its deal with Nokia? Well, that's starting to look like two rocks trying to save each other from sinking in a pond. The picture is bleak.

Thus far, Microsoft has tried to take on iPhone and Android with a consumer pitch. After all, the company ultimately broke into the business of gaming systems in a serious way with the Xbox, which was once the object of cynicism and scorn (sometimes even here in this space). Why shouldn't Microsoft, with enough time and investment, be able to do the same thing with Windows Phone 7?

Honestly, we're not sure, except that Windows Phone 7, as we've said here before (see "4 Obstacles Windows Phone 7 Mango Must Overcome To Succeed"), is a pretty major departure from the iOS and Android interfaces. And as much as people who actually buy WP7 seem to like it, it's going to continue to be hard to convince the average smartphone buyer that WP7 really is a legitimate OS despite the fact that it looks very little like the other platforms everybody already knows. Retailer apathy and lukewarm marketing certainly haven't helped WP7, either. It's time for a change.

Nobody -- not Google and certainly not Apple -- does business applications like Microsoft. Nobody serves the enterprise the way Microsoft does. Nobody owns the enterprise the way Microsoft does. It's time, then, to move WP7 from being a lazy, forgettable August OS to being a down-to-business September platform. It's time for Microsoft to stop trying to be cool, stop trying to appeal to the youthful masses and go squarely for the business market it already owns with Windows and Office.

RIM's BlackBerry OS seems to be flailing and has left, we think, a gaping hole in the market for a serious mobile OS for business. Oh, sure, people can use their iPhones and Android devices for work, and they do (your editor certainly does). They work fine for business. But what if Microsoft started talking about how the iPhone is really just an expensive toy and how the Android phone is also a toy, but with more problems with malware than the iPhone has?

Don Draper -- so sorely missed this summer with "Mad Men" in a production delay -- likes to say something along the lines of, "If you don't like what people are saying about you, change the conversation." Right now, outside of the mocking trade press and a few industry bloggers, nobody is saying much of anything about WP7, and what a few select people are saying doesn't tend to be positive. Microsoft needs to change the conversation.

iPhone is neat-o for playing Angry Birds. Android is super cool for playing Angry Birds while inadvertently downloading a virus. BlackBerry is so 2006. Windows Phone 7 is the new standard for serious phone users, the sales road warriors, home-office workers and traveling executives who want to skip the kids' stuff and get down to business with a clean, simple, completely revolutionary interface. And it's from Microsoft, the enterprise software company, not from some goofy California hippies.

Keep in mind that the preceding paragraph doesn't actually reflect how we at RCPU -- happy Android and iPhone users, as far as your editor knows -- feel about WP7 or the other OSes. It's just the message we think Microsoft should send about WP7. Yes, it's early days for Microsoft's mobile OS (sort of). Let's not forget that Windows Mobile had been around for a while before Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone. But when the launch of a major new product actually sends market share reeling backward and draws embarrassingly little revenue, it's time to rethink marketing strategy, if not the product itself.

In this case, the product actually seems fine. It's the message that needs to change. Microsoft has to move Windows Phone 7 out of the hazy heat of August and into the back-to-business atmosphere of September. Of course, the funny thing about all this is that since we're posting this entry in August, it's unlikely that we or anybody else will actually remember it a month from now. Maybe, for Microsoft's benefit, we should run it again after Labor Day. Because nobody remembers what happens in August.

Do you think Microsoft needs to change is messaging for Windows Phone 7? If so, what would you do differently? Leave a comment below or send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com

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Posted by Lee Pender on August 04, 2011 at 11:57 AM


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