How come Windows Phone 7 isn’t a big hit?

I’ve read some speculation recently about why Windows Phone 7 hasn’t been more successful.  (For example, here by Charlie Kindel and here by MG Siegler.)  But they don’t seem to mention the Obvious Reason.

The Obvious Reason

HTC Sensation

Above, left: an exciting, vibrant, joyful-looking phone with appealing pictures on the front.
Above, right: a grey object ruefully displaying a handful of murky green squares.

Microsoft have missed any opportunity they might have had to compete directly against the iPhone for consumers’ attention.  Besides getting in first and making a compelling product, Apple have spent a decade building what turns out to be a very effective means of selling phones to people — by actually showing them to people and letting people try them — without asking anyone to deal with the horror of the mobile phone shop.  Microsoft haven’t got that option.

No, the competition for Windows Phone is Android, not iPhone. WP7 has to compete against Android on the shop floor, on the wall of plastic replicas, in the hearts and minds of mobile phone salespeople.

And it can’t do that, because it looks dull.

Why would anyone buy a phone that looked boring, but that was in fact the unusual, hazardous choice?  Who wouldn’t rather get the phone that looks exciting, especially when it is also, underneath the facade, the popular and safe choice?

“Good taste”

Windows Phone 7 is a lovely operating system to use; like many people I really appreciate its design, and I imagine that most people who do use it will enjoy it.

It emphasises information over decoration; creatively uses text itself as a responsive, dynamic interface element; and is as close as a mainstream OS has come to finding a successful replacement for every letter of the previous generation’s WIMP acronym.

WP7 exhibits “good taste” in a way that no other current operating system does.  I use the term “good taste” in a rather loaded way.  Apple show good judgement, but that’s not the same thing: when it comes to taste, Apple are always willing to exploit the appeal of the toylike, shiny, luxurious.  WP7 resembles minimalist architecture in comparison.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, minimalist architecture isn’t very popular.

Tired Technologists

WP7 might have been designed to appeal to people like me, long-standing technology users for whom the thought of another shiny glass-look 3D-effect icon is a tiring one.

I like it for that.  But for me to like something… let’s just say it’s not a good indicator of commercial success.  The products I like best largely seem to flop, and I suspect many people whose interest in products is broadly technical find the same thing.

Does the fact that I like WP7 mean that it’s doomed, or does the fact that I think it may be doomed mean that it could take off after all?  I’ll have to wait and see.

12 thoughts on “How come Windows Phone 7 isn’t a big hit?

  1. But do consumers get a choice of operating system? As in going into Carphone Warehouse and asking for the “HTC Whatsitsname with Windows Phone 7” rather than the “HTC Whatsitsname with Android”.

    Is it perhaps more the case that Android is on more phones because costs manufacturers less than Windows?

    Either way it will be interesting to see how Nokia fare now they are in bed with Microsoft.

  2. I wildly speculate that most people walk into the shop, ask to see what’s for sale, and leave with whatever they like the look of. I don’t imagine many people explicitly ask for the HTC anything, do they?

    That no doubt changes once you have enough friends with iPhones and Androids to recognise those as things you want, but that isn’t going to help WP7 either.

    I’m not convinced that Android is in fact much cheaper than WP7 to licence, because of patent payments (e.g.

    On Nokia, it was the new Nokia phone that actually prompted me to write this. It’s been promoted in shops using a window display with a shiny, colourful peephole effect with the phone in the middle ( It looks really exciting, and then you peer into it and see this boring phone in the middle.

  3. I’ve not bought a phone in a mobile phone shop for years now. Do they still use fake handsets? If so, that’s definitely going to go against WP7. I’ve only used one WP7 handset briefly, and it’s only when you play with the UI and it comes to life that you realise what a pleasant phone it is to use. Same goes for the Nokia N900 Meego-based phone.

    There is an HTML5 website that Microsoft’s knocked up so you can try the UI on your Android/iPhone and get a bit of a feel for it. On iPhone, you get a better experience if you add a bookmark to your desktop and launch from that, as this removes the usual Safari navigation.

    1. Do they still use fake handsets?

      Amazingly, they mostly still do. I gather one of the things Nokia have been trying to do with the Lumia is to get more working demo phones out there. That can only help, though in my experience they usually still seem to be firmly clamped down unless you ask nicely.

  4. Having moved to a Samsung, I can certainly say that from now on I’m walking into a shop asking for anything but an HTC. Buggy pieces of crap with bad video drivers, the lot of ’em. Of course, I liked them all well enough at the time.

    It’s not just the interface with WP7 – I was impressed with the whole OS architecture. The developer tools are sweet, the fact that the whole stack works with C# and WPF means that there’s basically no difference between writing a phone app and a Silverlight app. I got the pre-release developer tools six months before the first phones appeared and got very excited… and when I went to the store to replace my failing HTC Windows Mobile phone I bought an Android instead.

    [Also, I ‘m loggin into your blog by Facebook, just to spite you]

  5. “Video drivers” – not something I’ve ever considered in the realm of phones.
    “SIlverlight” – did this take off then? Even ITV, the only company I knew who used it, ditched it for their VoD service.
    “Facebook”- me too. And I shared it on Google+. Bwahahaha!

    1. “SIlverlight” – did this take off then? Even ITV, the only company I knew who used it, ditched it for their VoD service.

      Poor old Ordnance Survey launched a service using it not long ago ( I’ve never actually seen the service, it doesn’t work with any browser/platform combination I regularly use.

      (Despite their having so much in common underneath, it doesn’t seem to be possible to run Silverlight browser apps in the mobile browser on Windows Phone.)

        1. Speaking of browsable maps, have you seen Nokia’s Google Earth-alike?

          I hadn’t — thanks, that is indeed very sweet. Glad to see the Thames is an authentic shade of sludgy brown.

  6. Netflix uses Silverlight for their video-on-demand, but no, it didn’t take off in a big way apart from that. Again, probably doomed by good architecture.

  7. Trying to catch up on the whole conversation:

    “Above, left: an exciting, vibrant, joyful-looking phone with appealing pictures on the front.”
    To me it looks like some 8 year old kind threw paint at the phone. The WP7 looks like technology designed to do a job rather than sparkle nicely in the sun.

    We’ve got a test Nokia Lumia 800 in the office and it’s fantastic. I still don’t own a smart phone, I don’t really see the point, but I will probably buy a Lumia 900 not long after it comes out. I would have bought the 800 but it has a few things that you’d like improving in v2.0.

    As for Silverlight, it rocks. Yes it hasn’t made it big on the consumer web stage, but it gets used quite alot in the corporate world with an MS server infrastructure.

    I’ve also done 3D on WP7 and web browser Silverlight and although it’s not cutting edge it is pretty nice to work with. I’m fairly sure that the tools to doing it are better than working on any other platform.

    1. The one thing about the Lumia 800 I have a problem with is that it isn’t the N9. As developer who had been paying Nokia for Qt licences, I felt rather crapped on when Nokia adopted the one platform available to them that Qt couldn’t be ported to.

      That’s just personal though.

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