By now the head honchos at Windows Phone must have realized that making a great product does not result in great sales by itself. What did they think? That they’re Apple Inc? Only that can explain the complete apathy of Microsoft executives towards marketing Windows Phones. Instead of the anticipated marketing blitz, we had the print, electronic and cyber media replete with woeful tales of poor (or) zero advertising, lack of push by carriers and indifferent attitude of sales personnel. In recent times they (and Nokia) have made efforts to address these issues, but Windows Phones sales continue to languish in the 1% range. Clearly, something vital is missing from the marketing strategy.
Disclaimer – I’m not a marketing guru. (Steve Ballmer is one, apparently). But I’m an early adopter in India and brandishing an unknown smart phone has automatically made me the brand ambassador of sorts for WP7 in my extended social circle. And I have tried hard to ‘sell’ Windows Phones to my peers in the last 14 months, with abysmally low success rate. (Disclaimer 2 – Microsoft has not paid me for the phones I failed to sell) Now consider this for a moment – I’ve been ardently following WP7 ever since Project Photon was shelved and Microsoft decided to go for a major OS reset, so it would be safe to assume that I know a lot about the OS and its positives/negatives. I even occasionally write about it in this blog. (Didn’t you notice that?) But if I, with my years of knowledge and experience, could not convince my friends to buy Windows Phones, how can I expect sales personnel with 2 week crash course to sell it to strangers? To be fair, I never had any difficulty in attracting attention to begin with. My Dell Venue Pro was, and continues to be, one of the more attractive phones on offer. I would whisk it out, show off the slide out keypad, the sleek tiles scrolling smoothly and never failed to get oohs and aahs from my friends.
Buddy - Wow, cool phone. Is it a Blackberry? [C’mon, we’re talking early 2011 here. Blackberry was still the coolest thing in India]
Me – No, its much better than Blackberry or even iPhone. It’s a WINDOWS Phone.
Buddy – Windows Phone? No kidding? Computer on a phone, eh? Hey listen dude, I’m going to catch this flick. Talk to you later. [End of conversation]
Don’t get me wrong. Windows is not hated in India (apart from some techno-geeks maybe, but they are a very minuscule percentage). The vast majority of educated Indians respect Windows, they are in awe of it or even afraid of it. “Must be damn complicated, this phone. Wonder if I’ll be able to switch it on by myself,” they would think. And It took considerable tact and patience from me to cross this mental barrier and get them interested in the features.
Buddy – So, why do you say its better than other smart phones?
Me – Well, it’s a totally new approach. You have these Tiles and Hubs to manage your apps, the apps are laid out by Pivots in Panoramic style for easy viewing. [Drat, I can see from their faces that these words are freaking them out even more than what Windows did, so I change the track] You see, Its is the most beautiful and user friendly OS.
Buddy – What’s an OS?
Me - Uh, never mind. Look, these tiles are LIVE, they dynamically update the info you need to see, right on your home screen
Buddy – Interesting, the others can’t do it?
Me – Well, some can, but in a different way. They have notifications and such things; Android has widgets, but not as good as Live Tiles. This is the Full Monty. Plus, this has a camera button that activates the camera even without unlocking the phone. [I proceed to launch the camera from sleep and click his photo to demonstrate]
Buddy –Hey, nice photo you took of me, man. Send it to me by Bluetooth.
Me – Erm, well… Bluetooth file transfer doesn’t work with this.
Buddy – Huh? This is a smart phone, right?
Me – Of course it is. I mean…. hey look, this has Facebook and Twitter integrated into the OS!!
Buddy – How does that help… this, whatever this OS thingy is?
Me – Ha!! You don’t need a Facebook or Twitter app for doing most of the things in your social network.
Buddy – Most of the things?
Me – Uhh… well, yeah for some things you still need the Facebook app.
Buddy – Yet you say this is the Full Monty?
Me – Never mind that, Windows Phones have Deep Linking, AppConnect, Background Agents, Hardware Acceleration….
Buddy – Dude, know what? Let’s go get some beer……
No prizes for guessing that I’m not making much headway. I mean, I used all the buzz words Microsoft has coined about WP7 but fail to get any buzz around. I’m frustrated, and more so when the iPhone guy says matter of factly, “It has iCloud. It magically syncs all your contacts and appointments between all your devices”. Damn it, that sounds so simple. And makes perfect sense too, no more explanations needed. Or he says, “iPhone has Siri, ask her whatever you want, you’ll get the answer.” So simple its amazing.
Me – Wait, wait!! Windows Phones have had such a service since long.
Buddy – Really? What’s it called?
Me – Tellme.
Buddy – Why should I tell you? You tell me, you’re the expert.
Me – Noooo!! Its called Tellme [DAMN it] And.. and, Windows Phones have had that contact and calendar sync service since ages.
Buddy – Oh yeah? What’s it called?
Me – Its… its.. its not called anything. But its there, believe me. [Now that sounded foolish]
Buddy – Whatever…
Me - No really. It also has free Skydrive.
Buddy – Oh cool, I like free apps. What’s Skydrive? An app for pilots?
2nd Buddy (looking up from his PSP) – Sounds like some space game. Prolly you get to drive through the Milky Way avoiding meteors and stuff.
Me - FML !!
Needless to say, I’m exasperated. And it dawns on me that just like an idea or concept, even a product is no good for the masses till it can be expressed in simple words which people can easily understand. And this is where Microsoft and Co have utterly failed. WP7 is the best smart phone OS around, by a good mile, but there are no ways to describe it.
This post has gotten too long, so I’ll save the rest for Part II. There I’ll try to suggest some remedies which my common-user-mind can think of. Your thoughts are welcome, of course.
Part 2 is here.