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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

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