The handwriting isn’t just on the wall. The numbers are everywhere. Microsoft’s Windows Phone is a failure. The holiday shopping quarter, which should have been the largest of the year, resulted in Windows Phone sales dropping by about 50-percent. That’s so low that Windows Phone market share is lumped in with also-rans in the Other category.
Over the weekend, Natasha Lomas called Windows Phone an ex-platform. There’s a verb for that. It’s called Zuned, a term coined when Microsoft spent billions trying to catch the iPod with the Zune, only to close it down a few years later. It’s time for Windows Phone’s funeral.
Microsoft can couch away all it wants, but the truth is its phone business is dead. And no amount of ‘strategic fiddling‘ around the edges will change that. Indeed, the platform has been walking dead for multiple years now.
To be fair, Microsoft does not need Windows Phone. Reports indicate that Microsoft makes a few billion dollars a year in pure profit from Android device manufacturers, thanks to a treasure trove of patents so extensive that the threat of a lawsuit from Microsoft has Android makers ponying up to the table in a new age version of crime insurance.
In the U.S. the platform never took off. And even in European markets like Italy where it saw some small gains Microsoft has been unable to turn regional glimmers of growth into anything vaguely resembling sustained momentum.
Microsoft will make more profits from licensing and patent deals with Android manufacturers than it will by pushing Windows Phone upon a world that obviously prefers Android or iPhones.
What could save Microsoft’s Windows phone mobile effort?
Build a better mousetrap. First, kill Windows Phone. It’s dead. It’s the Zune of Microsoft’s mobile device effort. Second, introduce a better mobile phone; at least one that is better in a variety of ways than a Galaxy S-class device or an iPhone. Where could Microsoft improve upon the smartphone? Camera. Storage. Screen resolution. Battery life. Home screen navigation. Tight integration with Office 365. On measurable points, a new Microsoft smartphone must leap frog the current competition from Samsung and Apple.
Finally, with the Windows Phone in the graveyard, change the name of the new smartphone to Surface. That’s right. Surface. Surface smartphone. After all, the Surface monicker is the only shine coming from Microsoft these days, so stick the name on a new phone with better features than Samsung and Apple, lower the entry-level price a bit, and make sure that 100 of the top 100 apps on Android and iOS are also on the Surface phone.
Here’s the problem. This strategy is a plausible and time honored way to differentiate new products to compete with entrenched standards– better features, lower price– but it requires Microsoft to build a better mouse trap. The Surface must have a handful of easily identifiable and improved features that top the best of Samsung and Apple. That’s no mean feat and it’s not like Microsoft has a good track record of playing catch up the only way that catch up really works.
Even the Surface notebook-cum-tablet hybrid success is questionable. Customer are beginning to realize that the Surface is little more than an inexpensive notebook with a detachable screen and keyboard, and doesn’t work all that well as a tablet. But as an inexpensive notebook it’s decent even if Apple’s iPad Pro outsold the entire surface line during the holiday quarter.
Say goodbye to Microsoft’s Windows Phone, and hello to the new Surface smartphone. Coming soon to one of a dozen or so Microsoft Stores not all that near to you.