Can Microsoft turn Windows Phone around?

Later today we’re expecting to see Apple’s Tim Cook unveil the next generation of the iPad – which is presumably why this morning Nokia thought it was, ummm, a good idea to announce a new tablet and some new phones that everyone will stop caring about in a few hours time.

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Nokia and Microsoft have a huge problem. Windows as a mobile platform is failing. It’s market share is pitiful, and despite both companies being huge players, there doesn’t seem to be anything they can do to fix it.

The problem they have is in the user experience. In short, Windows phone doesn’t have enough apps. And the app economy is what matters in mobile these days. People will only buy into Windows phone over iPhone and Android if they think they can get all of the apps they want (and thus have a good user experience)… but developers are only going to make apps for the Windows platform if there are enough people with Windows phones, who will conceivably want to buy their app.

Right now – Windows is in an app recession. There aren’t enough users, or enough apps. By comparison, iPhone and Android are booming – both platforms have millions of users and thousands of developers making thousands of apps. It’s a self perpetuating cycle. I know that my next phone is going to be an iPhone or Android because I can be confident that all of the services I use every day – Facebook, Twitter, and indeed any new service that hasn’t yet been invented – will continue to support the two platforms on strength of numbers.

You may be wondering how iPhone and Android got ahead. I’d argue that it’s because they had first mover’s advantage. In other words, when the iPhone came along, most phones were clunky bricks with keypads – in fact, the first iPhone didn’t even run apps. But by the time Apple enabled developers to make apps and created the app store, the game-changing iPhone was already in the hands of millions of people, thirsty to buy apps for their phones. Android then managed to muscle in on this by providing a more affordable smartphone option, at a more accessible price point than the premium iPhone.

And whilst all of this was going on, Nokia was still hanging on to it’s dying Symbian operating system, which compared to the iPhone was a user experience nightmare, and Microsoft were presumably sat twiddling their thumbs, still worrying about desktop computers.

Eventually Nokia gave up on Symbian and chose to move over to the Windows platform. But why? At the time, it was reasoned by analysts, that they didn’t want to become just another “OEM” faceless hardware manufacturer for someone else’s software – by picking Windows, because the platform is much less popular, they could still be big players by working closely with Microsoft. (I wonder what they think now when looking at Samsung’s Android success?)

That was the plan, anyway. But nothing Nokia have done has yet quite made the impact they were hoping for. In fact – there were rumours a while back they were thinking of making another switch – this time to Android… but then Microsoft buying the phone division put a stop to that.

So now they’re stuck with the dilemma outlined above. How can they get more apps and users? How can they get from the cycle of despair (less apps, so less users, so less apps), to the virtuous cycle of users begetting apps begetting users?

The reason they haven’t completely given up yet is because of Microsoft’s financial clout. Last year there were reports that Microsoft was paying companies cold, hard cash to build apps for the Windows platform. Think of it like a stimulus package during a recession. This morning we heard how Instagram and Vine will both soon be coming to Windows.

Personally – even with this stimulus I’m sceptical that it will actually make an impact. I’ve worked in a couple of app start-ups in the past, and can’t help but wonder if – especially with smaller developers – once the Microsoft apps are built, will they just be forgotten? Will they really bother to keep pace with the iPhone and Android versions of the apps with new features and so on if the money taps are switched off?

And apparently things are so dire that Microsoft are repackaging mobile websites as ‘apps’. Will these potemkin apps that are merely a shell containing a website really fool anyone? Will this really be perceived as a user experience equivalent to the rich experiences a proper app can bring?

The problem is that you can’t fool users like this. The only way to make consumers and developers want to use your platform is to give them a good user experience – in this case give them the actual proper apps that they want. If you give someone a poor user experience, they won’t stick around.

Want proof of this? Then look no further than the actor James Corden – who you may remember starred in an advert for Windows Phone earlier this year:

As part of the promotion, Microsoft had clearly and wisely had it written into his contract that he was to use a Windows phone. You can see this by looking at his tweets:

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 10.32.49.png

…Yet clearly as soon as the contract was up he was straight back on the iPhone 5.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 10.31.58.png

(In fact, a little Twitter investigation demonstrates that the switch was somewhere between March 16th and April 30th!)

So if you can’t even get your paid brand advocate to stick with your phone – then that really isn’t a good sign.

I’m not sure how Microsoft are going to break this cycle and get a foothold – but maybe this is the problem. If you were looking to buy a new phone, would you really risk it with a platform that’s so uncertain?

I guess you could say: “live by the app, die by the app”.

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About the Author

James O'Malley

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James is the Editor of TechDigest. You can follow him on Twitter @Psythor.





James O'MalleyCan Microsoft turn Windows Phone around?
  • greenie

    This is an old argument and I don't believe it's the case now.Windows Phone is gaining popularity, I see people around me with these phones all the time, I know people who have ditched iphones and android phones for Nokias and are glad they did. It's a cleaner, easier to use OS, and for me is a great user experience.Yes there are less apps, no argument there, but all the ones that matter ARE there. If you look at iphone and android, 90% of the apps available are junk, so it makes no difference.At the end of the day, Windows 8 is the new desktop OS, you can't buy older XP or Windows 7 now, so the public are going to become familiar with the desktop OS they use at work and home very quickly. It stands to reason that they will want a mobile phone OS to match with full compatibility, and one that is compatible with their entertainment console of choice, the Xbox. Microsoft will get there in the end, they always do.My advice to Microsoft/Nokia would be drop your prices to gain a foothold more quickly. Let's face it, that's why android is popular, cos it's cheap and the kids can afford it. Apple is popular cos it was the first, but that won't keep them ahead forever.

    • coopsjr

      greenie raises all the point I was going to bring up after reading the article. It is as has been said a catch 22. The product is not lacking at all and boasts great features and a quality feel. The biggest downfall of MS is their marketing team, which frankly is pathetic by comparison to apple's. The amount of real estate apple and the big players touting android based hardware invest in shop windows and media advertising is 10 fold compared with MS. If people don't know about it, no one will buy it; but as has been said those who are adopting are finding it a far superior experience. History has observed time and time again that the superior product (technologically or otherwise) very rarely is top dog.

  • Morgan Phillips

    My 2p worth…There are many different types of smartphone users; some of whom aren't happy being forced to behave how Apple (or Google) want them to behave. Many of these people are not power users and don't want to learn multiple platforms, aren't heavy app users, don't want to fiddle with the gubbins etc. Let's call that user 'my mother'.The advantage of the Windows phone for my mother is that she's already learned the basics of Windows and should be able to pick this up and just use it out of the box. She will also be please to see things such as email, contacts, maps etc (hopefully) seamlessly sync across devices. For my mother, and people like her, the Windows phone is the ideal device.The challenge for MS & their hardware providers is monetising this demographic, who are not high spenders.Another potential market that is opening up is the companies that currently use BlackBerry and might be looking to migrate as that platform goes from satire to farce. Might an MS based solution, if properly managed, segue neatly into their existing expensive infrastructure? Might MS be able to pick up the business market, which is hard won but easily monetised, by targeting MS Exchange customers?

  • greenie

    This is an old argument and I don’t believe it’s the case now.
    Windows Phone is gaining popularity, I see people around me with these phones all the time, I know people who have ditched iphones and android phones for Nokias and are glad they did. It’s a cleaner, easier to use OS, and for me is a great user experience.
    Yes there are less apps, no argument there, but all the ones that matter ARE there. If you look at iphone and android, 90% of the apps available are junk, so it makes no difference.
    At the end of the day, Windows 8 is the new desktop OS, you can’t buy older XP or Windows 7 now, so the public are going to become familiar with the desktop OS they use at work and home very quickly. It stands to reason that they will want a mobile phone OS to match with full compatibility, and one that is compatible with their entertainment console of choice, the Xbox. Microsoft will get there in the end, they always do.
    My advice to Microsoft/Nokia would be drop your prices to gain a foothold more quickly. Let’s face it, that’s why android is popular, cos it’s cheap and the kids can afford it. Apple is popular cos it was the first, but that won’t keep them ahead forever.

    • coopsjr

      greenie raises all the point I was going to bring up after reading the article. It is as has been said a catch 22. The product is not lacking at all and boasts great features and a quality feel. The biggest downfall of MS is their marketing team, which frankly is pathetic by comparison to apple’s. The amount of real estate apple and the big players touting android based hardware invest in shop windows and media advertising is 10 fold compared with MS. If people don’t know about it, no one will buy it; but as has been said those who are adopting are finding it a far superior experience. History has observed time and time again that the superior product (technologically or otherwise) very rarely is top dog.

  • Morgan Phillips

    My 2p worth…
    There are many different types of smartphone users; some of whom aren’t happy being forced to behave how Apple (or Google) want them to behave. Many of these people are not power users and don’t want to learn multiple platforms, aren’t heavy app users, don’t want to fiddle with the gubbins etc. Let’s call that user ‘my mother’.
    The advantage of the Windows phone for my mother is that she’s already learned the basics of Windows and should be able to pick this up and just use it out of the box. She will also be please to see things such as email, contacts, maps etc (hopefully) seamlessly sync across devices. For my mother, and people like her, the Windows phone is the ideal device.
    The challenge for MS & their hardware providers is monetising this demographic, who are not high spenders.
    Another potential market that is opening up is the companies that currently use BlackBerry and might be looking to migrate as that platform goes from satire to farce. Might an MS based solution, if properly managed, segue neatly into their existing expensive infrastructure? Might MS be able to pick up the business market, which is hard won but easily monetised, by targeting MS Exchange customers?

  • Bel B Ningthoujm

    Now Now… Don't praise Android and iPhone too much. Yes they do have a greater app ecosystem than Windows phone but then Windows phone is improving. Did u wake up after sleeping for 3 years,back when Windows phone was first introduced? Well Mr. Retarded it seems you are not aware of what's going on around you. I really hate the way you started this article. Google “WINDOWS PHONE” everyday and see what's going on. In fact, i do everyday and this is the only piece of shit i came across. Oh by the way, you can bing it too. Windows phone isn't failing you moron. My Middle finger salutes you.

  • Bel B Ningthoujm

    Now Now… Don't praise Android and iPhone too much. Yes they do have a greater app ecosystem than Windows phone but then Windows phone is improving. Did u wake up after sleeping for 3 years,back when Windows phone was first introduced? Well Mr. Retarded it seems you are not aware of what's going on around you. I really hate the way you started this article. Google “WINDOWS PHONE” everyday and see what's going on. In fact, i do everyday and this is the only piece of shit i came across. Oh by the way, you can bing it too. Windows phone isn't failing you moron. My Middle finger salutes you.

  • Bel B Ningthoujm

    Now Now… Don’t praise Android and iPhone too much. Yes they do have a greater app ecosystem than Windows phone but then Windows phone is improving. Did u wake up after sleeping for 3 years,back when Windows phone was first introduced? Well Mr. Retarded it seems you are not aware of what’s going on around you. I really hate the way you started this article. Google “WINDOWS PHONE” everyday and see what’s going on. In fact, i do everyday and this is the only piece of shit i came across. Oh by the way, you can bing it too. Windows phone isn’t failing you moron. My Middle finger salutes you.

  • Arun Lobo

    This article is outdated by atleast one year. For, WP has been gaining marketshare, even significant market share of late. Agreed that this may not be the case in the US, but when exactly was Nokia a major smartphone player there? There is no shortage of apps currently, the most popular ones are there, or are coming (with the exception of those from rival companies such as Google). On the other hand, it is the iPhone that seems to be getting cold reception of late. They shipped a record 9m in the first weekend but their quarterly and yearly performance shows them losing market share (percentage wise).

  • Arun Lobo

    This article is outdated by atleast one year. For, WP has been gaining marketshare, even significant market share of late. Agreed that this may not be the case in the US, but when exactly was Nokia a major smartphone player there? There is no shortage of apps currently, the most popular ones are there, or are coming (with the exception of those from rival companies such as Google). On the other hand, it is the iPhone that seems to be getting cold reception of late. They shipped a record 9m in the first weekend but their quarterly and yearly performance shows them losing market share (percentage wise).

  • Warren

    The article seems outdated. Check out this site for latest smartphone news http://www.phoneuno.com

  • Warren

    The article seems outdated. Check out this site for latest smartphone news http://www.phoneuno.com