Why Microsoft is failing at WP7.

It is easy to sit on the sidelines, point and laugh at how the overall Windows Phone 7 tire fire is burning daily. It is also greatly disappointing to see as whilst I had predicted from the start that Windows Phone 7 will fail with consumers but could win with business/enterprise it's also bitter sweet victory in many ways to be right. How did the product arrive at this state? Where a pittance of allegedly 1.6million units have been sold out of the 2million units known to be "in-market". My thinking is as follows:

No Aesthetic Differentiation.

  Stating that is bold and a bit of an eyebrow raiser, as clearly the Metro UI is different to the rest right? Not really, as you are probably looking at this through the lens of a TechEd T-Shirt wearing c# ninja aka Microsoft "aware" perspective. The reality is if you go into a mobile store of any kind around the world, you just have to stare at the buffet of phones on display and cannot really help but notice one thing. They all seem to look kind of like the iPhone in terms of shape - keep in mind we humans are pattern people, we seek patterns first and then adjust to what the pattern is second. If all the phones have similar shapes then what does that say? Does it feel like an iPhone knockoff? It has the similar price tag. So why pay for a copy of a popular device when you can have the real thing? Assuming you get past that train of thought let us look at it from a different perspective. You are in the store, you get excited over the initial 10seconds of "Wow, nice UI" moment(s). The more you use it, the more you start thinking "meh, what kind of apps does this thing have?" so now you have to grasp the concept of the Zune Marketplace - assuming you're outside of the US and the brand Zune is "What the freaking hell is a Zune?" moment(s). How do you grasp Zune Marketplace while in a store? You click on Marketplace but nothing happens as most phones have no internet connection(s) in stores. I have seen many a "marketplace" on the ye olde phones that were run by carriers so what makes this different to those as again who is Zune? What apps do you have and do you have Angry Birds? Skype? Foursquare? Facebook (yes its built in, but are others outside the Microsoft sphere of influence aware of this?) etc?

Too consistent & poor quality bands.

image The differentiation is one thing but then comes the moment of too much consistency. All of the applications tend to blur into being the same old cookie cut style. There is not a real sense of change or theming in place other than games. Today's twitter application looks like a thousand other twitter applications aside from some color changes. There is no real sense of depth and whilst the team has pushed for "authentically digital" which is a noble gesture in the art scene, it is but one lacking in the consumer space. To put it another way, If I have a voice recording "memo" style application then please make it look like a recording application (i.e. iPhone uses this big Microsoft and it takes on this "theme" of being the app). There are some diamonds in the rough when it comes to the marketplace, not all are bad - most are though. All it takes is any C# developer with some developer muscle and a lame brain idea around FlashLight, Twitter, Task list or Tip Calculator and pretty much soon you have a saturated idea brimming to the surface of applications made available to you for purchasing. The quality baseline for success in the market is measured around quantity not quality. iPhone is no different much like Android, the difference with those phones however is they aren't the ones struggling to convince people that their old version isn't the same as you see before you in the new version(s). They don't have as big of a hill to climb back out of and arguing mediocrity in quality bands as an excuse as to why is plain stupid. There is no switch up inside the phone, all apps tend to become the same look and feel repeatedly - so my point is this is not just a phone it's a media device that should be filled with brainless eye candy as much as functional brilliance. Let the audience decide if Authentically Digital compositions are their cup of tea but forcing all to bow down to this mentality is simply locking you into a bubble of ignorance.

Dance with the girl you came with.

These are the end result of a local GOVT dept who bought HP iPAQ's instead of WP7 for development purposes? Sad? Consumers are morons, and are easily tricked if you have a brilliant strategy. Urban legend of Colgate guy wanting to increase toothpaste sales that tried everything but in the end all he did was increase the diameter of the hole in which toothpaste pours out of by 3mm in the end sent sales through the roof (given we used more toothpaste unwittingly). It is a story I was told in my days of Marketing 101 training, but it stuck with me for obvious reason(s) - hopefully. Microsoft is so preoccupied with "beating" the other guy (and we used to drink that compete rage elixir often) that its lost perspective on the places its getting success - Business/Enterprise. Go into a govt department, large mining company, finance sector the whole thing and ask them how they are coping with business related devices such as PDA's and wanting field staff to do xyz. You would be surprised at the response you get - especially how iPhones, Androids and Windows Phone 7 are not even in the race. The reason being is simple - "How does one deploy a private app to my citizens?" The reality is Microsoft's spent the lion share of its marketing spend on US Consumers hoping that this like some kind of weird end of year Xbox style achievements metrics "Congratulations! You have Achieved Level 1 in sales!" moment(s). Inside Australia for example the WP7 Marketing is a secret? As its rare you catch glimpses of its existence outside a mobile store and even then you have Windows Phone7 Logo right beside Windows Phone 6 devices.  Confused? I was. The win here while it may not be loud (which sadly gets you career points in Microsoft) is that if Microsoft released an Enterprise follow-on with the WP7 devices focused on allowing draconian SOE overlords to brick the phones in such a way that forces its peon's to adhere to the blah blah policy then you in turn would have a backdoor into consumer market. The reason being is these are human beings the phones are being handed to during work hours. The more they use them, the more the grow accustom and forgiving towards the device you are giving your crack away via corporate mandates. Establishing a habitual usage amongst the business/enterprise community in turn creates natural evangelism, which in turn can either make or break you (if its crap phones it will be very loud as to why). If you are in a meeting and you see many WP7 phones in the room, you cannot but help notice them - that is what they call "product placement" in marketing terms and you get it free amongst the business community. Nobody is doing this right now, and I've witnessed thousands upon thousands of units of HP IPAQ like devices running Windows Mobile 6.5 as a result (right now I'm staring at a body of work I'll need to work on soon in this space, simply because no Wp7 device is available for commercial usage).

Competitions are an act of marketing desperation.

image I was once told inside Microsoft that if you get to a point where you are running a competition to excite developers around a product, you have failed. It is the last desperate refuge for a marketing to try to regain some lost momentum around marketing a product that really needed more than a "Win a new phone?" moment(s). When I was doing my interviews for Product Manager on the Silverlight team, my bosses boss (Dave Mendlen) asked me how I would handle a competition etc for a product if had $50k to spend? I guess he wanted to see me break it down into its overall pieces etc. My response was simple
"I'd take the $50k,  put up a 1x Page website and simply give away a CAR in any country around the world for the best and fairest blah blah".
My point was simple; competitions suck firstly so I would rather get this fool's errand out of the way upfront. Secondly, if you are going to have competitions then go big or go home. Don't pussyfoot around with $1k or below offerings, you want competition right? You want people to take notice and work hard to fight to the finish then put a carrot that is big enough that it feels both reachable and enriching at once. I see way to many competitions for developers to write xyz Windows Phone App around lately and it's just sad to watch. Microsoft needs to raise its game and seed the product in much smarter ways then weak competition tactics. Evangelism needs to be smarter and the marketing spend / product placement campaigns need to be better than it is today. Seeing a Windows Phone 7 on a TV show is a good start but it lacks follow-up(s). If I go to a geek conference of any kind I want to see Wp7 branding everywhere but I also want to see someone doing something interesting with the phone(s). I want sizzle and holding creations as if the one Brandon Foy hostage to "If you get 200k+ views I'll let you do a commercial for real" is like asking Don Draper to audition for entry-level copywriter. You had talent in front of you and you still missed it.

In Summary

The phone is failing and it is not really the actual phones fault it's more direction, understanding of who needs the phone and lastly ensuring the quality bands associated with the phone raise. If you are going to go head to head with Apple who have shown repeatedly that Industrial Design / User Experience is what consumers are really attracted to. Bring it fully do not "version three we will get it right / marathon speech" it to death.

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  • David Archer

    Hi Scott. Nice article and couldn’t agree more. The phone is actually a pretty good device and the development experience is not bad. However, there is a massive Microsoft developer base that is squarely aimed at the Enterprise. Without a good Enterprise deployment model, WP7 is placed 3rd in a three man race. Dance with the girl you came with!!

  • Adam Kinney

    I disagree about the aethestics comment – the live tiles (animated, double-wide) are different than the traditional “grid” formation.

    And when I press Marketplace I don’t see the word Zune anywhere, only when I look at music. I agree that the installed apps on the store device are very important. They are missing the angry birds and doodle jumps, although installing something like krashlander might help.

    Yes, they should address the enterprise.

    Yes, app creators need to extend and not just fully embrace Metro. This is a big issue, seriously. Yes we want you to feel and behave like an OS app, but don’t look like you haven’t made any changes to the project template. Make us feel like we’re doing something different than checking email.

    Yes, if you must go for highstakes contests, with semi-finals, a sweet sixteen and video coverage. “Publicity and some cash to make it worth it?!” Count us in, and we’ll make something awesome.

  • Andre

    I have a WP7, formally had an iPhone, and I actually like the WP7 a little bit better.

    Perhaps I am in a small minority, but after a few years of indulging in smart phone apps I came to the realization that I don’t give a fuck about apps. I really wanted to have my life enriched by phone apps but in a moment of clarity realized I was using apps for apps sake. The only app I use sometimes is the Twitter app, but that is only marginally better than using twitter.com.

    All these people wandering around using 4square and similar shit, I have a feeling they are trying to find a justification for their cool phone, rather than any compelling need.

    Therefore for me, dialling numbers, sending texts, checking gmail, managing my phone book, and using the browser are the only things that matter on the phone. And I slightly favor the WP7 in that regard, but wouldn’t really care if I had to use an iPhone (and I suspect a droid but haven’t used one).

  • @ Andre:
    Personally, Andre hit the nail on the head for me, but I’m not a social nut and I will never grasp 4Square.

    The problem is, most are social nuts, big time. So they use those apps to have a “look at me” experience, a “look what I can do and I can do it better”. If thats with content they create in an app or because they are susceptible to marketing and feel inferior toting a lesser brand (most Americans) or both, the fact remains WP7 has neither for the most part. Apple wants control, over the entire chain…..from the moment you see an ad all they down to the moment you open the box and touch the device, they want to own it all….more control in this industry can net a better result (not synonymous with a better product) in the right hands (Steve J.). Smartphone phone sales are all about brand consistency, experience and affiliation….otherwise we would all still have the free dumbphones given to us by the carrier contract.

    Thats why MS went after the consumer with their product and not the enterprise. I just don’t think the MS phone brand is one that these social nuts want to affiliate with, in the short term at least. Give it time, Apple/Android are already f’ing up with privacy, it wont be long before all three of them are on an even playing field.

  • If you are in a meeting and you see many WP7 phones in the room, you cannot but help notice them – that is what they call “product placement” in marketing terms and you get it free amongst the business community.
    Nobody is doing this right now, and I’ve witnessed thousands upon thousands of units of HP IPAQ like devices running Windows Mobile 6.5 as a result (right now I’m staring at a body of work I’ll need to work on soon in this space, simply because no Wp7 device is available for commercial usage).

    Actually, RIM is doing this, sort of: messaging is free internally. This is a huge benefit for businesses and the reason why many businesses choose blackberry over anything else.

    Your “How does one deploy a private app to my citizens?” question is actually the heart of the article, IMHO. Microsoft made this completely impossible for WP7, while they knew many businesses had private apps on Windows mobile 6. Ironically, with the consumer market moving away from MS towards tablets / phones / cheap non-windows running computers, business is what MS needs to stay afloat.

  • albsure

    I was enthuastic about Wp7 when they first showed the demos. Looked very high tech, pretty different to the Iphone and Android UI and at the time I was blown away. Absoloutely different to what MS would typically do and I really thought MS had a shot. But that was at the begining of 2010. A year and a half later I have learnt many valuable lessons about product development, launching things and marketing via WP7.

    1. If your a geek (like me), a designer, and artist or anyone involved in creating products you ARE NOT THE CONSUMER OF MASS MARKET GOODS. Just because we are “wowed” by something doesnt translate into your sister or your mum being “wowed” by something. I fell for that thing totally. My sister isnt wowed by UI or smooth transitions on her phone. Thats not the reason she’ll buy a phone. Why spend so much time worrying about that stuff??

    2. Outside of iphone no one really cares about apps! Yeah I said it. Games yes.. Apps.. nah. Thats why no one can sell apps to non iphone users. There are so many reason why that is but the main thing is Apple soley advertises apps as the main thing you do with the phone. You buy an iphone to use apps because apple have ingrained that in you through advertising. No other phone company is doing that and then they wonder why no one is buying apps outside of iphone? Secondly, iphone is insanely easy to buy apps with. Just use your itunes account and its done. I only trust Apple and Amazon with my details and thats it.

    3. Phones are your personal identity right now. They are with u everywhere u go and you’ll tend to have the same phone as your friends so you can share the experience etc.. There is only iphone and blackberry out in the real world. Nothing else exists right now. Nothing. Android is there because its a cheap iphone clone to most people.If your “cool” you have an iphone or bb. End of .Windows as a brand is definitely not cool. Nokia is not cool. Its pretty simple.

    MS need to drop the Windows tag like they did with Xbox. Most people dont even realise that Xbox is an MS product.

    At first I thought that the Nokia deal meant that WP7 is going to clean up. Now I realise that both MS and Nokia have no idea how to market “cool” to anyone. RIM have diplo talking about BB Torch.. thats marketing, thats cool.

    I’m really starting to think that MS and Nokia are going to die out here. I dont care how many phones nokia can sell in Estonia or Kenya,… the party is in Western world, thats where “cool” is made,. Thats where innovation is and thats where you really make money.

  • Jacob

    I actually think that Metro is a fresh breath of UI design. I was getting a bit too tired og Apples design whcih feels “too perfect” and “too much”. I know – very vague – but I started to feel like I was a slave to a fascism reign. Granted there are a lot of things to be improved, but it is way too early to count WP out. Also I think that Apple’s “coolness” may result in a backlash at some point. Owning an iPhone is for some as much a fashion statement as anything else. And that is pretty much out the window now – there is nothing special about owning an iPhone any longer.
    No matter what, I think it is great with Android, iOS and WP battling it out – it makes for better products overall. If it wasn’t for iOS Windows Mobile would still be MS’s answer for the future!!!!

  • Steve

    not quite sure I see wp7 ‘battling out’ – I think they sunk to the bottom of a battle between iOS and Android. Horrible marketing, no competitive advantage kills this phone. I know no one personally who owns a wp7 yet. No coworkers, no friends, no one. And how long has it been out ? I see mostly new Android’s

    I think Android is the competitor that MS needs to beat out – not iOS. I believe that mostly because Android will be the new ‘enterprise’ phone – and that is bad news for MS. MS can’t touch the consumer market like iOS because Apple builds with quality first and glitter last.

    The Android will explode in the business place, knocking the blackberry out – and this market is MS traditional battling ground – ie. all those win7 licenses are in businesses, consumers aren’t buying it (just look at consumer PC sales..)

    So, they made a ‘consumer’ phone, when they should have a MS Office phone to attract CEO’s and Project Managers… speaking of – where in the world is the businessman’s tablet MS device… they are so far behind, how did this happen Mr. ‘Slate’ Ballmer (aka. I just sold you on a rock)

    honestly, MS should have skipped the phone and gone straight to a courier device… that is what business owners will be wanting.

  • sheva

    I would like to suggest you include the xna/xbox games/apps in your assessment, they are the real standout of the platform in my opinion.

    Does apple/android have games in the same league as need for speed etc on wp7?

    Maybe that crossover with Xbox code is what will make or break wp7?

  • Fallon Massey

    There’s nothing wrong with the Metro design, the problem is with the marketing and the phone itself.

    The hardware is behing Android and the software on roll out was weak and missing features that are standard on dumb phones.

    The Mango release will address a lot of problems, but it won’t correct the horrible marketing MS has, and continues to employ around this phone.

    IMO, nothing will save the Windows Phone except a win in tablets. Tablets will be 60-90% driven by the enterprise, and the synergy between these mobile devices should drive adoption of the phone in the enterprise, which will then invoke the effect that Scott just described.

    MS has made some horrible mistakes, but it’s early in the game, and they have staying power. I’m looking for a series of big wins by this time next year.

  • I just upgraded from android to wp7 and I really like it. Its much better in general I think. A lot of thought went into the core scenarios, like contacts and the live tiles and it shows.