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A Windows Phone Sea Change?

Things appear to be changing with Windows Phone at the most important current level: sales awareness (I say current level because the most important factor, of course, is building a great product. That mission has been accomplished.) This is great news for Microsoft.

Here's the background: I live in a rural area of Maryland, the kind of slow-pace-of-life backwater that takes time for technology to filter down to. I buy my phones from a local AT&T dealer, so it's a store I know well. I've been checking on the store's Windows Phone collection ever since the first one was released. What I've found in the past is the same kind of thing you read about in other reports: almost no Windows Phones; relegated to a corner in the back; salespeople with little knowledge, who look at you strangely when you ask about Windows Phones. In other words, nothing to interest a potential customer.

Microsoft has worked hard recently to change that; especially so in its partnership with Nokia to introduce the flagship Lumia 900 and better train the frontline sales folks. But how soon would those changes show up here in the sticks? The answer: Now.

I visited the store last Friday. First, and maybe most importantly, was the location of the Windows Phone display: it was at the front of the store, rather than in the back. Yup, even in front of the Android section (iPhones were on the opposite wall). There were three Lumia 900s on display, and one HTC (a Titan, if memory serves).

Next up: I called over a sales rep and asked him about Windows Phone. He was very knowledgeable about its strengths and weaknesses. He didn't immediately try to steer me toward an iPhone or Android, as happened in the past.

And he discussed the phone in depth, which included details like the integration of Microsoft Office (and Office 365. Yes! The Cloud!) and Xbox and Exchange. In other words, he knew what the phone was and for whom it would be a good fit.

More than that, he had a Lumia 900 attached to his side, and showed it to me. I think this is a subtle, but powerful selling point: if a mobile device sales pro was using it, it must have some redeeming value. It's like knowing what kind of toothpaste your dentist uses: he should know what works well, right?

We talked for at least 10 minutes about various aspects related to the phone, and I used my knowledge to grill him on some of the finer points that the ordinary customer might not; things like quality of apps and the app ecosystem, tethering possibilities, and so on. He answered these questions beautifully, demonstrating a full grasp of Windows Phone. The training he'd had was obvious, and adding to that his real-world knowledge from using it day-to-day made for a compelling presentation.

I came away impressed with this salesperson, but even more by the job that Microsoft is now doing in getting Windows Phones in the hands of customers. Really, what the phone needs is simply a chance to compete with the Google and Apple duopoly. If my experience is any indication, the playing field is substantially more level than it was even three months ago. People will be able to judge Windows Phone on its merits -- or lack thereof -- and make informed decisions not based on hype or perception, but on the reality of whether or not the phone meets their needs.

At least this way, if Windows Phone ultimately fails, it'll be based more on real factors, rather than spin and perceived "coolness". But my sense is that it won't fail, and is poised to finally start making some inroads.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/01/2012 at 9:03 AM


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Reader Comments:

Thu, May 10, 2012 Tv

Love my win phone Microsoft needs to get out more in providing non Microsoft space in providing apps. At Interop in Las Vegas and the show mobile apps available do iPhone and android but none for win7 phones. Other commercial enterprise build droid and iPhone apps but w7 phone apps is usually missing.

Wed, May 9, 2012 Thomas New York

Microsoft is focusing on the phone's image as opposed to the real problems - apps people use and cloud dependency. 1. Ask anyone with an iPhone or Android if they have Pandora, Draw Something, Word with Friends, Scramble with Friends. If they say they do not it would be a lie. Just take a look at the meteoric rise, and value, of Zynga. I am a Windows Phone user since the beginning (Samsung Focus). Although there is now a Pandora app, it is not from Pandora themselves it is essentially a web wrapper adding lag to it's performance. 2. Where are phones with memory - installed or expandable? iPhones can be bought with up to 64GB of memory. A lot of Android phones have 16GB with a micro SD slot. Windows phones created from Android platforms (Samsung Focus S <- Galaxy S II) have the micro SD slot removed. The structure of my office prevents me from streaming anything from the cloud. There goes a big selling point for the Lumia. I can't connect to corporate wifi due to security issues to bypass this either. I can't be the only person with these problems. If my phone takes the place of a Zune or iPod, I need memory not the cloud! Where are 32GB or 64GB Windows Phones?

Tue, May 8, 2012 Li Chen Los Angeles, CA

I got my Lumia 900 a few weeks ago. The software is much more stable than my previous Android 2.3 device. The sales person in my local AT&T store is knowledgable as he downloaded Nokia Contact Transfer for me and helped me to transfer the contacts from my old phone to the new phone. The contact actually sync nice with my hotmail account. I would advise users learn to link and group accounts to keep contact list neat. See my experience on my blog: http://weblogs.asp.net/lichen/archive/tags/Windows+Phone/default.aspx.

Tue, May 8, 2012 Vince Maier Southern Maryland

You didn't say anything about what kind of reception your are getting in the your area. I can't wait till my Verizon contract runs out so I can get a windows phone but worried about the above because it is a AT&T service.

Tue, May 8, 2012 Max

I have been Windows phone user since version 5. Two things I would like to have in my current windows 7.5 are: ability to deploy applications without using zune; and metro tales to get proper horizontal orientation. by the way I was pleased when I recently found out that I could run kindle reader on my WP7. Since then, I even stopped using my old Kindle device. I have so far read about three books on my HD7. For the professional perish, who need PowerPoint,word, excel and Noteone, it is great device. But hose interested in colourful crashing device, item would be dull!

Sun, May 6, 2012 BillCo

Recently returned my Lumia 900 to Amazon for refund -- though the phone and WP7 software were actually quite nice. What wasn't so nice was the necessity to set up Windows Live/Hotmail accounts in order to sync Calendar and Contacts. After spending 30 - 40 hours attempting to get sync to work I finally gave up and returned the phone. It appears that the ecosystem may be the weak link for WP.

Tue, May 1, 2012 K Omaha

Love my third windows phone. I started with the 5.0, on to the 6.5, now I have the HTC Pro7. I have fewer problems than my husband does with his Android, have no problem finding apps that I need/want, love that I can store everthing on-line, can share my calendar, and can read power points and spreadsheets at home or away, all with a full keyboard! I actually had to argue with the sales person to get my phone, he was convinced I needed an Android. On my way out the door he was still telling me about the return policy so I could switch it out. I hope that has changed here as well.

Tue, May 1, 2012 RASCAL

Have to disagree with nameless from LA on reliability although I did say YMMV but our phones have been nothing but reliable. One Note included. 7 and 7.5 have both been more reliable than any android OS I have used. IOS runs a close comparison to reliability although just last week Apple had a huge outage affecting millions and never even apologized for it. Not sure why you think everything must be done thru the cloud? Even if you did (which you dont) Skydrive interfaces are smoothly integrated at all levels. Zune is just as good/bad as itunes. Can you connect your iDevices or Android to corporate networks? True they dont yet have the over 1/2 million apps as apple has but who really needs 67 different fart apps? There are def. reasons windows phones lag behind in sales but not for any reasons you write about. They were very very late to the game. But on a positive note they did have 4 years of beta testers out there complaining about iphones and android phones to actually come up with a reliable user friendly OS. Android definitely cannot say that. Again your mileage may vary but I couldnt be happier with our windows phones.

Tue, May 1, 2012 LA, CA

I'm on my second WinPhone, because the first died due to the file system being trashed -- due to bugs in OneNote and the OS. Reliability is NOT it's strong point. 7.5 is better than 7, but still not 100%. And the lack of clean integration/tethering with Windows, lack of integration directly with Outlook (only Exchange), lack of a file browser, the need to do everything through MS's cloud (often over slower-speed links, and pay your carrier for the data being sent), issues with readability and scrolling, the requirement that you install Zune crapware on your PC (which you often can't do on a corporate system), limited security options in configuring WiFi, the rather complete lack of cutting edge apps, on and on ... Add to all that the turmoil in the Silverlight/C# development community as MS tries to move them to html 5/Javascript, and throws the baby out with the bathwater in the process. There are valid reasons that WinPhone lags behind in sales, other than it just being the "Microsoft" brand (which doesn't help).

Tue, May 1, 2012

with new windows and droid phones even brainwashed apple lovers are realizing that iphone, ipad.. "i" anything are among the most overrated devices ever.

Tue, May 1, 2012 Rascal

Long way to go but the product speaks for itself. Joe, before you bash it leave comments as to why it will fail. I can tell you as a windows phone user for nearly 2 years we have 3 different windows phones on a family plan. We have had Zero issues (harware or software) on any of the three including the Mango updates. No app crashes (unlike constant crashing on my old android phone and tablet) and no hardware failures (like consistently happened on our iPhones). As far as support goes I can't comment much as we have yet to use any for any reason. These phones are fast the UI is great (I wish you could make the tiles smaller to go to a 3 wide). Thanks to all the beta users the last few years. Finally some solid phones on a solid platform. (YMMV)

Tue, May 1, 2012 Gary Calgary, AB

I agree with you 100% in that the first step to success for any product trying to break into a mature market is product awareness. Even though market share won't increase dramatically with the release of the Lumia 900, it certainly will set the table for even better success with future phones...

Tue, May 1, 2012 Frank LA, CA

I have the 7.5 windows phone and the Iphone 4s. The windows phone has a superior UI. My Iphone is a company phone so I did not choose it. Now that I have both phones I'm constantly comparing the features. Overall, the windows phone is superior.

Tue, May 1, 2012 Joe Boston.

I am sure you get paid to write this. But this phone is from Microsoft and that's enough reason for this product to fail. There is nothing great about this phone.

Mon, Apr 30, 2012 Patrick Foley Grand Rapids, MI

I met someone tonight who proudly showed me his Lumia 900 that he left Verizon and Android to get. That's huge (at least when you multiply that kind of switch by thousands).

Mon, Apr 30, 2012 Spark Atlanta, GA

Microsoft has a long way to go to change the perception of existing phone users.

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