It’s the smartphone market, stupid. That’s the point of view from one Windows Phone 7 evangelist and former Microsoft employee, who wrote a long blog post lamenting poor sales of the Microsoft smartphones and the success of inferior products like Google Android-powered devices and Apple’s iPhone. The comments came from Charlie Kindel, a 21-year Microsoft veteran who most recently led the Windows Phone partner program and recently left to found his own startup.
Kindel argues Android devices encourage fragmentation, which reduces friction between carriers and device manufacturers but ultimately hurts consumers. Apple, by removing device manufacturers from Kindel’s four-sided smartphone marketplace (carriers, device manufacturers, OS providers and users), is trying to turn the carriers into “even more of a fat dumb pipe,” which will eventually come back to bite them.
Microsoft, he claims, by dictating hardware specifications and software update specs to the device manufacturers and mobile carriers, respectively, is producing a virtuous cycle where the various players in the market give and receive positive value from their partners in the ecosystem. Google has managed to be a success, not because it’s a better product, he argues, but because Android fragmentation allows carriers and retail sales professionals (RSPs) to reduce friction between the manufacturing and carrier sides of the market.
“Spending marketing dollars advertising WP7 requires Microsoft to push hard on the carriers,” he blogged. “Getting RSPs to push WP7 requires Microsoft to push hard on the carriers to incent their RSPs correctly.”
How much more successful are Android devices and iPhones than Windows Mobile 7? Android and Apple’s iOS practically put the mobile market in a head lock in 2011, combining for 82 percent market share, according to NPD Group. The market research firm said Android commanded 53 percent U.S. smartphone share, compared with 29 percent for the iPhone. Android started the year at approximately 30 percent market share, with Apple wielding around 20 percent.
Despite positive reviews from critics, Microsoft partners Samsung and HTC just aren’t selling many Windows Phone handsets. In November, IT research firm Gartner reported Windows Phone market share slid to 1.5 percent from the 2.7 percent share it secured a year earlier. Even more worrying for Microsoft, it fell behind Samsung’s Bada operating system, which captured 2.2 percent of the market in the third quarter.
One side of the market Kindel admits to omitting is application developers, which he first claimed were “mostly irrelevant” to his post, though he later updated the blog entry to clarify that he thinks applications are “very important” and application developers “even more so.” A recent article in The New York Times pointed out that the lack of application developer interest could be one of the main reasons Windows Phone sales are disappointing.
As many application developers fall into the “start-up” category of tech companies, those businesses have limited resources and have to decide what platforms to design for. Windows Phone is caught in a Catch-22, with application developers waiting for the platform to gain larger market share before designing a version of the application for that platform, and customers staying away until more of their favorite applications become available.
“Over half of our users are on an iPhone, so we had to focus on that platform first, then Android is second,” Leah Busque, founder and chief product officer at TaskRabbit, a San Francisco-based start-up that performs errands, told The Times. “I’m not ruling out a Windows 7 app, but we have to follow our user base and provide solutions that make sense for them.”