Windows Phone 7 Series is a lost cause

Could Windows Phone 7 Series save Microsoft's mobile platform? Yes. In 2007. In 2010, it's a non-starter. That's not easy for me to write, because with Windows Phone 7 Series Microsoft is following much of the advice I offered via blog posts over the last few years.

That advice would have meant something when given, not months and years later when the competitive landscape has radically changed. Then there is the crucial analysis given last week -- that Microsoft failed to deliver on: Immediate release of new phone software and/or Microsoft phone. Holiday delivery on new Windows Phone 7 Series handsets is simply too late.

The geeks may be gaga this week about Windows Phone 7 Series, but that won't much last beyond next month's MIX10 conference. Apple's shipment of iPad and presumably March iPhone 4.0 OS announcement will change geek chatter away from Microsoft mobile. (For the last two years, Apple announced new iPhone OS versions in early spring.)

Microsoft's problem is more about timing than strategy -- or technology (Hey, I like the user interface and presumed user experience, too). If Microsoft were running a marathon, its new runner would be entering the race to replace the one falling behind the leading group. But the new runner would be starting when the others already were well ahead to their 26-mile goal. No matter how good the runner, the leaders would be too far ahead to easily catch.

Sure, the market for converged handsets (e.g., smartphones) is seemingly small-- about 15.4 percent of 2009 global handset shipments, according to IDC -- but it grew 39 percent last year. Microsoft is reviving its mobile strategy just as competition increases among established players like Nokia and Research in Motion and newcomers Apple and Google -- all while losing market share and mindshare.

Because I'm still struggling with the flu, I'm going to blast from the past, using my previous predictions for context about now and the 12 months or so ahead (I purposely have chosen posts before 2009, for predictive emphasis). In short, Windows Phone 7 Series is a lost cause because:

  • There is no Windows monopoly leverage to jumpstart the platform
  • Windows Mobile has lost too much sales and developer momentum
  • Android adoption -- by manufacturers and mobile users -- is too great
  • Microsoft doesn't have an end-to-end software plus hardware plus services platform

Now for some long-form explanation:

Windows Phone has no Windows Leverage

Just the opposite, mobile devices leverage against Windows. I've been predicting -- for years -- that during this decade the connected mobile device would replace the PC as primary computing platform. I wrote in February 2008 post, "Microsoft's Mobile Madness":

The future of mobiles is PC replacement. It's an inevitable outcome and one Microsoft simply isn't accepting. Microsoft's denial is madness, too.

The cellular phone market is:

  • Enormously bigger than that for PCs. For every PC in use there are three cell phones, based on analyst estimates of 3 million mobiles in 2007.
  • Captive, as most people carry mobiles most of the time; but not PCs.
  • Personal, because people care more about their cell phones than PCs. Who asks to be buried with their computers, but it's a common request for mobiles.
  • More global, as more people are likely to have cell phones than PCs, particularly in emerging markets.
  • More connected than PCs, as cellular services reach many places than does the wired or WiFi Internet.

To update the first bullet point, combined analyst estimates put the total number of cell phone subscribers at 4.6 billion worldwide. PC install base: About 1 billion. IDC predicts the number of cellular subscribers will increase by 1.3 billion by 2013.

In July 2008 post, "iPhone 3G: Windows 95, Only Better," I wrote: "The mobile remains the future of computing and connectivity. How long before dictation replaces typing? If you don't need a keyboard, why would you need a PC when the cell phone offers anywhere computing, any time?" Dictation already replaces the keyboard on Google's Nexus One.

Matters are worse, Apple and imitator Google have better platforms already because of mobile application stores. In 2005, I warned Microsoft executives they should use product activation to build a third-party application store into Windows. Developers could sell and distribute applications from within Windows, ensuring a revenue stream for them, while better protecting their software from piracy. A Windows app store would have been great leverage to mobile devices.

About three years later, Apple did with App Store on mobile devices what Microsoft failed to on the desktop. As I explained in October 2008 post, "Windows Mobile Is an Also-ran," in Apple's application store, developers have:

  • a software distribution mechanism built into every device and means for getting paid for the applications
  • access to millions of captive devices because people carry cell phones everywhere
  • digital rights management protection that hugely diminishes piracy of distributed applications

Apple claims about 135,000 mobile applications in the iTunes App Store and more than 3 billion downloads. By the time the first Windows Phone 7 Series handsets ship, Apple will offer apps for three mobile devices -- iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Meanwhile OEMs are pushing Google's Android on ebook readers, netbooks and smartphones. The two rising stars already have leverage, with developers and mobile users, because of applications stores. Sure, Microsoft has an app store, as some Betanews commenters will surely observe. I say them: Have you looked at it lately and seriously compared what Microsoft offers compared to the Android Marketplace or App Store? Yes, games will come for the holidays, but Apple will only have widened its portable gaming lead to three devices.

Windows Mobile has Fallen Too Far Behind

The chart below, which Silicon Alley Insider put together from ComScore data, is nearly all that's needed to demonstrate Microsoft's mobile fall from reign. The data is for US subscriber share (from a poll of 30,000 consumers). Some other perspective: Based on global smartphone sales to end users, Microsoft's mobile market share declined to 7.9 percent during third quarter from 11.1 percent a year earlier, according to Gartner (Q4 data isn't yet available).

Mobile OS subscriber share

Smartphone is the category where Windows Phone 7 Series will compete with upstarts Apple and Google and leaders Nokia and RIM. IDC has released full-year smartphone shipments, but not for operating systems. For Apple, they're synonymous -- 21.5 million. Based on the first three quarters of data, it's likely that more iPhone OS handsets shipped than Windows Mobile devices in 2009 -- and that's without accounting for iPhone touch.

Android Adoption is Simply Too Great

In June 2007 post, "Why Google Succeeds, Part 2," I warned: "If Google and its partners can bring to mobile devices what they have to the desktop, I predict it will be game over for Microsoft. Windows' relevance will diminish before the Web platform." Google delivered with the G1, as I explained in September 2008 post, "How Android hurts Microsoft." I referred to the G1 as Google's "alternative platform to the Windows PC."

A month later, in the Windows also-ran post, I wrote:

Once Android reaches the world markets, it will be too late. Microsoft has no Windows desktop leverage to drive mobile development or sales. The question now: When will HTC make Android a priority over Windows Mobile? That will be the day when all doors close Microsoft's mobile operating system into a tomb.

Android has global reach (and competes with Windows Mobile/Phone for same licensees), nearly all of the coolest HTC handsets run Android and Google claims surprisingly brisk sales. Yesterday, at Mobile World Congress, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that 60,000 Android phones ship every day. That works out to nearly 22 millions for the year, but the figure could be hugely conservative. According to IDC, 1.35 million Android phones shipped in third quarter (Q4 data isn't available), or 14,674 a day. That puts daily shipments up nearly 4 times in less than two quarters. If the growth curve continues, and Schmidt's figure is accurate, Android shipments would easily exceed iPhone as early as this year (but not when combined with iPad and iPod touch).

"Android is reaching the mainstream," IDC analyst Kevin Restivo expressed during our Skype chat earlier today. "Awareness efforts are paying off in the form of increased distribution, which is widening quarterly. More importantly, additional models are being offered by Android manufacturer partners -- hence increased sell-in."

The day of Android as "alternative platform to the Windows PC" has come. Yesterday, Schmidt said that Google's priority would now be mobile applications "first" before desktop apps: "Our programmers are working on things mobile first." While Microsoft has little Windows monopoly leverage for Windows Phone 7 Series, Google has huge leverage from search and supporting Web services.

There's No Microsoft Phone

For years, Microsoft has rallied behind the banner of software plus services. But in January 2008, I boohooed Microsoft for failing to add hardware to the equation. In post, "The Minus in Software Plus Services," I explained that Microsoft needed to add hardware to the software-plus-services equation. At the time, there was no Google phone. I wrote:

Microsoft enters 2008 in position to leapfrog Google by early 2009 or 2010, depending on how both companies execute. The company that best delivers software plus hardware plus services will best the other. Yes, that's a prediction.

Google has done much better than Microsoft delivering software plus hardware plus services -- to the point of having a phone (the aforementioned Nexus One). But Apple has done even better, as I acknowledged in post "iPhone 3G: Software + Hardware + Services." Apple's approach is one stack it controls. Google has it both ways -- three, really, considering open source -- by making Android available to hardware manufacturers and shipping its own handset. Microsoft is a licensor only. There is no Microsoft phone.

Apple is making huge margins from selling iPhone as a single software-plus-hardware-plus-services device. The iPhone accounted for about 36 percent of Apple's fourth calendar quarter $15.6 billion revenue. Microsoft will compete against Apple, which makes mountains of money off iPhone, and Android, which is free. Microsoft will charge for licenses (of course) and make little for its efforts. According to Silicon Alley Insider estimates on Windows Phone 7 Series OS revenue during Microsoft fiscal 2011: "A reasonable average is somewhere in the $300 million range, which is less than 0.5 percent of the $66 billion in revenue that Wall Street expects Microsoft to generate in fiscal 2011."

My November 2008 post, "I Believe in a Microsoft Phone," expressed hope Microsoft would do a handset -- keeping with a software-plus-hardware-plus-services approach. "The time has come," I wrote. "It's inevitable: Either Microsoft has a secret phone project or its mobile strategy is collapsed." I warned that even for 2009 "Microsoft's biggest problem is time to market," because of Apple's App Store/iPhone/iPod touch platform.

Time-to-market situation is way worse looking at holiday 2010. Microsoft needed to announce a phone this week, shipping within a few months. Perhaps Microsoft executives think they can show off a reasonable software-plus-hardware-plus-services strategy next month at MIX. Maybe they can without Microsoft doing its own phone. But time to market is too long -- and Microsoft competes with Apple big money making software plus hardware and services (Nokia and RIM, too) and Google free. Microsoft has started the marathon late. Apple, Google, Nokia and perhaps even RIM will set the agenda for your mobile future. Microsoft's mobile platform is a lost cause.

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