Why Windows Phone will succeed… eventually

I should preface this with two points: 1) I am not referring to any specific version of Windows, so do not assume I am talking about 8 in particular 2) when I say succeed I am referring to it becoming competitive against the two major players Apple and Google.  This is not meant to be troll bait or Apple/Google bashing.  This is also not intended to be a glory post for Microsoft.  This is a serious effort to look, objectively, a the overall situation in the consumer smartphone market for Microsoft.

Attending DevLink I got to have this conversation many times, and I got to hear many people who supported it as well as those who disagreed with this assertion.  Here is my point so long as they can continue to compete Microsoft will try to break into this market and they will eventually succeed. To those who immediately discount their chances, I remind you that people said the same thing about their chances in the gaming console market, where the XBox is #2 in the world behind Nintendo (http://www.vgchartz.com/).

The reason Windows Phone will succeed is because of developers, and Microsoft has more of them and has better tools to support them and make things easier; developers are notoriously more inclined to take the path of least resistance.  What has been lacking for Microsoft is viability and profitability.  Estimates for Windows Phone 7 were around 5.2% worldwide, hardly viable especially against the profitability of iOS and the adoption rate of Android.  iOS has been such a success that developers are willing to step back in time and use Objective-C as a language.  But when the community creates tools like MonoTouch and RubyMotion, it shows that developers are not happy with your programming ecosystem and want something that allows them to be better.  Personally I mark this as one of the attributing factors to the rise in Android’s app count (http://blog.appsfire.com/1-million-apps-ios-android/), among others:

  1. Many of the apps being written are ports from the iPhone
  2. The App Store is far more restrictive in terms of what can be submitted that the Android marketplace
  3. Java provides more aspects to increase developer productivity over Objective-C (this is something Apple is working to address)
  4. The tools (Eclipse, IntelliJ) are simply easier to work with and more welcoming for developers

The simple truth is, and I give Apple credit for make efforts to change this but, Apple is NOT a developer company.  Microsoft is often viewed as giving developers some of the best tools available, this is a huge part of the potential that Windows Phone has.

But again we return to viability, Windows Phone 7 was/is not, no matter how it is spun.  No one bought Windows Phone 7, and there were many reasons for that, but first and foremost, Microsoft continues to showcase that when put up against Apple their marketing simply falls short, though it is getting better.  But lets address a bigger issue Microsoft is battling: perception.

Even now Microsoft dominates the PC operating space with an astounding 84% of all worldwide machines (http://www.statowl.com/operating_system_market_share.php), and this gives Microsoft an incredible potential user install base.  But what Microsoft has to realize is THIS IS NOT THE OS MARKET.  They are not entering a market that they totally dominate, I would even argue its not a market being dictated by enterprise demands; it’s a market ruled and controlled by the consumer, which is Apple’s bread and butter, and Apple is simply not making mistakes.  They must also realize that they have not created the most positive image in the consumer space.  This means it is even more important that whatever is shown is ready, sleek, and smooth; which was not the case with the Surface introduction.  Microsoft also has to watch what it says for the sake of perception.  Even if people are not buying your devices, they are still a highly visible company and consumers are listening and watching.  I believe consumers are more tech aware now than ever before.  Apple realizes this and caters to that point with its releases.

A prime example of this came with the release of latest iOS version which Apple immediately announced will run on the 3GS, but some features will not work due to the older hardware.  Most people understand this, and look forward to getting the full feature set when they upgrade to a new iPhone.  The perception is that Apple is looking out for them and keeping them in mind.  Contrast that to Microsoft.  With the release of Tango (7.8) in December, Microsoft has said they will no longer be doing releases for Windows Phone 7, effectively spitting in the face of the people who invested in the platform.  The tech people understand why they did this, but we are not, and should not be, Microsoft’s target audience, it’s the general consumer, many of whom still remember the Kin.  If I were a general consumer and I went out and bought a shiny new Lumia and then was told 1 month later that my phone (that I will likely keep for two years) is going to be unsupported in 4 months, I would be upset and lose incentive to invest in the platform.  Its this kind of idiocy that hampers Microsoft now as it has in the past.  The difference was, in the past their dominance in the OS space and lack of an alternative choices (before the rise of OSX) offset this.

The sad thing is, it would’ve been so easy to say “The update in December, we call it Tango, is the next version of Windows Phone.  Unfortunately, some features wont work cause of the hardware differences.”  Easy.  I about punched my desk when I read what they said.  Stupid.

Nevertheless, the advantage that Microsoft has in this race is clear, with an army of capable developers who are yearning to work with something other than Objective-C and Java, Microsoft will continue to be primed and ready to explode.  However, unless they can appeal to the AVERAGE consumer and actually sell some phones, the platform will continued to be viewed as unviable.  I think it will succeed because I believe developers ultimately determine the success of a platform.  Without the apps people don’t buy, though without people, developers don’t write that many apps either.  Thanks.

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