Thoughts on the Windows 7 phone
There has been a lot of well-deserved hype over the Windows 7 phone since Mix10. The developer story they’ve put together is amazing. They’ve given us a model that is as easy to develop for as Android while staying as powerful as the iPhone. The interface is simple and intuitive and is on par with other smartphones (except for lack of cut-copy-paste support). It even adds a host of social features that I haven’t seen from its competitors.
But I think it’s more likely to fail than succeed for one simple reason: Microsoft still hasn’t realized the difference between being an incumbent in the market and being a challenger.
- An incumbent needs to focus on the person who is upgrading from the previous version. They need to make sure nothing major breaks when you upgrade, the user interface stays consistent, all of your old data transfers without the user realizing any updates were needed or at least so easily that my grandma could do it, and a few features need to be added to make sure the user has a reason to upgrade.
- The challenger needs to do everything the incumbent does (at least the most popular features). If they don’t any user who tries out your new product won’t be able to do what they could with the incumbent’s product and won’t switch. They also need to add significant new features that the incumbent doesn’t have or users will have no reason to switch and most will just stay with the incumbent’s product since they’re already comfortable with it.
So let’s take a look at the Windows 7 phone and what it offers.
- The user interface is good and will work well for anyone who’s used an iPhone or Android-based phone. There are no real surprises or innovations in the UI but it is on par with the major players.
- It does all of the things expected by a phone. It makes calls, sends text messages, has a camera, and has a calendar.
- It does all of the things expected by a smartphone. It gets on the internet with a real browser, has email and calendar syncing capabilities, and runs apps.
- It has a bunch of cool social features built-in which the others don’t have except via apps.
- The developer story is very good. Much better than the iPhone’s all around and more powerful than Android’s.
So the Windows 7 phone does what we’d expect of a smartphone and adds a better developer story and some social features. That matches with the requirements to be a viable challenger doesn’t it? Well yes, it matches up very well and that’s what has the Microsoft ecosystem all excited. One problem is that social features in general don’t really seem to draw in customers (think Zune), especially when the other phones have apps that will give you the same functionality if you really care. So you probably aren’t going to get many customers to buy one just by adding social features.
Which brings us to problem number two. Developers aren’t going to develop for the Windows 7 phone unless there are enough users (potential app buyers) to make it worth the cost of developing the application. Users, for their part, aren’t going to buy the phone unless there are enough apps to replace the ones they used on previous phones. So you have a classic chicken and egg problem. I asked the Microsoft representative at Mix10 how they were planning on dealing with this and the only answer he could give me was that we should all “take a bet on the [Windows 7] phone”. That will work for a few developers but probably not enough to fill your application marketplace with amazing apps that will make people want to switch.
The question I’m left with is: What will I need to see in order to take a bet on developing for the Windows 7 phone?
- Android problems – I see Android and Windows 7 phone as aiming for the same group of users. Both are aiming for users that don’t want to switch to AT&T and developers that don’t want to develop in Objective-C or deal with Apple’s app store. Apple is suing HTC, the maker of the best Android phones (Droid, Nexus One) of the current generation, and trying to stop them from being sold in the US. If Apple wins the suit it will be a big victory for the Windows 7 phone since it will nearly erase the year lead Android has.
- Low uptake of the iPhone on Verizon – Many smartphone consumers who don’t already have an iPhone seem to have held off because they don’t want to switch to AT&T. Apple’s exclusive contract with AT&T ends this year and they’re widely expected to announce an iPhone for Verizon along with iPhone OS 4.0 this summer.
- Marketing – It’s no secret that Microsoft’s marketing doesn’t do too well when targeting consumers (although they’ve gotten better). They will need to have a massive and well timed marketing push from this summer through a few months after launch. When Apple starts releasing iPhones on Verizon people will need to know there’s an alternative coming out and maybe they should wait a couple of months to check it out. When the Windows 7 phone actually gets released there will need to be some amazing marketing to beat the marketing Apple and Google will surely be doing at the same time. They will need to worry less about things consumers don’t care about (speed/memory of the hardware, ease of development, etc) and more about what the phone will allow them to do. If their marketing team doesn’t come out with a catch phrase like “You can do that” (note to Microsoft marketing, you can use that if you send me a free phone) then they probably aren’t going to do well. Want to check your work email, facebook inbox, and gmail all from the beach with just a glance? You can do that!
- Kick-ass Marketplace – It will need to be dead simple for users to use and find things they will like and want to buy. Something like a rating system and Netflix algorithm built in maybe? It will also need to be extremely easy for developers to get their apps on the marketplace and to upgrade existing apps. If there has to be some sort of application vetting process it needs to have easy to understand rules, a rapid turnaround time, and should probably only focus on malware, ratings (e.g. G, PG, PG-13, R, X), and category.
They’ll need at least three of the four to have better than even odds. I’ll be watching closely with fingers crossed.