The Future of Windows Phone 7.

Whilst the only current smartphone platform I’ve had any decent experience with is Apple’s iPhone I’m still not completely tied to it. Sure the platform is great and I’ll always be keeping an iOS device around for as long as I keep developing for the platform but my next handset purchase is more than likely not going to be another Apple device. The case is strong for a Windows Phone 7 handset thanks to its great tool set and general esoteric-ness (I don’t yet know anyone who’s bought one) but that same air of mystery is a double edged sword. Sure most of my general applications will be available on it, like Twitter and Facebook, but past that there’s not a whole lot of interest in the platform.

It’s not surprising really considering that slice of the mobile market pie that Microsoft commands is only a mere 5.5% according to the IDC, which includes all handsets that come under the Windows umbrella. The nearest rival to them is RIM (creator of the Blackberry handset series) who nearly triple their share at a whopping 14.9% and even they don’t seem to command a 3rd party developer army comparable to that of Android or Google. Still with them sealing the deal on a partnership with Nokia recently the IDC has reported that Microsoft’s WP7 platform will begin to surge ahead, overtaking iOS and being second only to Android.

The intial reaction to this was of course, utter disbelief:

In the close to six months that WP7 has been available, it has failed to set sales on fire. In fact, Microsoft hasn’t provided any metrics on how many WP7 handsets have been sold. Also, the 5.5% market share that Microsoft has now represents both WP7 and the old Windows Mobile 5.x and 6.x systems, which are still being sold on enterprise handhelds.

Further, Microsoft has stumbled badly with the first two system updates for its smartphone platform. First by delaying it for nearly two months, and second by bungling the actual delivery of the updates. Things are not going so smoothly for Microsoft. Heck, WP7 champion Joe Belfiore actually wrote a public apology to its WP7 customers about the whole update debacle.

Zeman makes some good points about the WP7 ecosystem and the troubles Microsoft has faced in dragging their Windows Mobile platform into the modern age. The sales figures aren’t that impressive when you compare them to iOS and Android, heck they’re not even that impressive compared to single handsets on either platform. Still this ignores the fact that WP7 is still a nascent platform and it will be a while before it reaches the maturity level that everyone’s expecting of it. If we’re fair and compare the initial WP7 sales to the initial release of Android you’ll actually find them quite comparable with the G1 selling some 600,000 handsets in the first couple months and WP7 cracking 1.5 million in its first 6 weeks. It took quite a while for Android and even the iPhone to hit the fever pitch that they have today so the current market share of WP7 devices shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

I can’t provide an excuse for their botched update schedule however. Apple seems to be the only major competitor that’s nailed this completely with Android and WP7 both suffering from the same carrier induced delays and fragmentation problems. It’s actually one of the reasons why I haven’t already lashed out for a WP7 handset since the main carrier of them here in Australia, Telstra, is still testing the pre-update update and has no schedule for the release of the coveted Nodo update. Since there doesn’t seem to be any way to route around the carrier and install the patch manually (although I’ll admit I haven’t done a ton of research on this) it means I’m wholly dependent on someone other than Microsoft to get my handset updated. With Telstra’s track record that doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence in the platform.

Both Android and iOS faced similar problems in their infancy and I’m sure WP7 will be able to overcome them in the future. Whether it will become the second most popular platform though remains to be seen as whilst the Nokia relationship means they have a strong possibility of gaining some serious traction it’s not a sure bet that every current Symbian customer will convert over to WP7. With Microsoft being particularly coy about their sales figures its hard to get a good reading of how their new mobile platform is trending but it will definitely be interesting to see how their market share changes as Nokia begins releasing their WP7 handsets.

4 Comments

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  1. Don’t forget the fact that Microsoft are still busy trying to implement copy/paste & multitasking (in some form) whilst the other big 2 are busy concentrating on being innovative with other features 😉

    They’re behind the ballgame, but I’m hoping they make at least a come back of some description 🙂

  2. True, they’re still playing catch up with a lot of rudimentary features but since their partnership with Nokia is going to be quite deep I reckon they could tap into some of their developer talent and start cranking out the updates just as fast as Google or Apple. Whether they do that or not remains to be seen however and the carriers could hamstring much of their efforts without even thinking about it.

    What will really be telling is when WP7 filters down to the cheaper Nokia handsets. If they can pull the switch off whilst retaining their customer base Microsoft would definitely have a chance of making a phenomenal comeback.

  3. Actually, the Android phone HTC Dream was released only in the UK and the US in november 2008. I tried in vain to get one (even if the cost would be 1200$) but i couldn’t get one no matter how hard i tried. One of the hardest products to lay your hands on i have ever seen.

    The first phone avaliable in more than a couple of select countries was the HTC Magic with the hefty pricetag of about 1000$, in June 2009. Before then, Android had 2,8% market share with one phone released, not available in more than a couple of countries!

    Efter the release of the HTC Dream the marketshare took off. In februari 2010 Android had 9% according to Comscore.

    If you take a step back and compare the WP7 launch with the Android launch you will notice two things upfront. First of all, while WP7 was avaliable in 30 countries on 10 different phones at launch, Android was avaliable in the US, UK initially, and became avaliable in a couple more countries four months later.

    Secondly, the Android took a pretty large chunk of the market despite this pretty fast, without a large app lineup, big echosystem and without an army of third party developers.

    Unless Microsoft is hiding phenomenal sales figures (pretty unlikely since all third party reporting talks about next to nil sales) this platform is pretty much dead, especially when you compare it to Android.

  4. You’ve got a point there Daniel and Microsoft definitely had the leg up in initial sales thanks to their wide reaching net which makes the G1’s sales look a lot more impressive by comparison. Their rapid market capture can be easily put down to lack of alternatives and a dedicated user base (open source enthusiasts, those wanting a smartphone that wasn’t Apple). Microsoft doesn’t really have the luxury of either of these, at least not on for their handset line, so they’re definitely facing an uphill battle if their end goal is platform dominance.

    I disagree with the platform being dead however. If you take a look at the latest statistics for the WP7 platform you’ll see it’s quite a healthy little ecosystem. Sure it hardly holds a candle to Android and iOS but for a late comer it’s managed to capture a good deal of mindshare and once Nokia makes the transition to WP7 I can’t see it going anywhere but up.

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