Windows enthusiast Paul Thurrott takes some exception to people who are tossing dirt onto Windows Phone’s grave. I agree with him that it’s still too early to say that Windows Phone is doomed to Zune-style failure but let’s be honest: Microsoft’s current strategy is floundering and it desperately needs a course correction.
FROM EARLIER: Windows Phone is dying on the vine
Before I go any further let me acknowledge that, yes, I have never run a major tech company and am not at all qualified to do so. But just as Detroit Lions fans didn’t need to have experience running a sports franchise to determine that Matt Millen was a horrible GM, I don’t need an MBA to see that Microsoft’s mobile phone strategy is in a complete state of disarray. When your total smartphone shipments decrease year-over-year despite the fact that the smartphone market is still booming with a whopping 300 million units shipped last quarter, you’re doing something very wrong.
The good news is that, unlike Palm, Microsoft has the resources, talent and connections to turn things around and make Windows Phone at least a respectable player in the market. But something has to change and it has to change soon.
Thurrott notes that Microsoft has already made some important moves to bring more manufacturers on board with Windows Phone by making the platform free to use. While this is certainly good in terms of cranking out more dirt-cheap Windows Phone handsets, I’d actually really like to see Microsoft also try to more aggressively compete in the high-end market as well because I think it could win some decent share there if it played its cards right.
After doing some thinking, I’ve come up with three non-expert suggestions for ways that Microsoft could try to get Windows Phone growing in the high-end market and not just in the low-margin cheapie market.
- End the carrier exclusives for your best devices. This really should be a no-brainer for Microsoft. One of ex-Nokia boss Stephen Elop’s more boneheaded notions was that Nokia should get carrier exclusives for its top devices such as the Lumia 1020 because it meant AT&T would help out with the sales and marketing more. Needless to say, things didn’t quite work out that way for Nokia and there’s no reason for Microsoft to keep doing it. Microsoft has enough money so that it shouldn’t need to rely on a wireless carrier to do its marketing and promotions. Which brings us to our second point…
- Make a smartphone that solves a key pain point and harp on it relentlessly in ads. The Lumia 1020 was actually supported by a very good ad campaign that gave the phone a real identity: It was the phone whose camera looked a billion times better than a camera phone. Microsoft should try to solve other such pain points to find something that consumers want that they aren’t getting in iOS or Android.This could mean, for instance, establishing that all Windows Phones will have killer cameras to appeal to photography fans or that they’ll have top-notch battery lives to appeal to busy professionals who are always on the go. We know Microsoft can do this sort of thing because it’s come up with what I think is a nice angle for its Surface Pro 3 as “the tablet that can replace your laptop.” Right now, the primary reason to buy a Windows Phone is… well, I have no idea because Microsoft hasn’t really given us a reason yet.
- Build a phone that plays to one of Microsoft’s key strengths. In case you haven’t noticed, the mobile gaming industry has gotten insanely lucrative. Microsoft has a lot of connections with gaming companies, both through the Xbox One console and through its traditional PC business. Surely there might be some sort of synergies to exploit here?And yes, I realize that Sony has flopped horribly in its attempts to build game-centric phones but I think Microsoft could do decently well if it could score some exclusive high-end mobile games that aren’t available on other platforms or if it could, say, become known as the platform that offers super-discounted in-app purchases compared to others.
Either way, Microsoft needs to have its phones do something better than any other phones to at least establish a small but loyal user base that will eagerly buy up new devices every two years. Remember how, even through Apple’s darkest times, you’d still see graphics design teams that would only use Macs and wouldn’t even consider using Windows machines? That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.
As I said earlier, these are all non-expert suggestions and I’m not making any predictions that implementing them will be enough to turn things around for Windows Phone. But I do know that Microsoft’s current strategy of basically doing nothing and just hoping people will get tired of iOS and Android isn’t going to get the job done either. For a company that purports to be “mobile first, cloud first,” I expect to see a bit more urgency on the “mobile” side of the equation than what we’ve gotten so far.