Foley on Microsoft

5 Microsoft Moves To Boost Windows Phone Market Share

Mary Jo Foley lays out a five-point plan for Microsoft gain some sales traction in the smartphone landscape.

Not so long ago, in the months leading up to Microsoft's launch of Windows Phone in October 2010, many a pundit (yours truly among them) had advice for the 'Softies on how they could get out of their mobile-phone tailspin.

Since then, Microsoft has done a lot of things right on the smartphone front. The company went back to the drawing board and re-architected the Windows Phone platform OS, its UI, its reference design, its relationships with carriers and handset makers, and its sales and marketing strategy.

But, in hindsight, Microsoft has also made some pretty significant gaffes with Windows Phone. For some reason, the 'Softies initially didn't see a need to prime the retail-sales pump in carrier stores, resulting in salespeople failing to recommend Windows Phone devices instead of iPhone and Android devices. Even when customers did request Windows Phone devices, the salespeople steered them elsewhere.

Support remains lackluster as well. Software updates remain stuck in handset/carrier-approval loops, instead of being rolled out once they're ready. The number of apps for Windows Phone still trails by far the number available on iPhone and Android devices -- a chicken and egg dilemma if there ever was one.

In 2012, Microsoft ripped and replaced the Windows Phone guts yet again, switching the Compact Embedded core for one based on Windows NT that's shared with Windows 8. While this will help Microsoft create a common developer platform story in the long run, the near-term result is platform fragmentation. Those who purchased Windows Phone 7.x handsets learned their phones wouldn't get the Windows Phone 8 OS update.

Cut to the start of 2013, and Redmond's Windows Phone market share is hovering around the 3 percent mark, which is down slightly from a year ago. Even though there are some nice new flagship Windows Phone 8 handsets on the market -- including the HTC 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920, which finally gave Nokia a little upward momentum in its Q4 FY2012 -- Windows Phone seems stuck.

What, if anything, can Microsoft do now to break past the 3 percent market share barrier? Here are a few of the more-realistic-sounding options:

  1. Hang in there and keep investing. Just like it did with Xbox, Microsoft can simply stay the course, keep taking losses on this business and wait for its competitors to stumble.
  2. Buy parts of Nokia or BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. I don't see Microsoft buying either company in its entirety. But what about one or more divisions or patents of either vendor?
  3. Attract more OEMs to deliver Windows Phone devices. Lenovo is again believed to be on board and planning to release a Windows Phone in 2013.
  4. Decide that OEMs can't be counted on and make its own phone -- say, a Surface Phone. If and when this happens, Microsoft will continue to say it loves its handset partners, but the real message will be "get out of our way," just as it's doing with the Surface RT and Pro tablets.
  5. Bring Windows 8 and Windows Phone even closer together so that apps developed for one platform can be moved more quickly and painlessly to the other.

Of course, Microsoft could abandon Windows Phone, but I don't consider that a realistic alternative in this increasingly mobile-focused day and age. What do you think Microsoft should do to move the needle on Windows Phone market share?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 Tom

There are a number of technical things MSFT could (and should) do to improve the platform, but the real problem here is one of perception: People just don't think it's a good phone. They have no good reason to back this up, and even if you try to explain to them they just don't listen/care. They want their iPhone and that's that. Ridiculous? Perhaps. So how do we fix this.. Well to start with Microsoft needs to drastically change it's marketing techniques. The adverts and commercials are cheesy, uninspiring, boring and uncharacteristic of what Microsoft really is. For example they seem to constantly show some celebrity using the phone, but rarely do they show off the phone itself. Now look at an iPhone or Android commercial and you actually get to see the phone. Second: they need to increase the freq of updates; instead of these big yearly updates, they need to push smaller updates perhaps every 3 to 4 months so that people see that little version number go up. This is a mobile, no-patience, 'I want it yesterday even if I dont know what it is' type of world now - it's a matter of perception. Third: Microsoft needs to stop alienating it's developer community by constantly appearing to jump ship with tech they convinced us to adopt. Fourth: they need to start listening to the people on the forums and give REAL responses, not the canned useless one's. Fifth: they need to stop with the ridiculous nonsense decision. For example the most recent one I heard was that the next XBOX may drop support for playing used games, really now??!?! Are they trying to piss off people? This is a consumer driven world, and even if game companies want MSFT to not support used games, the consumer DOES NOT and THAT is what is important. And what about the Win8 start button which most everyone wants back? Why not just put it back and make the world happy? So very many things are off course, but they seem to refuse to listen.

Sun, Feb 10, 2013 SplendidCRM Raleigh, NC

Microsoft just needs to be patient. The new development platform for the Windows Phone and Surface based on JavaScript is excellent. Microsoft needs to court developers, as they have in the past, and encourage them to develop apps for Windows Phone first, then port to the other platforms using PhoneGap and SQLite. Being able to properly debug a JavaScript app has turned a 6 month project into a 1 month project. It is simply that good. Case in point. We have just released SplendidCRM Personal Edition on Surface, Android and iPad. The product leverages the code from our Community Edition HTML5 Offline Client, thereby saving hundreds of man hours and establishing a set of shared source code across all platforms. We started on the Surface and worked out the core function before porting to an Android tablet. Once those two platforms were working, we moved on to the iPad. Visual Studio 2012 is excellent to work with, Eclipse is acceptable and XCode is painful.

Sat, Feb 9, 2013 Kathleen Anderson North Carolina

What do I think Microsoft should do to move the needle on Windows Phone market share? I hate to sound like a broken record, but the one thing Microsoft can do to get me to buy a Windows Phone would be to add the ability to sync via USB directly with my desktop Outlook. I don't have an Exchange account and I don't want my personal information in the cloud. I just don't understand why if the iPhone does it, Android does it, heck - even the new Blackberries announced last week will do it, but Windows Phones can't do it.

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 Rick Saint Paul, MN

I bought my son a Nokia 822 for xmas (online) and went into the Verizon store for a case/holster for it in early Jan. and they did not have ANY products for Windows 8 phones on display. Not one single item. They did not have any Windows PHONES on display either. None of the salespeople knew what I wanted and one even laughed and walked away from me when I asked for help. I found the store manager and he disappeared for 10 min. and found the exact product I was looking for in the stock room (where it had not even been unpacked) and sold it to me. I told him I would not be back and would recommend AT&T to my friends and he shrugged and said "OK." THAT is the problem right there. The store was wall to wall iPhone and Galaxy S III. Nothing else.

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 Chris WA

#1 & 3 above. I also agree with Tommy. The biggest problem has been at the point of sale. The salespeople simply aren't selling the product. It's clearly evident every time I go into the carrier stores or kiosks. It's the same issue Charlie Kindel has blogged about. Microsoft should immediately start handing out (relatively) huge sales commissions to the store reps for every phone they sell. They should be trained on the phones. Send them to "Smoked by Windows Phone" classes, to teach them some of the methods that Ben Rudolph uses. That way the reps can show off their Windows Phones both at work and when they're out at the pub with friends.

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 Greg New York, Ny

If Microsoft had a larger market share, then building their own phone might have some effect on their numbers. But Google already had significant market share via other hardware manufacturers, so their own hardware wasn't as much of a threat to Samsungs, HTCs, LGs, etc. If Microsoft tries to do the same thing with a "get out of my way" attitude, it might actually de-motivate those manufacturers from producing their own Windows phone. The bottom-line for Microsoft? Play nice, play fair and stay in the game any way they can.

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 EVVJSK

If carriers continue to drag their feet on sales, updates, etc..., Microsoft could do a Google Play devices option and sell direct and unlocked for a low price. Many people are opting for PrePaid phones and no contracts. Maybe Microsoft should allow that to happen cheaply (cut out the $$ going to the middleman).

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 Sheila

I know the only 2 things that are keeping me from buying a new Windows Phone is the fact that: 1) the OEM's decided people didn't need to remove the battery. 2) the OEM's decided that having the SD chips isn't necessary. When the OEM's produce something worth buying...I'm there. I love my Samsung Focus(2), but would upgrade so that I can take advantage a number of the new features like NFC and true LTE speeds.

Sat, Feb 2, 2013 Tommy Armstrong Lillington, NC

Naturally all five things MJF recommended are of course on target. And she alluded to what I consider the most important one-educate and motivate the person at to the point of sale. Windows Phone 8 even in the state it is now, with its ecosystem in its present state, is plenty robust enough to satisfy a vast majority of smart phone buyers.It is in most respects as good as the competition and in some vastly superior in my opinion. There are elegant an high quality hardware choices now and hopefully will be more in the future. But the problem is as MJF stated--the people closing the sale (or blocking the sale as the case may be) are a major problem. This is where the marketing money should be spent. I would propose that MS come up with a certification system for Windows Phone Assistants which would create a pool of qualified people who knew what they were selling and why they were selling it. Now of course why would an employee want to undertake such a course when one could simply steer them to another product--well give them an incentive to sell a Windows Phone 8 versus and Android or Apple product. Coordinate with the carriers such that the person that is actually the one interfacing with the consumer is not only knowledgable but passionate. Heck, when I went to local ATT store to get my Nokia 920 red, eventhough the sales girl was nice,I had to inform her a lot about its features and show its functions. The manager offered me a job selling Windows phones on the spot-really--wanted me to fill out an application. She was smart enough to know that needed informed counter sales people. In the stores there should be a Windows guy and the Win Phone 8 sales go through him. Of course MS would have to help this along with some $$ and perks but now it is about establishing a brand. You cannot do that without energetic, passionate, and informed followers. And there is no reason in the world why a certified Windows Phone only kiosk could not work at major traffic areas like a mall. You do not need much space to sell a phone. I know I could make a good living doing so, if I had the desire. Got to be plenty of people out there with the desire.

Fri, Feb 1, 2013

I see MS having huge advantages it can leverage but hasn't really. For example, I never understood why they parroted Android and Apple by first going after mass consumers when BB was easier to knock off especially considering MS is best positioned to create the best possible security linking to Exchange. Could they, for example, create WP8 secure pocket dashboards SQL Server, Win Server, SharePoint, and IIS admins could use? Beyond a huge biz ecosystem they need to keep fully exploiting the rest of their ecosystem. For example, their WP8 Office apps surprisingly aren't rated best of breed. Beef up SkyDrive. Push harder leveraging gamers so Xbox games on WP8 to become the equivalent of, say, PSP. The possibilities are endless but MS needs to create the killer apps nobody else can touch. On the hardware front, they should push cutting-edge hardware nobody else has. For example, get Nokia to put out a WP8 with a camera to match the best of breed one on their 808. In other words, when you're behind you need to try hard. They've pretty much caught up but now they must leapfrog everyone else with must-have features.

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