Windows Phone 7 Ships 1.5 Million Units, but Customer Sales Unclear

Microsoft claims manufacturers sold 1.5 million Windows Phone 7 devices in six weeks, but actual customer sales remain a question.

Microsoft is claiming sales of 1.5 million Windows Phone 7 smartphones in the platform's first six weeks of release, reversing the company's previous reluctance to discuss anything numbers-related. However, the number of devices actually sold to customers remains unclear.

Microsoft hopes that strong Windows Phone 7 sales will allow it to reverse several quarters' worth of market share declines in smartphones, where it faces fierce competition from the likes of Google Android and the Apple iPhone. In contrast to those rival devices, which offer gridlike screens of individual apps, Windows Phone 7 presents six subject-specific "Hubs" that aggregate Web content and applications.

"We are pleased that phone manufacturers sold over 1.5 million phones in the first six weeks," Achim Berg, Microsoft's vice president of business and marketing for Windows Phones, mentioned in a Q&A posted Dec. 21 on the company's corporate Website, "which helps build customer momentum and retail presence." Those numbers apparently meet the company's internal expectations.

But those numbers also represent sales from manufacturers to mobile operators and retailers, not customers. Earlier in December, Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's corporate vice president and director of Windows Phone Program Management, declined to offer any hard data on Windows Phone 7 sales during the D: Dive Into Mobile conference; that reluctance, combined with's November report that 40,000 Windows Phone 7 devices sold on Nov. 8, the platform's first day of U.S. availability, had led some pundits to assume the worst in terms of marketplace performance. By contrast, both Apple and Google claim hundreds of thousands of activations per day for their respective smartphone platforms.

In his interview, Berg also repeated Microsoft's refrain about Windows Phone 7 being a long-term proposition for the company. "We started fresh with Windows Phone 7, and it's a different kind of phone," he said. "Measuring for success is more long term than short term. We launched with many of the top mobile operators in the world, and even more in the coming year in 2011."

Analysts seem to agree that Windows Phone 7 has a long-and possibly very tough-fight before it.

"Not all the stars are aligning for the Microsoft operating system the way it did for [Google] Android," Ross Rubin, the NPD Group's executive director for industry analysis, wrote in a Nov. 30 posting on the research firm's corporate blog. "First, whereas Verizon had a paucity of touch-screen smartphones prior to the Droid, AT&T and T-Mobile are flush with them." Windows Phone 7 appeared first in the United States on both those carriers, who also carry competing devices with a proven track record.

"On the other hand, the devices at those carriers offer clear alternatives to the incumbents," Rubin added. "All of the Windows phones at AT&T pack something the iPhone lacks, and the HD7's screen looms large above others in T-Mobile's portfolio."

Other analysts see Windows Phone 7's growth as decidedly healthy. "We can say that for a company that just a few months ago was an also-ran in mobile, having 10 smartphones released in 30 countries is not a trivial achievement," Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC, wrote in a Dec. 19 research note. "I would not be surprised if Microsoft had the third-largest app portfolio in the industry by the middle of next year."