Does Microsoft even want its Lumia smartphones to succeed?

By only supporting one carrier, Microsoft almost guarantees failure for the new Lumia.

Microsoft Lumia smartphones only available AT&T
Credit: Peter Ruecktenwald

Microsoft introduced a beautiful new phone last week, the Lumia 950, with a brand new operating system that has the potential to win over some customers. 

But the company's strategy doesn't seem particularly aggressive. The Lumia 950 will only be available through AT&T. While Verizon and Sprint have not commented, T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who is not known for being shy with his opinion, said Microsoft did not offer the phone to any other carrier.

"To be clear: We did not turn down the new Windows devices. MSFT gave to AT&T. If @microsoft wakes up, we'll talk about @TMobile carrying," he tweeted.

Microsoft sent the following canned statement to a number of publications.

"We're refocusing our channel strategy, narrowing it in the short-term and planning for broader operator availability long-term. [...] While there was interest across the board from U.S. operators, currently we’ve made the decision to have AT&T carry the Lumia 950, and then sell both the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL unlocked through our own channel in Microsoft stores. In Europe, Deutsche Telekom will carry the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, and we’ll have more to share about other carriers shortly."

To some degree, Microsoft has to narrow things after that major round of layoffs in July gored the mobile division. They probably don't have the people to manage all four major carriers in the U.S.

The question is who blew off whom, and if we are to believe PC Mag, it was Microsoft that showed no interest. The author of that report claims Microsoft didn't show much interest in testing and validating the 950 on Verizon and Sprint's CDMA voice system because it is expensive and takes time. That doesn't explain blowing off T-Mobile, because Legere made it rather clear he wanted the phone.

He also references a "Surface Phone," which would eventually replace the Lumia brand sometime around Christmas of next year. At the rate things are going for Microsoft, how much market opportunity will there be? It's still in the single digits with the Lumia. 

Then again, I have to give credit where it is due. The first two Surface generations were giant belly flops that cost the company a billion dollars in writeoffs. But like virtually every other Microsoft product, the company got Surface right with its third generation, and the new, fourth-generation device is gaining momentum. So perhaps there's a chance for the handsets. If Nadella was going to kick the handset business to the curb, he would have done it by now.

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