Did regular consumers just not know about Windows Phone?


Okay, so. I know this has been analyzed quite a bit already, but. Since I’m kind of a newcomer to the world of smart phones, I would need input from people in the know (you guys).

Title pretty much says it all. I’ll never forget the time when I mentioned to my brother-in-law, who is an electrical engineer and no stranger to tech, actually was surprised when I told him about the existence of Windows Phone. He didn’t know there was such a thing.

So what was the deal? My understanding is that for the most part, when you walked into a typical cell-phone store, what you saw on display was all the shiny iPhones and a giant Android section. Windows Phone just wasn’t pushed.

Was part of the problem just consumer recognition? I mean, I’m not saying Windows Phone deserved to be in 1st or 2nd place, but geeze. Seems like it always had really low numbers in the United States.

On the other hand, Microsoft was late responding to the iPhone, correct? And Android was free. Two giant hurdles.

Maybe this was the only way this could have turned out?

Comments (44)

44 responses to “Did regular consumers just not know about Windows Phone?”

  1. Lauren Glenn

    It's like the Zune. Most people didn't hear of it as the iPod was that much more popular. Anyone who sold one (GameStop, etc.) took the displays down after a while as no one was buying them.

    I think the Windows Phone was the same thing. The fact that salespeople used to say (in a negative tone), "that's a Windows Phone. Android and iPhone are over here." The fact that there were no major apps out for it and it didn't help that Microsoft restricted the OS a lot so you didn't have access to basic things (storing files on the SD card, installing files on SD card, etc.) Microsoft was acting like Apple without the market share to back it up.

    Also, OS bugs that carriers would block with Phone 7 didn't help either. I still remember having a Samsung Windows Phone 7 and having that horrible bluetooth bug where it would lower the volume when I was talking for others and then turning it back up. (some noise filtering that they didn't let you turn off until later versions that most carriers wouldn't drop down).

    A lot of missed opportunities that Microsoft didn't handle that well.

  2. TroyTruax

    I was all in on Windows Phone (I had been using Windows mobile all the way back to the original Pocket PC). You can only be punched so many times before you've had enough. Going from 6.5 to Windows Phone 7 (which was consumer oriented, it's only purpose was to complete with iPhone) meant you had to give up on any professional features you may have been using like mobile SQL Server (sure in a always connected world having a local database is silly but I was using it at the time). Before your 2 year contract on Windows Phone 7 was over they started talking about Windows Phone 8. It occurred to somebody that 7 was only half baked and they needed to start over. So 8 was incompatible with 7, your option was to get a new phone and buy your apps over again, if they were available (some developers reworked their apps for Windows Phone 8 some didn't bother). You learned to live with the fact that you simply were never going to get certain apps. Even if you were OK with that it didn't stop the emails from coming... Dear customer, Bank X will no longer support their Windows Phone app since demand is low. Not only did this mean that it wouldn't get upgrades but it will in fact stop working altogether. By the time Microsoft got to Windows Phone 10, the promise that they wouldn't abandon the phone you already owned fell flat. Only a very select number of the very newest phones would get the upgrade. I finally left for an Android Nexus where no app has ever told me it was no longer supported and the OS has been upgraded a couple of times.

  3. ErichK

    I should also add, I need to be aware of my USA-tunnel-vision. From what I understand, there were markets in Europe and Asia where Windows Phone at least cracked double-digit percentage points. And now that I think of it, like somebody mentioned below, I am starting to see some flashbacks in my mind of ads on TV and stuff like that.

    One could argue you don't need to dominate or be #1 to be successful, but like Windows in the '90s, I keep thinking Microsoft thought to themselves that the phone market would be handed over to them on a silver platter. (Not that there wasn't anything good about the platform, of course.)

  4. PincasX

    You really can't look at Windows Phone in isolation. You really have to look at it in the context of the rolling shit show that became Microsoft's mobile phone strategy post Apple's iPhone announcement. Clearly Microsoft's leadership was caught flat footed and didn't fully understand when the ground shifted underneath their feet. They then responded with a complete muddle mess. There was Windows Mobile 6.5 which was a halfassed faced lift, Windows Phone 7 was half baked, Kin 1-2 were another platform that they put zero support behind and then finally got to Window Phone 8 which was decent but included earlier adopters of Windows 7. And even by the time they got to an actual product that wasn't a mess they really didn't seem all in on pushing it. After all of that I'm surprised anyone knew or gave a crap about their mobile offerings.

    It's really too bad. Ballmer was a really good CEO and led MS to an incredible amount of success but his always going to be remember for how he completely bungled the mobile thing.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to PincasX:

      . . . Ballmer was a really good CEO and led MS to an incredible amount of success . . .

      Perhaps, but in terms of MSFT's share price, his tenure will be remembered as the decade-plus period of stagnation between Gates and Nadella.

      • PincasX

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        Could be, my bet is that he is guy remember for blowing mobile platforms since that in the twilight of his days as CEO. Either way, I'm not saying the guy was perfect he made mistakes but I think some of those overshadow what was actually a decent run.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to PincasX:

          I doubt anyone could have done any better than Ballmer during the period of the consent decree which settled US v MSFT. With Gates remaining as chief technology officer but no longer CEO, I figure the Longhorn fiasco was Gates's call.

          Sadly for Ballmer, the end of the consent decree approximately coincided with Apple's release of the iPhone, and Apple caught MSFT with its collective pants down. To the extent Ballmer was responsible for Sinofsky's rise, Ballmer deserves some of the blame for Windows 8's very cold reception on PCs as well as the mobile fiasco. I figure Ballmer had let MSFT grow lazy and bureaucratic during the consent decree period, and he was the wrong guy to change that when MSFT finally faced real competition again.

          • PincasX

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            I don't disagree, but I do think he can be given credit for starting the focus on services and the cloud business.

            And to be fair, when the iPhone was announced the top three smartphone OSs were Symbian, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. All three failed to muster any sort of meaningful response so MS was hardly alone and the largest vendors of smart phones from before the iPhone are almost all gone. At least Ballmer kept MS relevant post iPhone unlike the other two.

            Anyway, I would imagine we beat this one to death.

  5. curtisspendlove

    Around here it was even worse. I was disappointed when I was actively discouraged from buying a Windows Phone in several carrier stores.

    I even went to other carriers just to see if it was only my preferred carrier. And it wasn’t.

    Even after I explained that that I was a software developer and knew exactly what I wanted, it was still an uphill battle.

    I wrote into the carrier, but I don’t think it mattered in the least. I doubt it was an official policy or anything, just personal bias on the point of the sales staff, but that kind of behavior is simply impossible to overcome.

  6. cheetahdriver

    Personally, the 1520 was one of the best phones I ever had, rating up there with the old Nokia Tri-band. It did everything I wanted at the time, had a reasonable, but not complete app selection and could run any other phone at the time under the table on battery life. I had a couple, and kept one on the fast ring watching development, and kept going "I am not sure I understand what they are shooting for here". The 950xl was the breaking point. I bought one the day they came out, swapped to it, and started running into problem after problem (No Visual Voicemail initially, so lets voicemail like it's 1999. Call forwarding was broken, etc). I had been reading some of Paul's stuff about why Windows Phone was starting to go over the horizon for him, but it was the 950xl that did it for me. I run a business (several of them actually) and I needed a phone I could rely on. Two days of fighting with the 950xl, and I walked into the Apple store and spent almost 3k in 30 minutes, and never looked back. Now I have a X on ATT, a Pixel 2XL on Fi, and an iPhone 6s on Verizon (that's probably going away soon). Having 3 phones on 3 different carriers means always having a backup, and with me, if I am out of touch, I am not making money.

    Windows phone was great until it got in the way of me making money, then it was history. Still have a 1020 I use for a quick camera (no sim) and 950xl that I use to hold a sim for a number I am transitioning to soon. But WP is dead to me.

    • Smidgerine

      In reply to cheetahdriver:

      I still don't feel there's as good a phone in the US as the 1520. I have a Note 8. I still liked the 1520 better. I want something 1520 sized with the bezels of the Note 8. They are in China, but nobody will put it out here. And they don't tend to have the highest specs. Give me a great camera and battery and I would pay iPhone prices.

  7. Tony Barrett

    I don't think it's that consumers didn't know about Windows Phone - they just didn't care. Apple and Google had the market sewn up, and MS didn't put forward any convincing reason to make Windows Phone desirable. Infact, they'd thrown their customers under a bus at least three times previously as they 're-invented' Windows Phone over and over again. This, and poor advertising and marketing, a poor app store with no major support and generally only selling budget handsets that were really bad performers put all the nails in the coffin. They won't come back from this, ever.

    • wright_is

      In reply to ghostrider:

      At the time, the budget phones were good performers, compared to the Android alternatives. In the last couple of years, that situation has changed and the budget Android devices aren't bad.

    • Minke

      In reply to ghostrider:

      As I stated previously, most consumers were only vaguely aware of Windows Phones and when they went to their favorite carrier store they would almost never see one. I remember handing my phone to someone who was pretty tech savvy and she had no idea what it was, but she loved the tile interface. I worked at a tech company with around 100 employees and I think one other person had a Windows phone. Most people buy what their friends and family use and recommend, with some influence from advertising and marketing.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to Minke:

        If Windows phones failed due to customer ignorance, MSFT's to blame. If Windows phones failed due to phone choice being mostly about fashion and/or fitting in with family and friends, Windows Phone 7 was late to the party, so again MSFT's to blame. If Windows phones failed due to a dearth of apps, then MSFT is again to blame for not competing on price by setting their cut of app sales revenues lower than Apple charged.

  8. wolters

    Marketing did play a huge part as most people just didn't know of them and the people who had them LOVED them (me included.)

    I actually liked the "Really?" commercial (like provided)

    But the problem with it was that OK, here is a phone what you don't want to use...or use less of...I get it but most people didn't get the idea of live tiles. I use widgets on my Android phone and most people I know didn't even know widgets existed.

    Reminds me of a SNL skit that was better than it deserved to be, about people writing a new jingle for a candy bar and came up with:

    "It's nut-very good! "

    "It does nut taste good!"

    "It's nut something you'd want to put in your mouth!"

    I truly do miss Windows Phone and so wish it had succeeded.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to wolters:

      Thing is the Really? ads encapsulated everything MSFT got wrong with smartphones.

      Those ads conveyed the message that Windows phones were the smartphones for people who wanted to use them like feature phones. Like a marketing campaign for sports cars for little old ladies to drive to the grocery store and church.

      From a different slant, smartphones are an addiction (MSFT construed that correctly), but MSFT approached the smartphone market like a temperance mission.

  9. ponsaelius

    In the UK "Windowsphone" was sold as Nokia. Everyone knew Nokia and the display stands say Nokia. Actually the Nokia displays have returned selling Nokia phones. People are buying them again because they are Nokia.

    Although I knew they were Windowsphones I bought Nokia. Back in 2014 I was on holiday with my Lumia 1020 41mp Nokia in New York City. An American saw the yellow colour and said to me "that's one of those European phones". I said yes and he told me you couldn't buy them in the USA but he liked them.

    Says it all.

  10. dave0

    There were no apps at a time when apps came of age. I had a low cost Windows Phone for about six month. It was a great device for most day-to-day tasks. When UBER came around I couldn't get the app, so I bailed for an Android phone.

    Buying Nokia was a massive error that put a financial albatross on Microsoft. I think the WPM platform would have been successful if given more time.

  11. wright_is

    In our local MediaMarkt and Saturn there were rows of phones, probably a quarter of them were Windows phones.

    In public, there were a lot of them around. At the high point, they actually had more market share than Apple. But in the USA it didn't do well, so they seemed to lose interest.

    Then the cheap Android phones matched the quality of the Nokias. That was pretty much the death knell for WP. All the apps that WP didn't have and decent build quality...

  12. Jules Wombat

    • Too Late and so no Apps
    • Too Much OS churn so the Developers got frustrated
    • Not enough promotion or commitment (and or arrogance) By Microsoft

    Yeah one wonders why they think "Andromeda" will be any different.

    And oh BTW I still prefer, and do, use my Lumia 650 as my personal phone. Because its still a superior user experience.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Jules_Wombat:

      Re arrogance, I'm willing to be somewhat charitable towards MSFT. I figure MSFT senior management just couldn't conceive of customers not rushing to Windows phones. That is, MSFT simply believed their position with PCs would automatically translate to a comparable position in phones, and they were so certain of that that they made Windows 8 what it was.

      Semantics: not arrogance, hubris.

  13. arunphilip

    It won the hearts and minds of those who were more into tech (e.g. readers of sites like this). But it failed to gain mass-market traction due to the app gap, which meant that apart from the AAA-grade apps (Facebook, etc.), the other apps were often not found on WP.

    From a dev perspective, the "reset" that WP went through between WP 7.x and WP 8 soured the experience for devs. While the change was necessary (since WP 8 proved to be a stellar incarnation of WP), it did mean the enthusiasm of devs was dented.

  14. Daekar

    The carriers in our area literally never pushed them. A few times over the years I walked in and had them give the the sales pitch and I was literally never shown a Windows phone even though they had displays.

    Well, that and they failed to make them "the best phone for Office."

  15. Patrick3D

    There was a stand smack dab in the middle of the local mall with Windows Phones proudly on display along the side most people would approach the stand from. The problem was that none of the salespeople would assist any customers standing at that side and instead focused solely on cheap Android devices with higher profit margins for the store on the other side. I got frustrated after 15 minutes trying to get one of the salespeople to assist me before walking off only to come across a Radio Shack (of all places) with an enthusiastic salesperson at the front happy to sell me an iPhone at $100 off. The problem with Windows Phone, from my experience, really was the salespeople doing everything they could to NOT sell them. Even online it was difficult to find carriers with the latest models in stock and on a contract discount comparable to what the iPhone and Android phones were available for, which ultimately means the carriers are to blame.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Patrick3D:

      In the sense that everyone is as entitled to make money as MSFT, if Windows phones had lower unit profit margins that iPhones and higher-end Android phones, how much of the higher wholesale price for Windows phones was due to the OS license cost? Meaning if MSFT was the source of Windows phones' systematically higher cost than Android phones with comparable hardware, why would salespeople be to blame for Windows phones' failure?

      MSFT was a late arrival to the only-touchscreen phone market, and they had to be aggressive on pricing to make a big splash in the market (as MSFT had done along with Lotus, Borland and WordPerfect in the early 1990s and the era of the US$50-100 competitive upgrades from rivals' offerings). However, either MSFT's collective psychology in 2010 didn't allow for considering running in the red for a few years to buy market share, or MSFT board of directors wouldn't allow an investment which likely would have been much larger than the negative cashflow Xbox produced in its first decade (in hindsight, penny wise, pound foolish).

  16. ErichK

    Prior to the iPhone, my understanding was the landscape was much different. Didn't Windows Mobile actually have a large presence along with others like Blackberry?

  17. jimchamplin

    A case study in “how not to do things” honestly. At first they dragged their feet on building a modern mobile platform. Then they did it late and a year later told the developers “Yeah. We’re not keeping this. I’m gonna need you to rewrite everything.”

    Then they didn’t try to sell the things, and instead left that up to Nokia. Then 10 Mobile was honestly pretty bad in comparison.

    They acted with hubris and stupidity the entire way.

    • Winner

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      Yes, it was probably some good ideas with totally botched execution.

      They didn't deliver completeness. They didn't have good marketing. The carrier stores didn't promote it. They were late to the game and their app ecosystem really never took off.

      Then they revamped the OS which required SW developers to rework apps; v7>v8 was a significant architectural change.

      It would make a great case study on how not to do things.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to Winner:

        . . . The carrier stores didn't promote it. . . .

        I don't dispute this, but what incentives did MSFT provide for carriers to promote Windows phones, or what incentives did MSFT give phone makers to pass on to carriers? When it comes to phone handsets, carriers are retailers. They have zero investment in any of the hardware they retail. IOW, wholesalers can't bitch, whine and moan about retailers generating their poor sales. Retailers are only supposed to provide choice to end-customers. Do local supermarkets carry ads for particular toilet paper brands? Yes, but only when those toilet paper wholesalers provide incentives, i.e., $$$.

        • SenorGravy

          In reply to hrlngrv:
          This. We forget that at the end of the day, consumers really only want iPhones or Galaxies. When you showed them a Windows Phone, they asked "does it have X app?" and the answer was No. And they moved on. Didn't matter how much the carriers promoted it.

          • Edward Grego

            In reply to SenorGravy:the lack of apps was not what killed WP, if it was, Android would have never taken off. In 2010 when I bought my first android phone, Android was a horrible mess without any of the either apps or quality apps of IOS.
            Windows phone was killed by its creator with it's many missteps talked about here, period.

  18. innitrichie

    The frustrating thing is Windows 10 Mobile is still the most powerful and capable mobile operating system in existence. Coupled with the Lumia 950 XL there is nothing quite like it. Yes this platform lacks some third-party software, but the Lumia 950 XL is better than the Pixel 2 XL and the iPhone X by a wide distance.

    What's interesting is it appears Apple and Google are both on a journey to bridge desktop and mobile operating systems. Apple is believed to be announcing something at WWDC about making it easy for iOS developers to bring their apps to macOS, and Google has its own bringing things together OS adventures. Microsoft was here long ago with these ideas and just didn't enjoy the success they deserved.

  19. hrlngrv

    Start off by acknowledging that if Windows phones were unknown to the general public, that ignorance was MSFT's fault. If US mobile carriers kept Windows phones hidden in the back of their stores like racy magazines in the 1950s book stores, that was in part MSFT's fault for failing to make it worth carriers' while to give them more prominent display.

    Anyway, hindsight questions.

    1. After the Nokia deal, could MSFT have given free Windows Phone licenses to other phone makers?
    2. How much would it have cost MSFT to boost app development, either by accepting a lower cut of ISV revenues than Apple charged or by offering incentives directly to ISVs?
    3. Perhaps most fundamental, if most people buy phones to fit in with friends or to make a statement, were Windows phones doomed from the outset?
    4. Semirelated to #3, Windows phones did best for longest (if you believe StatCounter) in Vietnam, then in various parts of Europe, then Latin America, then North America. Outside Vietnam, Russia and Turkey, they had precious little usage in the rest of Asia. From my perspective, this raises the question whether Windows Phone was much better suited to European writing systems. IOW, maybe there was something about MSFT's phone OS which made it unappealing to the half of humanity which doesn't use Latin, Cyrillic or Greek alphabets.
  20. Minke

    It was a combination of things. #1 was lack of app support. #2 was lack of visibility in the USA. Most people buy phones from carrier stores and get whatever is pushed by the salespeople. At our local AT&T corporate store you would have a tough time finding anything from Microsoft except for whatever was the lowest-end model at the time, and that was tucked way in the back behind the cash desk. They probably wouldn't have stocked the higher-end phones, and if they did they weren't even on display. My son bought a Lumia 1020, and had to order it from the main AT&T corporate store--none in stock, and that was when they were actually advertising them on TV (briefly). For whatever reasons stores make more from iPhones and Samsungs, and almost everything else gets short shrift in stores.

  21. Bats

    No. Windows Phone was heavily exposed. As a matter of fact, you can even say that it was super-exposed. There were tons and tons of commercials of the phone online. Let's not forget the wedding commercial or the one with the kid in the school play. They even had celebrity endorsement like Gwen Stefani. Not just that, but the phone was being used in so many tv shows like Dallas (TNT) , Elementary, House of Lies. Microsoft marketed the HECK OUT of that phone.

    They tried to convince people that Microsoft Phones existed to free people from their smartphones. What they actually meant was that they had a feautire that worked like Android's widgets called "Live Tiles." That's not all ! They tried to convince people that there Lumias were great because they 40 megapixel phones.

    As for physical exposure....lol.....there was the Microsoft Stores, where all the phones were lined up. It was heavily and even exposed at Best Buys and even AT&T.

    This phone was just outright rejected by the masses. Someone I knew in the IT Department had a Microsoft Phone and hated it. You know what's funny about that? Four months before I knew her, she worked at Microsoft. In her words, "You can't do anything with it."

    Apps was a problem for the phone, but another one was the constant innovation and competition between Google and Apple. Google and Apple always had the latest and the greatest technology in their phones along with some great companion tech, like Cardboard and Chromecast and Siri/Google Now. Microsoft....nothing.

    It was just a bad phone. It was so bad Linux programmers hated it. People who worked Microsoft servers preferred iPhones.

  22. rameshthanikodi

    I think the 'app gap' was what killed windows phone. It sounds stupid today, but back then, people wanted Angry birds, Draw Something, Flappy Bird and all the other stuff. It was nonsense, but unfortunately it did kill Windows Phone's appeal.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      Maybe. Maybe probably. However, there's an awkward possibility which can't be dismissed out of hand. Smartphone choice may be more of a fashion statement than we'd like to admit, and Windows phones were never in fashion with enough phone buyers to become viable (meaning not perennial money-losers for MSFT).

  23. Dan1986ist

    How far back are we going here: Windows CE, Windows Mobile 5.x/6.x, or something more recent like Phone 7,/8.x?

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