Windows Phone – The Problem with Coming Late to the Party

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Trying to launch a product into a well defined marketplace is not an easy endeavor. Thanks to Microsoft, we have a perfect case study to watch.

First off, let’s put aside the fact that Microsoft has had a phone operating system for years. Instead, let’s focus on the relaunch of Windows Phone 7 to compete against the dominant mobile operating systems, RIM, iOS, and Android.

Give Microsoft credit for doing some research and at least looking for a way to differentiate in this crowded market. They identified a great insight that most smart phones users were highly engaged with their phones causing them to miss events happening around them.

So how did Microsoft use this insight? When the phone launched back in October, the idea that a smartphone could be too engaging was at the forefront of their messaging. However, while the commercials were cute, it was confusing what Windows Phone actually did differently?

Prof. Calkins, from Kellogg School of Management, captures the difficulty of acting on this insight,

How do you get people to stop focusing on their phones? I suppose you could produce a phone that doesn’t work very well, or is so frustrating to use that it isn’t worth the time. You could also create a phone that simply shuts off, perhaps after you’ve used it for more than seven hours in a day. It looks like Microsoft will promote the product by saying it is so easy and quick to use that you can check it and then focus on other things. I’m just not sure this is how the world works. There is always something else to check, or a new app to use, or a new website to visit.

Fast forward to March of 2011 and things aren’t going so well. The original message doesn’t seem to have worked and sales aren’t taking off.

So, here comes round two of the product message: “When was the last time your phone surprised you… in a good way?”

So, is this the message that really explains what the phone does? It’s a phone for gamers. It’s a phone for movie watchers. It’s a phone for business. It’s something your old phone isn’t??

As far as I can tell this could be an ad for any of the smartphones out on the market – they are all app platforms at this point.

If there is something special about this phone, Microsoft isn’t doing a good job helping it standout. First it’s like no other smart phone out there and now it’s doing the same apps as Android and Apple. This is where launching late has really put Microsoft in a bind. The race to develop apps is on and the competition already has a massive lead (Apple Apps – 350k, Google Apps – 250k, Microsoft Apps – 10k).

I have never owned a Windows Phone so I can’t tell you if the phone is better or worse than others on the market but I can tell you that I have not seen anything yet that peaked my interest to find out.

This has to be the hardest part of trying to get attention in a marketplace that is dominated by other players. Incremental improvements will make it difficult to stand out and impossible to “surprise” people.

Image credit: bthouse68

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