By: Hillel Fuld
This might go down as the most unpopular post I have ever written and I expect to be called all sorts of names including “Fool”, “Dreamer”, all the way to “Microsoft fanboy”, but I’ll survive.
Why don’t we start from the beginning? Microsoft copied Apple… No, kidding, not going there. Microsoft recognized the potential of the mobile industry long ago and made its move with what it called the Windows Mobile platform. That, by all parameters, was a failure. Well, not a complete failure because it had quite a nice size developer community who believed in the platform, but guess what? Microsoft messed that up too. I’ll slow down.
Windows Mobile was a colossal mess and I pretty much say that for all versions including Windows Mobile 5 and 6.5. Then Microsoft, the world’s largest software company made a super brave and gutsy move. They went back to the whiteboard and started again. Completely.
The invited me and a few other bloggers to get a sneak peek at their upcoming mobile platform, Windows Phone over a year ago. I wrote my thoughts about it then and you can read them here. The first time I laid eyes on what was then called Windows Phone 7 and is now Mango or 7.5, two things became clear to me:
- Microsoft has done the impossible and brought sexy back to its products.
- Whoever is in charge of branding those products needs to be fired immediately.
The UI, which is called Metro, is fantastic. It is esthetically appealing but more importantly, it, like the Windows Phone ads say, gets you in and out faster than any other phone. With the live tiles that appear on the home screen of Windows Phone devices, you see real time updates such as Facebook, email, or any other app you choose to place on the front screen of the phone. No need to delve in to see how many app updates there are in the Marketplace, it says it right there on the home screen.
Now onto the second point. Windows Phone? Really? You expect my mother to differentiate between Windows Mobile, which stunk to high heavens and Windows Phone, which you say is going to revolutionize mobile phones? Really, Microsoft? And how about the program that is meant to sync your Windows Phone to a computer? Zune? That is what you decided to call it, Microsoft? The name of a music player that is being absolutely cannibalized by Apple, your biggest competitor?
Like I said, whoever chose this branding needs to go home like yesterday.
Here is the thing, this platform is beautiful, the phones are fantastic, and the development tools to create Windows Phone apps are remarkable. Except, none of that really matters. You know why? Because perception is reality, right? And you know how the market perceives Windows Phone? The same way it perceived Windows Mobile and with that kind of branding, can you blame anyone?
The reality is though, that according to predictions, Windows Phone is expected to take the second place spot from iOS by 2015. Is 2015 too far away? I mentioned this prediction to Scoble the other day in a Google+ Hangout and he said to me “By 2015, i might have an iPhone implanted in my fingernail. 2015 is a LONG time away.” OK, valid point. Let’s talk about NOW then. There are 40,000 live apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, a number Microsoft reached significantly faster than Android or iOS.
I have been using Windows Phone 7.5 for a few weeks now and let me tell you, I love it, and yes, it definitely does compare to iOS and Android. In fact, many aspects of the OS trump Android and even iOS in terms of usability.
There are tons of “features” integrated in Windows Phone that even iOS did not have for years including true multitasking and advanced editing abilities (copy/paste to name one example). Microsoft Office on Windows Phone is better than on any other platform, period, and that is not a trivial thing for people who use their mobile devices as a work tool, something that is becoming more popular and practical.
Except, when I tweeted and posted a picture of my Windows Phone device and stated how I am loving it more and more every day, the backlash I got can only be compared to the reaction I would get if I would make some outrageous political statement. It got seriously emotional!
Loving this phone and platform more and more every day! Hard to believe its made by Microsoft! twitpic.com/7w75e0
— Hillel Fuld (@HilzFuld) December 21, 2011
And the reason is because, when was the last time you saw someone walking around in the street with a Windows Phone device? Doesn’t happen too often, right? So what we have here is a classic chicken and egg situation, times two.
No one is buying the phone because they don’t see their friends using it or talking about it, everyone wants iPhone and Android. And since you are not buying it because your friends aren’t talking about it, those friends aren’t buying it because you’re not talking about it. Confused? Gets even more complicated when you bring developers into the picture.
No one wants to create apps (unless subsidized by Microsoft itself, which is actually an interesting initiative by Microsoft, but that is a topic for another time) for Windows Phone because it does not have too much traction. And of course the market is not adopting it because the developers are not running to create Windows Phone apps. In other words, Microsoft is in quite a pickle.
Here is the thing though. I, along with many market analysts, believe Microsoft is making all the right moves to get out of this predicament. It created a truly unique offering in the space while others are busy copycatting each other (Android and iOS in both directions).
It recognized from day one that in order to succeed, the Windows Phone developers have to be happy and after speaking to hundreds of Windows Phone developers, every one of them says the same thing about the development tools. They are fantastic and completely trump Android when it comes to easily developing mobile apps.
Mobile developers: Pro tip: Make Windows Phone apps! It is an awesome OS that WILL take off and the competition is light now.
— Hillel Fuld (@HilzFuld) December 21, 2011
Microsoft did not stop there though. They have some fantastic advertising campaigns such as the famous “Really” commercial. Microsoft is also stepping out of the corporate stereotype and engaging users on social media, even giving away free phones to people who tweet them about Android malware stories. Brilliant.
Microsoft is also partnering with Klout.com to give influencers the chance to experience the Windows Phone platform, another genius marketing move. And the list goes on.
The bottom line is this. On the list of things that a company has to do in any competitive market such as the mobile space, Microsoft has its bases covered:
- Awesome product- Check
- Differentiating factors- Check
- Aggressive and creative marketing- Check
- Attention to the developers who will then become evangelists- Check
- Continuous innovation and updates- Check
In conclusion, no one can tell the future, not even me, but if I am reading this right, and assuming Microsoft doesn’t make any really dumb moves (big assumption, I know) in the coming years, Windows Phone should begin to reach the masses and become widely adopted by both basic users and hardcore geeks, the platform has goodies for everyone.
Oh, and if I may borrow something from the late Steve Jobs, there is one more thing… Microsoft joined forces with Nokia, who is known for making the best hardware on mobile phones the world has ever known. Nokia, despite what the press would have you believe, is still selling a whopping one million devices across the globe every single day!
The majority of Nokia’s reach is in emerging markets, where guess what? People have mostly not even heard of iPhone and Android, let alone have the means to afford them.
Of course, Microsoft and Nokia (Microkia/Nokiasoft?) have not forgotten about the US market either and have quite a brilliant strategy in place to leave an impact there as well. So, all I have to say is this, Windows Phone is not yet at the place where it can compete with iPhone and Android. But you know what? Neither was iPhone and Android just a few years ago!
So simmer down and give Microsoft a little leeway here, since taking a bad product and totally revamping it is not an easy thing to do for any company, especially if you’re Microsoft, where I can only imagine the bureaucracy that was involved in such a bold and daring move! For that, they deserve your patience and a second chance. Wouldn’t you agree?