Five ways Microsoft could save Windows Phone 7

Wider distribution, upgrades, China market are still options

The vultures are already circling around Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, little more than a month after the first handsets went on sale in the U.S. Phone pundits cite the tepid 40,000 unit first-day sales as a bad sign. And Microsoft is inviting the negative publicity by withholding specific sales figures.

While some of the commentary can be characterized as coming from cynics expecting a Microsoft fail, an analysis of the smartphone market by Troy Wolverton in the San Jose Mercury News drew my attention. Reporting on the D: Dive Into Mobile conference last week in San Francisco, Wolverton has concluded that it’s going to be Google Android and Apple iPhone/iPad and everyone else languishing in the back of the pack. In an interview at the conference with the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, Microsoft senior vice president Joe Belfiore again evaded the questions about sales figures. But when asked for an example of a feature Phone 7 has that others don’t, Belfiore offered that you can take a picture without unlocking the device. Nice, but not a game changer, Wolverton noted, and I agree. Wolverton was similarly unimpressed with the prospects of RIM/BlackBerry and HP with Palm making any headway against Apple and Android.

As for Windows Phone 7, in my view, there are five things Microsoft can and should do to pull out of its dive:

Cut-and-paste. If nothing else, Microsoft should add cut-and-paste functionality just to shut up the chorus of haters who consider this egregious on the order of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Word is that an update to WP7 as soon as February will add cut-and-paste. Apple iPhone didn’t have cut-and-paste the first two years it was on the market. The Earth kept spinning on its axis. End of story.

CDMA. Once a version of WP7 is released that runs on CDMA networks, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and other carriers in the U.S. can start selling WP7 phones. Sprint told me it will start selling the  HTC 7 Pro sometime in the first half of 2011. Today, WP7 only works on AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s GSM networks. More sales channels means more sales. Microsoft also needs to put more effort into adopting Google Android’s model of selling to multiple handset makers.

Tablets. Apple’s running iPhone OS on their iPad, of course, set the standard. Android has also enjoyed some initial success running on the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak. But Steve Ballmer has been annoyingly vague about Microsoft’s tablet plans. Also, the HP Slate and Dell Inspiron duo tablets run Windows 7, not Phone 7 -- missed opportunities both.

Stop comparing WP7 to iPhone/Android. As easy as it is to lampoon Apple fanatics as under Steve Jobs’ spell, the company makes well designed, innovative and well built products, so WP7 will pale in comparison, if only a comparison on the basis of awe. Android has achieved significant success, too, but it also had some early sales missteps, as PC World’s Ian Paul wrote, adding that the measure of Microsoft’s success should be when it reaches 1 million unit sales.

China. Michael Kan of IDG News Service reports today that Microsoft will bring Phone 7 into the Chinese market in the second half of 2011 and is in negotiations with handset makers Lenovo, ZTE and Huawei to make handsets running WP7. With Lenovo being a maker of laptops, that could finally be a way into the tablet market.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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