Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Everybody Hates Windows Phone

Imagine you’re in Vegas, playing roulette. Apple, betting on black, is using a vertically-integrated business model. They develop the OS, engineer the hardware, and get it built on contract. They dictate the terms under which any carrier can sell it, too. Google, betting on red, is using a looser development model. They develop the OS, but they’ve open sourced it, so there are a bunch of manufacturers using whatever hardware they want to build a thousand phones a year, which any carrier can sell if they want.

Microsoft, given the choice of betting on red or black, is betting on the stool they’re sitting in. After every spin, they shout “hit me!”, and wonder why everyone looks at them. They’re not even playing the game because Windows Phone 7 is terrible for every party involved.

Hardware manufacturers hate Windows Phone because they’re locked into a single display resolution, and have barely any variation in other key specifications such as processor or RAM. Due to these constrictions, every OEM is producing effectively the same phone in slightly different bodies. The exception to this is the Nokia Lumia series, but that’s a tiny slice out of all Windows Phones sold.

This mess of effectively identical devices must leave consumers stumped. In the second quarter of 2011, Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile had a combined smartphone market share of 9%. Not great, but they still had skin in the game. But in the past year, that number has shrunk to a measly 3% of the smartphone market.

Consumers love choice, but they don’t want too much of it because it becomes overwhelming. You can see this effect most prominently in Apple’s iPhone market share. With just a few devices, they have secured a solid 30-odd percent of the smartphone market. You walk into a retailer and ask “please can I have an iPhone”, and you get a choice of the free one, the good one, and the amazing one.

It doesn’t require a vertical market, however. Look at Android, where a small number of phone models have large slices of the market. These phones all look pretty different, and have enough differentiating features to make it easier for consumers to narrow their choices. Popular models beget increased popularity, too. But many different phones that all look identical, yet retail for different prices is a quick recipe for confusion.

So what about developers?1 Developers hate Windows Phone because they’re required to produce apps that look absolutely identical, and that’s a challenge when you’re known for an app with a very distinctive style. Take Path, for instance. It’s only available for iOS and Android, and the app has a consistent experience between them. But its UI is so incongruent with Windows Phone that it wouldn’t be a good fit on the platform at all.

The Toshl team have a few other complaints from a developer’s perspective:

Publishing apps for [Windows Phone] though, has turned out to be a very painful experience. From time to time the tale gets so surreal and horrible I sometimes wish Franz Kafka were alive to describe it instead of me.

Biting. As the Toshl team also points out, the lack of users is a further punch to the gut after a difficult app development cycle.

So, OEMs hate Windows Phone because it’s a constricting platform to make hardware for, users are turned off by how confusing it is, and developers dislike how difficult it is to make an app for nobody. What about the carriers? Since Microsoft owns Skype, carriers are reluctant to sell Windows Phones. Also, they get stuck with a bunch of phones that aren’t going to sell.

And Microsoft? They won’t give any indication as to the health of Windows Phone. But, as Nielsen’s market share data indicates, and as Reuters previews, it’s not looking up.

That’s a shame, really. I’ve stated many times that I like Windows Phone. With Google, Apple has a serious competitor on the feature side. In this case, Microsoft should be providing Apple with competition in their aesthetics and design. Windows Phone is a beautiful operating system that never gets seen.

It must be like what Kiera Knightley feels like on her days off.

  1. Developers, developers, developers. ↩︎