Why isn't Windows Phone more successful?

As Nokia reports its earnings, I can’t help but feel bad for the company's efforts here in the United States. To me, 600,000 units in North America (and supposedly that includes other devices besides Lumia 900) is not exactly what I would call a win.

But that’s just me. I’m a Windows Phone user. It’s a fantastic platform. The interface is gorgeous, and the OS is fast. I haven’t had issues with Windows Phone that I have had with Android. So in my opinion, the platform deserves a spot at the table with Android and iOS. So why hasn’t it been very successful?

The Problem

I think it partly boils down to one thing: no one knows about Lumia Windows Phones. That’s a massive marketing problem. Some will say it's apps but I'm not so convinced that's still as big a deal as some make it out to be. Remember Rolling Thunder, Nokia's big marketing campaign for Windows Phone? So far it’s been a rolling dud! Maybe I don't get marketing but it seems to me that in order for them to recover and get the sales they need, there should have been a more consistent television marketing campaign in the United States. There is no reason our TVs should not have been bombarded with Nokia and Windows Phone advertising during major television events like the MTV Awards or other popular shows during season finales.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop promises a ton of marketing from Microsoft for Windows Phone 8. If I simply look at Windows Phone, I have no confidence in Microsoft marketing. Maybe that will change. They've said these things before and have not delivered. Microsoft, AT&T, and Nokia should be ashamed of themselves. It boggles my mind that for a platform that so desperately needs marketshare/mindshare, how incredibly silent they were during critical television programming. Unbelievable.

On the flipside, I will say that shipping 4 million Lumias is good for Nokia’s pocketbook, but selling possibly only 300,000 Lumia 900s in North America is dreadful for Windows Phone's ability to get into the minds of smartphone shoppers and produce activations. In other words, for Nokia, 4 million shipping devices is good because of the high profit potential, but if only 600,000 of those are activated in North America, that’s really not a good thing for Microsoft.

Ray of Hope?

As much as I hate to admit it, Windows Phone in the United States is a disaster right now. Again, that’s coming from a very satisfied user. I really think Microsoft screwed this one up big time. But it looks like they are learning their lesson with Windows 8.

I really think Windows Phone can make a strong comeback in version 8, especially with how strong the Microsoft ecosystem is looking: Xbox, SmartGlass and Music, SkyDrive, and overall integration of their services into all their products. However, I will be surprised if Windows Phone succeeds on its own merits. It will have to be on the backs of Xbox and Windows 8.

I predict that even if Windows 8 sells half as many licenses as Windows 7 (and it will, write it down!), it’s a smashing success because Microsoft will have migrated hundreds of millions of customers to a modern OS which will get them accustomed to Metro. This will encourage more users to make the transition to Windows Phone 8. But Microsoft cannot afford to depend on the interface (UI design) and hardware (Lumia) as the only differentiators from iOS and Android.

What’s the Differentiator?

Windows Phone needs a "cool" feature that grabs attention. I really believe that's natural user interface integration (e.g., Kinect) into mobile devices. NUI is the next big thing in tech and Microsoft needs to be there first. They have the technology and platforms to make it work. Three years of usage data with Xbox Kinect is a major advantage.

Kinect rejuvenated Xbox sales taking the console to No. 1 status globally. But perhaps something else is needed even more: major carrier support. Right now, Sprint and Verizon are barely on board with Windows Phone. If Verizon pushes Windows Phone as strong as it did Android things could change significantly.

Is the Future Bright?

I personally am not ready to give up on the boys in Redmond and their friends in Finland. While Windows Phone does not have feature parity with iOS or Android right now (apps anyone?), early signs look like that will change. It’s a fantastic platform and has loads of really amazing potential. Microsoft is a patient company and they have proven their ability to iterate over time and eventually trump their competition -- remember when Sony and Nintendo had the top game consoles? You don't.

For the record, I do not believe Nokia is doomed because of their earnings: globally, Nokia doubled Lumia shipments from Q1 to Q2. I also do not believe Windows Phone is toast. What I do believe is that things may get worse before they get better and that the current state of the Windows Phone platform in terms of marketshare is in a pretty dismal state partly (mostly maybe?) due to marketing missteps.

Robert Johnson is a user interface developer specializing in the user experience (UX) of .NET-based web applications. He has been working in some form of web development and graphic design for 14 years. He loves technology in general, particularly that of Apple, Google and Microsoft. He is a Betanews reader.

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