Windows Phone 7 is a strange beast. Since its launch, reviewers have been torn between criticism for bizarre lacking features and praise for Microsoft's surprisingly excellent app support. Support from a wide variety of manufacturers- including Sony Ericsson, LG andNokia lead to speculation that WP7 might be able to strong-arm its way into some market share.
While the proverbial jig is not yet up, recent events certainly haven't given the world much reason for optimism in Redmond's latest mobile gamble. Windows Phone 7 is dead in the water. And here's why:
6. The Update Fiasco.
Microsoft made the mistake of launching WP7 without several critical features, such as copy and paste. The first major update was promised for early 2011. Joe Belfiore, top Windows Phone executive, claimed last month that "most users" had received the patch in February. But that to a very small subset of users. It took Belfiore until April to admit that he "was wrong".
Above: Belfiore, promising something else he can't deliver.
A huge update- dubbed Mango is due out 'later this year'. So far, consumers have no reason to believe that Mango will launch any more promptly or smoothly than WP7's last update.
Why am I so pessimistic? It's because...
5. Microsoft Won't Stand Up To Their Partners.
Much of that last update SNAFU came down to the OEMs and carriers. HTC, LG and Samsung-made WP7 phones hadn't finished their carrier testing when the February update went live. So a huge chunk of users simply didn't have access to those updates. As Ars Technica points out, there are two huge problems with this. First, it means that Microsoft's communication with their OEMs is piss-poor. And second, it means that Redmond is willing to bend to carriers on anything- which could lead to millions of users not receiving updates due to some arbitrary carrier decision.
4. Schizophrenic Support of Innovation.
When Microsoft decided to actively support the homebrew community many in the industry were excited. Finally, a major platform that was willing to work with the most innovative members of the user community on their own terms. But that excitement was short lived. WP7 has since had an inconsistent stance on outside innovation.
During the update crisis, a clever coder named Chris Walsh released the Chevron WP7 Updater. This program promised to install the NoDo (copy/paste) app on any WP7 device. And, by most accounts I've read, it worked. But Microsoft shut Walsh down, claiming that Chevron might break phones. Since Microsoft's update also broke phones, they might have been wiser to work with Walsh. At least he got the update out.
Microsoft's position on SD support has also been rather unpredictable. Initially, we were told WP7 wouldn't support microSD. But then some OEMs decided their phones would have SD cards. Rather than shut them down and say, "No you can't", Microsoft edited their position. Now WP7 devices can have SD cards...but only ones that are pre-installed by the manufacturer. And removing them breaks the phone.
3. Stupid Little Things.
It's the clever little touches- like icons that glow when selected or just the right noise to signal 'message sent!'- that make an operating system great. And it's the bone-headed little touches that cripple it. Take the Windows Phone 7 data usage issue. In essence, users found themselves massively overcharged for data (tens of megabytes each day) because of a glitch in a third-party app.
The glitch came around because WP7 shuts off your WiFi when the screen goes dark. And Yahoo! Mail (like Gmail and Hotmail) syncs up your calendar and inbox frequently. Too much of this syncing was occurring over 3G (a limited resource) when WiFi was available. Android phones and the iPhone have this same battery-saving feature, but neither device has suffered from this issue. The problem, once again, is that communication between Yahoo and Microsoft was not what it needed to be.
Any other platform's team would have caught such a major issue with such a critical app well ahead of launch.
As this excellent article shows, WP7 can't really compete with RIM's BlackBerry for Enterprise security. And it doesn't hold up to well against Android or iOS either. For one thing, device encryption is not supported whatsoever. Which means a clever enough hacker can get to your data with much less trouble. WP7 also fails to support full back-ups. Both of these features are available from third-party services, but none are integrated into the phone.
Most crucially, WP7 does not support VPN connections. You can access SSL VPN via an Exchange server, but that's it. This isn't such a big deal for regular users, but it's going to give any major IT department reason to pause.
1. Shrinking Share.
Every problem with Windows Phone 7 could be forgiven as 'growing pains' if it was proving popular with customers. But it isn't. The latest numbers show WP7 with 3.1% of the market. And it may be even lower than that. Estimates put Q4 2011 share at just 2% and describe launch sales as "anemic". Barely 1.5 million units were sold to retailers in the first 6 weeks.
Which means considerably fewer phones than that made it into the hands of users. Microsoft's total smartphone market share- including the old Windows Mobile- dipped from 9.7% in October of 2010, to 8.0% in January of 2011.
The Skinny: Windows Phone 7 isn't down and out just yet. But the platform can't afford another product cycle without notable growth. If update issues and struggles with OEMs and carriers continue to delay critical features and products, WP7 will end the year right where it is now. By CES 2012, it may be too late for Redmond's last great mobile hope to succeed.