Former Microsoft Exec Explains Windows Phone’s Failure

A former General Manager on Microsoft’s Windows Phone team blames the company’s approach to the mobile market for Windows Phone’s disappointing sales.

Charlie Kindle, a former General Manager for the Windows Phone team at Microsoft, recently posted an entry to his blog in which he explains what he believes are the main reasons why Windows Phone has not been a commercial success. Despite numerous positive reviews for the mobile OS, an app market that continues to boom and just exceeded the 50,000 app mark, and affordable devices available on virtually every major carrier, Windows Phone’s market penetration continues to disappoint.

In the rant, Mr. Kindle, who is no longer with Microsoft, says, “In the mobile device space the four primary sides of the market are not actually aligned very well. In fact, there is such deep misalignment that there is great instability. Android has succeeded (in raw unit numbers at least) by capitalizing on that misalignment. Apple has attempted to change the game by cutting out one of the sides of the market.” Then he goes on to say that Microsoft’s approach causes more friction with both carriers and device manufacturers than competing platforms (in not so many words), and that the friction prevents both the carries (who control major marketing dollars and the retail sales processionals responsible for actually selling the devices) and the device manufacturers from fully embracing Microsoft’s mobile platform. A platform which many—including Charlie Kindle—feel offers a better end-to-end experience than Android.

The HTC Titan Running Windows Phone

Microsoft’s more controlling approach essentially dictates what the hardware specifications for a device should be, much to the chagrin of the device manufacturers. And Microsoft also dictates to the carriers how, and to some extent, when devices will be updated. The end result is that the Windows Phone experience from device to device is consistent and that in the last update cycle, when Mango was rolled out, almost every Windows Phone device got an update, virtually eliminating the fragmentation that’s rampant with Google’s Android. Kindle believes that it’s these restrictive policies that have made device manufacturers reluctant to fully embrace Microsoft’s mobile platform and carriers reluctant to stand behind it and incentivize their retail sales force to push the platform.

Kindle goes on to say, “This is why, despite being a superior PRODUCT to Android, Windows Phone has not sold as well.  Spending marketing dollars on advertising Android devices is (an) easy decision for the carriers.”

Considering Kindle’s history and understanding of the mobile market, his opinions obviously hold some water. However, I think there are other factors at play as well. In addition to being more open and allowing both carriers and device manufacturers to customize Android, Android’s other advantage (at least currently) is that it offers a more affordable alternative to iOS, while still maintaining the look and feel of Apple’s product. Whether Android’s or iOS’ interface elements are superior is a matter for another debate, but most consumers’ perception that Apple’s product has it “right” makes them more open to Android in my opinion. In comparison, Windows Phone’s interface takes things in a completely different direction and can be jarring at first glance.

Consumers are also reluctant to try Windows Phone because at this point it offers little incentive over competing products. If they’re not enamored by the interface, why would someone buy a Windows Phone over an iPhone or the myriad of excellent Android-based devices? As of today, there is little incentive--there are more apps for iOS and Android, more varied devices (for android), and the hardware is more cutting edge on competing platforms. Whether or not that changes once Windows 8 ships remains to be seen, but it’s clear that it’s going to take more than persistence for Windows Phone to gain any real traction with consumers.

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