Earlier today, Charlie Kindel, a former Windows Phone GM, posted some thoughts on why Windows Phone hasn’t taken off. Essentially, he blames Microsoft’s model pressuring both OEMs and carriers — so much so that neither really wants to push the platform.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I largely agree with his criticisms of Android. He believes Google’s platform has completely laid down for both the OEMs and the carriers to the detriment of the users (hence, the fragmentation we continue to see). This has allowed Android to flourish with regard to market share, but he thinks it won’t last forever because eventually the consumers will revolt, just as they did against Windows Mobile.
Where I don’t agree with him is that Windows Phone is the correct model. I like the model a lot more than Android’s, and I like the OS a lot. But I don’t like the OEM strategy. And I hate the timing.
The new Nokia Windows Phone device looks nice (though I haven’t personally used it yet), but the others I’ve seen are largely the same crap that Android phones run on. The iPhone blows these phones out of the water.
Kindel believes Apple’s strategy (of making the devices themselves and bending the carriers to their will this way) will eventually backfire. But he declines to elaborate as to why he believes this (he says it will be a different post).
All of this is very interesting to think about. But I think Kindel is silly to overlook a couple key things.
First, Apple’s initial model, while frustrating, was actually quite smart. They partnered with one carrier to ensure they got the terms they wanted. And rode this until other customers demanding the iPhone hit a fever pitch. At this point, the other carriers (in the U.S. at least) had to accept to play ball with Apple on their own terms.
Apple could afford to do this because they knew their device — their complete device: OS and hardware — was that good.
But Apple could also afford to do this because they were first to market. When the iPhone launched in 2007, the other smartphones on the market were shit. There was no actual competition for the iPhone. The first Android phones that launched over a year later were a joke.
Contrast that with Windows Phone which launched far too late into the market. Kindel never mentions it, but you simply can’t downplay that fact. Had Windows Phone launched in 2007 or even 2008, the story would have been different. Instead, it launched in late 2010.
Way too late.
Two to three years in the hole, the only way Windows Phone can win the market now is to make a product that is leaps and bounds better than what’s out there. They need something that’s an iPhone-in-2007 type product. The product they have, while good, isn’t that.
It’s not enough to be better. (And we can argue as to whether iOS or Android or Windows Phone is better.) You need to present a product so good that people have to buy it. Windows Phone isn’t close to being that. I’m sorry, but it’s just not.
And one other big reason for that is something else Kindel oddly downplays: apps. Even if you think Windows Phone is better than iOS or Android right now, you’re unlikely to buy it because all of your favorite apps are available on those competing platforms and very few are available for Windows Phone.
Microsoft has been pushing hard to change this, offering third-party developers bags of cash to port their apps to Windows Phone. But for most developers, the money isn’t enough. The users just aren’t there. It’s very much a chicken-and-egg problem.
I just think the main Windows Phone problem is a lot more simple than Kindel wants to believe. He blames carrier marketing — yadda, yadda. Microsoft has all the money in the world; if it was just a marketing problem, they could fix that.
He also thinks it’s almost a conspiracy theory to ensure the Android model — which is favorable to carriers and OEMs — wins out. To some extent, I have no doubt this is true. If I was a carrier or OEM, Android would be my best friend. But Windows Phone availability in 2008 may have altered this.
You can’t overlook being two to three years late to the market. And as a result, having essentially no third-party developer support. This does matter.
So what can Windows Phone do? I don’t know. But I’d consider betting it all on the Xbox Live integration. Or I’d go back to the drawing board and come up with something completely different to blow the market away. I’d invent the iPhone in a world of RAZRs all over again. Small task, I know.