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Desire for Windows Phone 7 remains low despite Microsoft sales claims

Independent research doesn't match Microsoft's claims of WP7 popularity, but the news isn't all bad for the new smartphone either.

By Microsoft Subnet on Fri, 01/28/11 - 2:38pm.

Given Microsoft's terrible track record with mobile devices, no one but Steve Ballmer expects big things from Windows Phone 7. New research from ChangeWave confirms that very few people currently plan to buy a WP7 phone. But the survey also shows that the dismal attitude toward Windows smartphones is improving.

Yesterday, as part of its quarterly earnings report, Microsoft officials carefully quantified sales of WP7 software at 2 million units last quarter. My colleague John Cox rightfully points out that sales of OS licenses to handset makers does not equate to sales of 2 million handsets in a quarter. He also points out that the one setting the bar, Apple, sold 16.2 million iPhones in its most recent quarter, alone.

Market research of mobile phone buyers does not match Microsoft optimism for its new smartphone platform, but it shows some hope. Despite Microsoft's massive advertising campaign hardly anyone wants a WP7 smartphone. Of the 4,050 people ChangeWave surveyed in December who were planning on buying a smartphone by February, only 5% set their sights on a WP7 phone. (Note: the survey is not publicly available. It is available for purchase. These statistics were given to me by ChangeWave PR, and are used by permission).

On the other hand, this represents a 4-point increase from the mere 1 percent interested in WP7 in the September survey.

ChangeWave WP7 market

Note that WP7 is the only smartphone OS that saw an uptick in planned purchases, compared the quarter before ... and this survey was taken right before the holiday shopping season. (The remaining participants were all from the other category, which includes operating systems like Nokia's Symbian and Intel/Linux Foundations MeeGo.)

So, score one -- however slight -- for WP7.

Satisfaction ratings are perhaps just as critical for building a base as marketing-driven desire. Other surveys, such as one from Compete.com, show that one-third of the population will simply stick with the mobile device operating system that they have used and know, if they are happy with it. Older versions of Windows Mobile aren't as rare as you might think. In a recent study done of a random 914 wireless smartphone users by Compete.com, Windows Mobile users accounted for a surprisingly decent chunk of the sample: 139, compared to 199 iPhone users, 244 BlackBerry and 268 Android users.

Compete.com mobile phone research
All graphics used by permission.

Of those that already owned a WP7 device by the December survey, there's good news on the satisfaction front (though it could be better). It is much improved for WP7 compared to Windows Mobile 6 and older, with 44% of phone owners calling themselves very satisfied with their new phones, compared to a horrid 18% who felt that way about older Windows Mobile platform. The older platforms were notoriously awful, slow, with the browser incapable of rendering pages to be readable on the device.

ChangeWave Windows Phone 7 research

Then again, the reverse is also true ... that more than half, 56%, of WP7 users would not categorize themselves as very satisfied. This isn't that far off the mark from Android users, of which 58% say they are very satisfied. I would expect the Android satisfaction numbers to increase greatly by next quarter's survey, as Android 2.2 (Froyo) becomes more widely available, both on older phones and new ones. Froyo has solved most of Android's speed and glitchiness problems, and includes much better support for Microsoft Exchange, among other features.

But that pales compared to the love iPhone users have for their device. A whopping 72% of them are very satisfied.

Need to point out that this independent research is a far cry from the stats that Greg Sullivan, a senior product manager at Microsoft, claimed in a story reported by Bloomberg. He cited results of Microsoft's internal surveys of customer satisfaction and brand awareness. "Customer satisfaction for the product is at 93% and brand awareness has jumped 22 points to 66% since it was released," the story reported.

93 percent? I don't think so, unless you factor in the 80,000 units that reportedly went into the hands of every Microsoft employee (many of whom were using the older, crummy versions of Windows Mobile). This was an internal survey, after all.

The satisfaction number may mean that its safe for an enterprise IT department to outfit its road warriors with WP7, and that if they do, they won't be strung up by their thumbs. But with the iPhone as the benchmark to beat, WP7 is still not a totally safe bet ... yet.

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