Windows Phone is failing because the seeds were planted elsewhere
Update: Excellent discussion over at HackerNews.
Toronto Standard has an interesting analysis of why Windows Phone is failing. Spoiler alert: they say it’s failing because it’s too good. And by “too good” they mean “too constrained”. It’s an extended analogy; a cross-pollination of attribution stemming from the notion that Apple’s iOS devices are good because Apple exerts tight control over the user experience. Not a bad point, but I think there’s more to it.
Alternate title: Why I don’t have a Windows phone. My account is, of course, a single point of data, but I do fit some stereotypes pretty well, so take this for what it’s worth. Apple users, bear with me. I’m going to give up a lot of ground here so that, hopefully, Windows users will hear me out.
In recent years, Apple’s desktop market share has grown at the expense of Microsoft’s. Microsoft is not at any immediate risk of losing the desktop market to Apple, but the trend is evidence of some underlying consumer currents.
While any particular individual may not own an Apple desktop, there’s a much better chance that they know someone who does than, say, 10 years ago. Go to a coffee shop today, and there’s a very good chance that you’ll see someone toting an Apple laptop. More consumers have seen Apple devices in the wild, and have been — for better or worse — exposed to the typical Apple user. This presence, along with the continued refinement of their product and excellent marketing, has created a brand image that reflects quality, refinement, and yes, a little snobbery. I’ll stop here, because I can hear you lurching over your trash can.
What does this have to do with Windows Phone? Apple’s brand direction has stripped away (from Windows) a specific type of consumer. Consumers seeking a (at least perceived) high-end product that exhibits quality and refinement bought an iPhone. Stop and consider that for a moment. This isn’t a claim that iPhone is better; it’s a claim that Apple has cultivated an image of quality and refinement. Regardless of what you think of Apple’s products, consider what Apple fans think of the brand. More moaning; time to move on!
I used to be a die hard Windows user. I don’t “hate” Windows like some Mac users. I dislike using Windows in the way that someone who perfers Martin guitars might dislike playing a Taylor. I’ve grown accustomed to using a Mac, and I don’t like it when I can’t use the tools I prefer. So when it came time to buy a phone, I bought an iPhone. The seeds were planted when I bought a used eMac back in 2004. My roots are now deep, and I can’t see myself going back.
The problem for Microsoft is that they built the kind of product that I would probably buy. Consumers like me would also probably buy it, but there aren’t that many of us. There are millions of iPhone buyers, but we’re not all the same. Some people buy an iPhone because they have a Mac. Some people buy an iPhone because they want to reflect the image that Apple portrays. Some people buy an iPhone because their “friend who knows about computers” told them too. Some people buy an iPhone because they tried it at the store and it really does work just like they show in the commercials. Microsoft built the phone that we would probably like, but we already bought in to something else, and we’re not unhappy.
The other, and very large, group of Windows users are the ones that reject Apple’s platform because of the rules that come with it. Some people don’t buy the image that Apple is selling. Some people don’t like the fact that they can’t install their own software, gain access to the source code, change the color of the menu bar, load another web browser… you name it! Those people are buying Android phones in droves. Microsoft has built the phone that this group of people don’t want.
So, one way of putting it would be that Windows Phone is “too good”. I don’t really see it like that. This concedes that the iPhone is the best phone for everyone. I think the reality for Microsoft is even worse than that.
It takes a lot to unsettle consumers, but Microsoft’s jarring offenses are pretty well known. Vista was a train wreck, and Windows Mobile was a non-starter. Couple this with some great timing on Apple’s part, as well as a quality product that appeals very strongly to a specific market segment, and you’ve got a perfect storm on your hands. “Apple consumers” exited Microsoft’s product stream a couple of years ago. On the other flank, Android is delivering a product that goes above and beyond the flexibility that tinkerers and customizers expect, which strikes at Windows’ core demographic. In between Apple’s loyal users, and Android’s flexibility-minded consumer, there’s very little room for Windows Phone. The most probable Windows Phone users planted their seeds elsewhere.