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Opinion: Why Windows Phone 7 isn’t selling, and why no-one cares

Seven months since launch, at their recent VIP preview, Microsoft revealed a raft features that will arrive with its Mango update later this year.

But does it matter? Can any kind of ‘update’ be enough to push the Windows Phone into being a proper smartphone heavyweight? Is Mango enough?

Not that it’s called Mango- in fact Microsoft haven’t yet revealed what the update has been called, but that shouldn’t even matter- it’s what you get with it. And Microsoft say there’s apparently plenty. Reportedly, 500 different things, though we haven’t them all listed.

But the event and announcements last week smacked of an attempt to garner some sort of buzz for the stagnating system, while Google wows people with grander plans for streaming music libraries and contactless payment wallets for your phone. In comparison, Windows Phone looks like it’s still playing catch-up and is clawing for media coverage before Apple unveils the Next Big Thing from its bag of tricks in the next few weeks.

Microsoft is attempting to cement what they want Windows Phone 7 to be, and they’re pushing it as a people-centric phone where apps are just another way of connecting you to friends and family., with messaging now tying together both texts and Facebook messages.

Old apps at brand-new prices

At the London-based preview, Microsoft’s Achim Berg, VP of Windows Phone marketing, emphatically shoehorned in (several times) that the Windows Phone 7 app library had grown to a total of 18,000 in a mere seven months, and it’s chasing third-placed BlackBerry, whose App World currently has around 25,000.

It’s pointless to compare the huge growth of apps on Windows Phone 7 to the app store beginnings for either Android or Apple; these two giants created, and then established, an app ecosystem for smartphones.

They found a new way to eke out 59p for a casual game, or more for subscription-based content. Development studios were created by this new market, and Microsoft’s new platform has simply given them another place to sell their wares- it’s not too much of a stretch.

In fact, Microsoft have also said that they’ll support higher app prices. In the face of huge free app success, Windows Phone 7 versions are already higher priced than their Android competitors- is this the right way to go?

If there’s not enough downloads, then developers can’t make a profit. It’s the reason why Microsoft is courting developers.

Despite this, its app store still lags behind the competition- does Angry Birds, Doodle Jump and Sonic truly appeal enough to promote it this heavily? None of them are original, and they’re all pricier than the versions found on both Android and the iPhone. 

Doodle Jump, a smash hit on the iPhone (last year), is set to arrive tomorrow (1st June) for £2.49. Angry Birds comes on the 29th June, for a whopping £2.49 . Compared to 59p on iTunes, and free (with adverts) on Android, you wonder how they arrive at these prices in their head.

And does it take this long to port across a game that’s essentially played with the same mechanics of a game made on DOS? (Albeit a graphically charming one.)

Yet Microsoft seem to have lost none of their confidence; but then, this is the company that sold both the Xbox and XBox 360 at a loss to gain a strong, if not dominant foothold in console gaming. It’s a shame they can’t use the same tactics here, where the phones themselves are made by several different manufacturers.

The phones: Why no-one is buying

While LG, HTC, Samsung and Delll have each made Windows phones, you’d be hard-pushed to tell the difference between most of them. Stare at the range in-store, and you’ll see several tiny reflections of yourself peering back from handsets that all look a bit too similar.

There’s no expensive flagship phone to coo over like Android (HTC’s Sensation, Samsung’s Galaxy S2) or Apple, and as of yet, no cheaper entry point, although prices have recently dropped on several Windows Phone models. With no newer models out just yet, that’s probably not a good sign.

At the very least, an iPhone gives you a choice of white or black, 16GB or 32GB, and Android is starting to come into its own with an ever-increasing range of mass appeal phones in interesting colours.

Not everyone wants the same phone, and lack of choice is  another reason why customers haven’t leapt for Windows Phone 7.

There still remains deal-breakers for some; why can’t I use a Windows Phone 7 handset to connect my tablet to the internet?

Mobile-tethering is something still currently missing from the Mango update, which will hopefully corrects some other glaring omissions like the ability to tap on phone-numbers and physical addresses in emails and jump straight to a call, or locate it on a map. If it doesn’t, can you really call that a smartphone?

No-one seems to carry the same passion or excitement about Windows phones. In comparison, Android fans will scour the internet for news on the latest version for their handset; BlackBerry obsessives swear by the physical keyboard, and BlackBerry Messenger. And iPhone fans- well, we know.

Despite pushing this ‘connecting with people’ approach that the Mango update seems to focus on, it seems that Windows Phone 7 still doesn’t know where it wants to fit in. All phones connect to people- that’s their purpose.

When I show Samsung’s Omnia 7 to friends they seem vaguely impressed by its vibrant screen,and they know exactly how to get to what they need, internet, email, social media and the rest.

It’s certainly not a bad phone, nor is Windows Phone 7 an awful interface, but ask if they’d ever consider buying one, and people say they’ve already decided that- when they buy a new phone- they’d be getting an Android one, or save up for an iPhone. That’s the thrust of it, they’d rather choose something else. No-one cares- especially when the price difference is minimal.


Does Windows Phone have an image problem?

Windows; sorry, no good. Phone; that’s a bit obvious. Seven; where were versions one to six? Were they not good enough, is that why I haven’t heard of them?

ZDNET’s Matt Miller suggests “a totally new branding”; and makes the good point of asking how exactly is Windows Phone 7 like your PC?

Windows on your PC meant programs or applications could be layered on top of each-other, and you could switch between these. While we’ll (finally) see something like that with the multitask-capable update, it really doesn’t justify the borrowed branding.

Look at Microsoft’s recent success stories; Bing got bigger after the dynamic name change. The Xbox. Anachronistic, maybe, but a hit. BBC’s recent Secrets of The Superbrands even pointed out that you’d be hard-pressed to find much Microsoft branding on an Xbox.

It’s time for a new name. Nokia got rid of Ovi. Now, if they can do it…

It isn’t over until it’s over. Nokia brings a rallying cry to Windows Phone 7.

Not everyone thinks the Windows Phone will flop. The Guardian’s Charles Arthur thinks that their new partnership with Nokia will bring big-time smartphone growth from developing countries where Nokia is ‘synonymous with mobile’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate to success in the UK, Western Europe or the US.

Nokia’s nous with hardware production does mean that they could bring some Windows Phone 7 handsets to shops at competitive prices- doing what Microsoft did with their Xbox, but through sheer big numbers, economies-of-scale clout rather than selling at cut-price.

Mobile remains an intelligent way for Microsoft to expand their business, and there are sparks of a great ideas- face recognition on photos allowing you to immediately tag for Facebook, the Xbox Live connectivity, Adobe’s PDF reader seamlessly connected to the Microsoft Office app.

They need more of these, and fast, if they want to catch up to Google and Apple; and they need to tell their customers why they should buy a Windows phone, instead of smiling, unloading catch-up updates, and leaving their phone as an example of smartphone mediocrity.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Recombu.

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