A question that many of us never considered when Microsoft announced its Windows Phone 7 platform a little over 2 years ago at MWC. As Joe Belfiore commented, the Windows Phone experience should be unified in that a user will know when they’re using a Windows Phone device. And with that bold announcement, Microsoft made a change that many would consider as machievellian as Apple’s own stance of we [Apple iPhone] will do it ourselves. And of course, the freshman year of Windows Phone wasn’t a success, often with numbers being the main question to curious bloggers of Microsoft’s performance. And yet, the numbers that some do have show the computer giant losing the little global market share it once had. Since then, there have been a lot of different changes, both in the overall mobile landscape, and with Windows Phone.
Windows Phone is seeking several different ways to permeate the user space in its sophomore year. Unlike its initial launch that was relatively quiet, Microsoft spent money not only informing users about Windows Phone Mango and Tango, but also giving OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] namely HTC, Samsung, Nokia, and Toshiba-Fujitsu money to go nuts in terms of advertising. In addition, Microsoft launched several different campaigns across the United States, Europe, and several other countries to kick off Windows Phone in a unique way. New York saw a massive display of a Windows Phone (mimicking the massive HTC Titan) and Deadmau 5 also hosted a live concert (streaming for the interwebs) to evangelize Windows Phone. Other places got parties, and were given incentives to make people spread the word of Windows Phone. With Microsoft’s special friend, Nokia, comes a new wave of advertisement and new range of Windows Phone devices to reach different segments of the world. So, with all of that said, you’d expect the leverage, the money spent, and of course the various range of devices for Microsoft to have a completely great year. Not exactly…
If there were any numbers to be given, it is that the advertising, the Nokia partnership, and a myriad of other strategies are working in Microsoft’s detriment. In fact, as stated before by Tomi Ahonen and others the Lumia brainchild has been somewhat a disaster globally with around 600,000 units being sold in the six week period before the end of 2011. Combined with January’s number, Nokia reported that at least 1.2 million Lumia devices were sold. Of course prior to that report, UK especially was giving away the Lumia 800 for a forty day try before you buy campaign to move units and increase market share. And if it were localized to one region, the UK, that typically doesn’t move as many Nokia smart phones as say Germany, then that would be the end of it. But a similar story can be told in every region that the Lumia line of devices have sold. A pretty strong start for a few weeks, and the strong start declines sharply leading to the status quo of the global market share of the single digits. In addition, with America weighing in with a quarter and a half of Windows Phone smart phone usage, the global market share and region market numbers don’t surpass 15% (and that is being extremely generous).
If this was the only issue, then I’d personally be satisfied, because it means that while carriers and resellers aren’t pushing Windows Phone, the general consensus is positive. Let me back track for a moment and indicate that in order for a platform to be successful, there are a few components: developers, users, carriers/resellers, and OEMs. Granted, if you tick off a few carriers/resellers, that’s okay. It also means that developers, OEMs, and generally users are happy with Windows Phone. And for a while, I thought that at least OEMs, users, and developers are happy with Windows Phone and the general experience. Not exactly
The digitimes report regarding OEM dissatisfaction isn’t the first time I’ve heard that OEMs aren’t too happy with Microsoft. In fact, it all began with the Nokia acquisition. The sour tag that Nokia used of being the first true Windows Phone made a lot of other OEMs quite angry for a variety of different reasons. The first is that the main OEMs that have stood by Windows Mobile also stood by Windows Phone (HTC and Samsung specifically) despite the standardized experience that Windows Phone achieved with fervent hardware chassis requirements. For a full year, HTC and Samsung supported a platform, invested research and development, promoted product, and still kept churning out devices for Windows Phones. It doesn’t take a village idiot to realize you [Microsoft] dun goofed.
Of course, if that was the only thing to tick off OEMs, a few words, some revenue and a few other odds and ends would smooth things over. Not exactly. From there, Microsoft gave Nokia a bit more freedom than the longest standing OEMs (again HTC and Samsung) to customize the Windows Phone experience. While Nokia declined to change the metro ui, it begs to wonder why wasn’t the same offer extended to HTC and Samsung? Thoughts such as the above were kept mum, but the chorus of OEMs being displeased got louder and louder and from different people. Charlie Kindel also indicated dissatisfaction brewing with Windows Phone and satisfaction with the competition. At that point, it was simple: OEMs are pissed and rightfully so.
Recall that there are several different keys that can make or break an operating system and Microsoft has essentially upset one of the key factors. But again, that’s okay right because now Microsoft has Nokia, do you need another OEM? Well, yes! In terms of smart phone hierarchy, the OEM has a drastic role in determining whether a device sells or whether a device fails. By undercutting two very strong OEMs that have made gold on the Android platform, there’s no way that could have a detrimental effect on whether a device sells in terms of seller/reseller channels right? Not exactly.
The following may come as a shock to some, but to others, this is preaching to the choir. Are you ready? Carriers like fragmentation! Users don’t. In fact, if one were to analyze the Android way of doing things, a bevy of users will support a stock Android experience, in almost a cult-like burn the infidel for not agreeing sort of way. However, as Motorola amazingly argues, the carriers/resellers like it:
“Verizon and AT&T don’t want seven stock [Ice Cream Sandwich] devices on their shelves,” he said. “The vast majority of the changes we make to the OS are to meet the requirements that carriers have.”information weekly
Before tackling this issue of fragmentation [differentiation], there is a lot that has to be said about fragmentation. First, fragmentation is (or rather, has) already occurred on several platforms. Kindel reminds us that fragmentation is a double-edged sword with both the positive and negative effects of fragmentation. To sum up his thoughts, the positives of fragmentation are from a user, carrier, and OEM standpoint. At its strictest level, Windows Phone saw fragmentation prior to the release of Windows Phone 7 in their test devices. Were those devices exactly the same? No, one had a hardware keyboard, one was a slab in design. Guess, what? Fragmentation! A different experience with the same operating system! The fragmentation line has been further drawn with Mango hardware and even Tango on the fundamental OS level. Fragmentation, whether we like it or not, is here and it is here to stay!
Where fragmentation becomes bad is when a company cannot get control of the fragmented experience. This is what plagued Windows Mobile, led to its ultimately poor numbers and even spear headed Microsoft’s mobile refresh. And while Android is facing the exact same issue, why isn’t it plagued by fragmentation? Because the carriers/resellers love it! It means that different price points can be given to the device, you can sell a crappy handset and a premium handset, and both will sell because they’re flexible. Android is free and open to dominate because of this single solitary fact. And it makes OEMs very very happy. And of course, no one has to realize where that takes a platform – to the coveted top of the mountain. Of all smart phone operating systems is Android – not Apple, not RIM, and certainly not Windows Phone – that is king of the hill.
And yet the irony is that the experience offered on Windows Phone and Apple is better, but ultimately this is something carriers/resellers don’t care for. They don’t care about user satisfaction, they don’t care whether the OS is fundamentally different. At the end of the day is this: can this product be sold? As cathartic as it sounds, the emphasis of user experience and developers while minimizing the role of OEMs and carriers/resellers has led to extremely low global market share and market acceptance.
But why didn’t the same strategy work for Apple? Apple changed the game, and despite changing the game, only one major carrier in America gave Apple the time of day and that was AT&T. And it worked for AT&T, and it gave the company virtually millions overnight. Essentially, carrier/resellers do NOT want another Apple. One is enough. But with the radical changes Windows Phone made that minimized (angered) OEMs and carriers/resellers, what is left? An operating system with a great experience, that isn’t moving mass units. Sadly the only way to move said units is if Microsoft uses its money and forces every single carrier with that cash to push Windows Phone.
Essentially, that is what is happening with the Lumia 900 and the Lumia 900 launch. However, in doing that, aren’t we forgetting about another OEM that is also releasing a device? Absolutely. The HTC Titan II, just like its predecessor, was essentially an underdog that was pitted against the Nokia Lumia 800. But, it really wasn’t just the Titan that was pitted against another OEM. It was also Samsung and their line of Windows Phones. That isn’t to say that competition amongst the same platform doesn’t occur, because it does and a lot. But when a relationship is somewhat strained already previously by Nokia spinsters of the first true Windows Phone, Microsoft putting everything in that horse, and carriers/resellers not selling Windows Phone, it isn’t the best thing to do, considering that those two OEMs single handedly led to Android dominance worldwide.
And yet, we are back at the OEM side of things, which is of course strained if the plethora of digitimes reports are to be taken seriously. So that leads of course to one life altering question for Windows Phone: Why not give HTC and Samsung the same customization status that Nokia has been given? Recall when HTC was given the freedom to roam, we got HTC sense, which improved the Windows Mobile experience whether we like to admit it or not. Granted, the overlay became a memory hog, a battery hog and led to several issues understandably. But it got the job done, and got it done well under optimum conditions. Since the HTC Sense debacle, HTC has gone back to the lab and released a very minimal launcher for current and future Android devices. In fact it has a very low footprint, and the chorus on the new HTC Sense has been overly positive. Why? Because it’s not a memory hog or a battery drain.
What if you allowed OEMs to customize the metro experience and give the OEMs some guidelines for it that wouldn’t allow OEMs to totally take it over? Making a memory requirement, allowing OEMs to embrace the Metro UI guidelines and keeping it low on memory consumption and not an exhaustive battery drain? The simple suggestion would not only probably make some key OEMs happy, but give the OEMs some incentive for carriers/resellers to sell product.
Is that going to happen? I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before. But on a personal level, I’d like for me to be wrong and see some minute levels of customization on Windows Phone. It means that Microsoft is keeping their OEMs happy which can only help them in the long run. And this is why Android is top dog – they keep OEMs and carrier/resellers happy. Maybe it’s time to take a cue from Android’s book. Or rather, I should say, from Windows Mobile’s book.