Sprint Takes Market Risks by Holding Off on Windows Phone 8 Devices

NEWS ANALYSIS: Sprint was conspicuous by its absence from a list of carriers that Microsoft says will start carrying phones running Windows Phone 8 this fall.

Of the four major wireless carriers operating in the U.S., AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless were all front-and-center on Day One Oct. 29 to say “step right up and buy your Windows Phone 8 gadgets from us.” Sprint’s official response could be summed up as “meh.”

“Sprint is working with Microsoft on plans for Windows 8 devices, including smartphones,” said a Sprint spokesperson in a statement shared with eWEEK Oct. 31. “We do not have specific launch dates to share at this time.”

While the “share at this time” phrase leaves open the possibility of Sprint making shelf space for WP8 devices sometime in the future, it appears that Sprint is holding off on WP8 for now because of disappointing sales of smartphones running its predecessor OS, Windows Phone 7, according to various news reports.

Engadget, for instance, reported that Sprint discontinued the HTC Arrive in August because of weak sales, leaving the carrier without any Windows Phone devices to offer. As recently as August, though, the Website PhoneScoop quoted a Sprint spokesman as saying: “We think Windows Phone 8 is a solid product that they are bringing to market.”

But Sprint’s carefully worded statements on Windows phone since then, taken together, suggest, at best, a wait-and-see attitude toward WP8.

At the Sprint Open Solutions Conference, an annual event in Silicon Valley held Oct. 24 and 25, Sprint declined to do an on-the-record interview about WP8 support and instead issued a statement at the time, saying: “Sprint is committed to providing a broad portfolio of operating systems for our customers including Windows 8, [BlackBerry] 10, iOS and Android,” a sentiment Sprint repeated in its Oct. 31 statement.

Notably, the agenda of workshops for developers included nothing on building apps for Windows Phone 8, though it did feature sessions on app development for Google Android and Research In Motion's BlackBerry.

But Toby Rush doesn’t take Sprint’s decision as a slight. Rush is the CEO and co-founder of EyeVerify, a company that has created an application that identifies a person by taking a photo of their eyes focusing on the veins in the sclera, the white part of the eyeball. I interviewed him at the Sprint event about his company developing an app to run on Windows Phone 8 devices.

Told of Sprint’s opt-out move, Rush was understanding. “Everybody’s waiting on everybody else,” to see if Windows Phone 8 really takes off, Rush said. Besides, he’s busy developing EyeVerify for Apple iOS and Android. “So Sprint not supporting Windows Phone 8 is not a huge deal because we’ve also got a direct connection with the Microsoft” developer community, Rush said.

However, what Sprint misses out on by staying on the sidelines is the initial first rush of orders for Windows Phone 8 that, in the U.S., will mostly go through Sprint’s three rivals in the carrier business.

Microsoft has flooded the airwaves with ads for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. It also received ample media attention for its Windows Phone 8 launch event Oct. 29 in San Francisco. Also, Microsoft has shown with the launch of its Microsoft Surface tablet Oct. 26 that it too knows how to generate enough buzz for a product to convince consumers to stand in line to buy it.

But after posting net losses in each quarter of this year, Sprint’s decision to not gamble on Windows Phone 8 until it’s more of a sure thing may be justified even if it does give up sales to its rivals.