I do my very best to never report on earnings or stock market valuations. After all, who really cares that Apple “only” sold 75 million iPhones last quarter? Unfortunately, the situation for Windows Phone is a lot more grim and it’s a lot more high profile, so I wanted to throw in my two cents, as I tend to do.
Getting the numbers out of the way, Microsoft sold just 4.5 million Lumias in the last quarter for a total of 110 million Lumias sold in a market where 4.5 billion Android and iOS devices have been sold. 4.5 million is a 57% drop from 10.5 million in the same quarter last year.
Here, have a chart.
Sorry, Windows Phone. 110m lifetime sales – 4.5bn iOS & Android phones sold in the same period pic.twitter.com/CO03XWhYJg
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) January 28, 2016
Yes, Windows Phone is at an all time low and Tom Warren from The Verge is reporting that Windows Phone is dead.
Why Did they Sell Less?
There is no good news here, but we can always speculate as to why Windows Phone market share is continually shrinking. The obvious reason that they haven’t sold as many is that they didn’t release as many in 2015. The 2015 Lumia roster included the Lumia 430, Lumia 435, Lumia 540, Lumia 550, Lumia 640, Lumia 640 XL, Lumia 950, and Lumia 950 XL.
Let’s break that down a bit. 2014 saw the Lumia 530, 532, 535, 630, 635, 636, 638, 730, 735, 830, Icon, and 930. Sure, that’s a lot of devices sold. Now let’s remove the phones that are variants of themselves. Now we’re down to Lumia 530, 535, 630, 730, 830, and 930.
To be fair, we can remove the Lumia 435 from the 2015 list, as it’s a variant of the Lumia 430. Now we see that Microsoft/Nokia actually released more models in 2015 than they did in 2014, so that theory is out. Well, with the exception of the Lumia Icon, all of those 2014 devices were released after June, 2014, so in fairness, they released more toward the end of the year.
Then again, the Lumia Icon was the last flagship released in the United States until we saw the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL last quarter. That was supposed to be the “big bang” hardware event. It was the flagships that we’ve been waiting forever for, along with a new low end phone.
Talking about what got released when doesn’t solve the real problem. the real problem is that Windows Phone market share is continually shrinking.
Windows Phone Market Share is Continually Shrinking
This is the part where most people make excuses. This is the part where people usually say, “Microsoft just showed up too late”, “People have simply already made their choice”, “If we just had the apps”, or “If they just made a Surface Phone”.
Forget about the first two. After all, showing up late and people already having made a choice between Android and iOS doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when people are actually leaving the platform.
The app gap is the most common cop-out excuse when it comes to speculation of Windows Phone failure. While many will cite the apps as the reason for their departure, I’m going to add my own reason.
Microsoft simply isn’t trying hard enough.
Consider the following: there is never room for a third major platform in technology. We’ve seen this time and again. Microsoft and Apple on PCs, Apple and Google on phones, and Microsoft and Sony in consoles.
There is, however, room for a third major platform to displace one of the top two. Going back to consoles, we had Atari and Nintendo, Nintendo and Sega, Nintendo and Sony, and then Sony and Microsoft.
New technology platforms replace old ones all the time, but they have to be better.
Apple isn’t going anywhere. They have a perfect niche in the market. Fortunately, Apple doesn’t have the business model to ever be a majority market share of anything. After all, their platform only goes with their products and consumers need choice. There are 1.5 billion smart phone users out there. You can’t get 1.5 billion people to buy the same thing.
Considering these facts as a given, this means that Microsoft would need to displace Android in order to succeed.
Microsoft isn’t Trying Hard Enough
Let’s consider another fact. Assuming that there’s room for two at the top and that all three competitors have virtually unlimited resources, the two that try the hardest will succeed.
Apple’s number one goal is to make the best iPhone that they possibly can. As long as Android is more important to Google than Windows Mobile is to Microsoft, Microsoft doesn’t stand a chance in the mobile market.
Windows Phone has always had features that allow fans like us to say that it’s better, but from a mass appeal perspective, it’s really not.
Windows Phone 7 users couldn’t take screenshots. Windows Phone 8 users can’t use a photo in the background and there’s no notification center. Windows Phone 8.1 users can’t natively print or pair a Bluetooth keyboard.
Think about that. Windows Phone is the OS that’s known for having Office preinstalled and having great cameras but you can’t print your documents or your photos. Microsoft sells mobile Bluetooth keyboards but they didn’t work with Windows Phones because Windows Phone didn’t support it.
Look at the completely text based Settings menu. It’s in no particular order. If a setting gets updated through the Store, it drops to the bottom of the Settings menu.
Of course, Windows 10 Mobile fixes most of this, but on Windows 10 Mobile, there are still key features that they’re missing, such as mobile payments. You can’t even transfer files from a Windows Phone to a Mac, as the Windows Phone app is no longer available in the Mac OS App Store.
Then there’s the general bugginess. Yesterday, I texted a photo to my girlfriend. She texted back. About three hours later, she texted me again and said, “You’ve texted me that photo five times now.”
I shut off the phone for two hours and when I turned it back on, sure enough, she started receiving the photo again. I resolved the issue by deleting the thread.
How about this. Have you ever opened Facebook and it tells you that you don’t have a data connection despite standing right next to your Wi-Fi router?
These are all basic things that cause someone not to come back.
More evidence of Microsoft not making mobile a priority is Windows 10 Mobile, which is becoming more and more of a debacle. Windows 10 Mobile was slated for release in December, the month after the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were released running Microsoft’s next generation mobile platform.
It didn’t happen and now we’re heading into February, seemingly no closer than we were.
Microsoft has released five RTM builds of Windows 10 Mobile, respectively 10586.0, 10586.11, 10586.29, 10586.36, and 10586.63. Even with 10586.63, I still get random reboots on my Lumia 950.
The real interesting thing here is that Microsoft had Windows 10 for PCs ready in July, 2015. While the Windows 10 for PCs RTM was ready by then, they also had the November update, build 10586, ready by November, 2015. The Xbox update was delivered in time as well.
It really speaks to Microsoft’s priorities that they put so little effort into mobile that they’re so delayed. After all, November saw hardware releases for Windows 10 Mobile and they couldn’t even get it ready in time for that.
Instead of focusing on mobile, Microsoft is trying to revive a declining PC market with the “PC Does Whaaat?” campaign.
Now, while Android and iOS are figuring out how to scale their mobile platforms up to the desktop, Microsoft is trying to scale their desktop platform down for mobile.
Microsoft’s ‘Golden Ticket’ Strategy
The golden ticket strategy seems to be Microsoft’s strategy, meaning that Microsoft always seems to think that there’s one thing that they can do to make Microsoft successful.
After all, fixing the things that I’ve outlined above would require actual work and making it a priority. It’s like they’re being lazy, trying to do the bare minimum to get it to work.
At one point, it was Windows Phone 8.1 and Cortana that was suddenly going to make phones fly off the shelves. Later, Microsoft tried to play off of the success of the Nokia Lumia 520 by making all low end phones.
Of course, the Nokia Lumia 520 was a decent phone in its day. The low end phones that Microsoft tried to release were ridiculous. It was like a race to the bottom.
The point is that there is no golden ticket. Even if we had the exact same apps as Android and iOS, we would still have problems. Apps would just put us on more of a level playing field.
Currently, the golden ticket, at least as far as fans are concerned, is the Surface Phone.
Surface Phone won’t Fix Anything
I feel like I’ve said it a million times before, but Surface is nothing more than a brand.
Windows Phone fans have been clamoring for a Surface Phone for years now; however, their definition of a Surface Phone has evolved.
Asking a year ago, people would tell me that a Surface Phone would be an all metal Windows Phone. Today, Surface Phone is an all metal Windows Phone with an x86 processor.
While you might like the design of the Surface Phone better than the current flagship Lumias, that x86 processor isn’t going to help with anything. After all, there’s a reason that virtually all smart phones use ARM processors.
An x86 processor in a Windows 10 mobile device can mean one of two things, both of which aren’t very interesting. One is that the OS will be Windows 10 for PCs and the other is that the OS will be Windows 10 Mobile but will support the Win32 bridge that turns desktop apps into universal apps.
Windows 10 for PCs on a phone would be a mess. Suddenly, users would have to begin worrying about viruses, other malware, drivers, and other “Windows rot”.
Windows 10 Mobile wouldn’t be much better. After all, the Win32 bridge, codenamed Project Centennial, relies on the developer actually wanting to port their app into a universal app.
Going beyond that, has anyone actually asked what desktop apps they want to have on their Windows Mobile device? Remember, this still isn’t going to help us get Google apps or Snapchat.
A Surface Phone really couldn’t be powered by anything better than one of Intel’s lower end Atom processors, so it’s not like you’re going to be running Visual Studio on it. Perhaps you could run iTunes, but, you know, really?
Many people have suggested to me that Intel’s Core m3 is the answer, as it allows for a fanless PC; however, these chipsets are simply too big. There’s a reason that you haven’t seen a phone with a Core m3 or Core i5 or anything like that. They’re just too big.
Death without Life
I went off on a bit of a tangent there but the point of this article is to show that Windows Phone may be dead or dying, but it was never properly alive. Microsoft really never tried hard enough to make it succeed.
It really gets under my skin when people say that Windows Phone has failed for that reason. If you never try, you can’t fail, and Microsoft never truly tried.
Windows Mobile has always taken a back seat to Windows for PCs and it will likely always be that way. After all, PCs are where Microsoft is winning. There’s one and a half billion Windows PCs out there.
It’s a real shame because there were a lot of really great things about Windows Phone. Windows Phone was originally a hub for all of your services. You would sign in with your Facebook, Twitter, cloud storage accounts, and anything else and it would all integrate tightly with the OS.
With Microsoft porting a lot of Windows Phone’s features over to iOS and Android, it’s leaving many fans saying that it doesn’t leave Windows Phone with anything unique.
Here’s the fact: Windows Phone doesn’t need to be unique. We’ve had unique for five years now. No one cares about unique. What we need is better.