Was 2011 a missed opportunity for WP7?

Another year has come and gone and Microsoft’s flagship mobile operating system continues to hover in the single digits. The holiday season is a great time for new adopters, yet Microsoft failed to make a splash. WP7 is a perfectly valid platform with intuitive controls, a simple interface, and enough design innovation that even Android has borrowed from it. Microsoft’s support for the platform seems lackluster, even in the face of the partnership with Nokia. So was 2011 a missed opportunity for WP7? Let’s take a look.

Losing Steam Through the Cracks

The WP7 operating system was originally announced at the beginning of 2010, but it didn’t get its full start until late in the year. The buzz that the announcement had created earlier in the year had effectively worn off, as people were no longer excited about the new phones Microsoft was promising. Users who may have potentially jumped ship earlier in the year were now firmly rooted in iOS and Android, both of which have continually gained marketshare over the past few months.

Microsoft’s attempts to promote the operating system have been pretty lackluster as well, though not for lack of trying. The advertising budget for WP7 has been rumored to be around $500 million, but what did that really bring? If you watch the many advertisements created for the system, Microsoft lauds the simplicity of the system. While this may be true, the last thing any smartphone owner wants to hear is that their phone is simple to use. Most smartphone owners equate simple with unsophisticated and in the cut throat world of smartphone competition, Microsoft cannot afford to look like Playskool amongst K’nex.

99 Problems.. and Carriers are the Main One

Perhaps the biggest problem that Microsoft has faced is getting carriers to adopt the handsets and offer them to their customers. The initial phones did not offer CDMA support, which meant both Sprint and Verizon were out of the running for carrying WP7. This situation has since been rectified, but only marginally since Verizon still only offers a single first generation device to its customers and if recent reports are true, this is how it will remain. AT&T has so far been the carrier most devoted to the platform, with several handsets from HTC and Samsung available with the operating system.

The big kicker here is that the much anticipated partnership between Microsoft and Nokia has failed to bring the Lumia 710 and the Lumia 800 to the US in 2011. T-Mobile will be getting the Lumia 710 and the Lumia 800 will be available on both Sprint and AT&T, but when? These phones are supposed to be the flagship device for WP7 in the same way that the Nexus series is the pure Android experience. By not placing these phones in the hands of consumers in 2011, Microsoft missed out big time.

Can I get an app with that?

By far the biggest problem outside of getting carriers like Verizon to adopt the platform is enticing app developers to develop for the platform. These two problems go hand in hand, as no matter how many phones Microsoft is able to offer on carriers across the globe, if the app selection isn’t what it should be, the adoption rate will be painfully low.

A cursory glance at the Windows Phone Marketplace will leave you wondering where some of the best apps for iOS and Android are. I myself use feedly for RSS readers extensively, so the fact that the developers are not even considering a WP7 release is pretty harsh. Big players like Google are also missing, with no Gmail, Voice, Calendar, or Docs support on WP7. If you use any of these in your day to day life, you might as well stick with Android. C’mon. Even iOS has an official Gmail client now.

Microsoft has failed to entice app developers to the platform despite offering better revenue share systems, so the problem of low adoption versus low app availability is a circular cycle that is doing more to hurt the platform than anything else. Instead of spending $500 million on advertising, Microsoft might do well to allocate some of that money to getting developers to pay attention to their platform.

So can it be fixed?

Most definitely. The problems outlined here are assuredly a burgeoning operating system still in its infancy and experiencing growing pains. Microsoft needs to sort out its carrier woes in order to get these devices in the hands of more people while simultaneously convincing developers that supporting three platforms instead of two is the way to go. BlackBerry is all but dead, so WP7 does have some appeal in the business world, but the operating system could be so much more if only Microsoft would apply its efforts differently than what we’ve seen so far.

Hopefully the showing at CES 2012 will help remedy some of the problems that I’ve outlined here, since I want to see WP7 succeed more than anything.

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