Sunday, 12 June 2016

Selling the Sausage not the Sizzle - How Redmond Got It All Wrong

N.B. I own a Lumia 925 and 640 XL and I love them. I love Windows Phone and its 8.1 interface and the Windows 10 Mobile interface even more and I am angry at what has happened. 

It was all easily avoidable too. 

So, it is time sadly to reflect on

 Windows Phone - What Went Wrong

Sausage one

Lumia 950 and 950 XL

The release of these wannabe flagship phones to "disappointing sales" was treated as a tactical error by some commentators who forgave Microsoft their squeaky plastic finish and rushed OS. I think the error was not tactical, it was a big, fat, strategic one. For two years MS kept its loyal Windows Phone fans waiting. The design of the physical object was left in the hands of the back room boys and girls. They concentrated on getting the hardware innards right then wrapped them in something they all understood, a fine mid-range Nokia plastic case. Thus, the sausage had been cooked and was ready to serve. The trouble was the market wasn't waiting for jazzy new specs and your average Joe couldn't give a toss (of a sausage) about them. The people out there had seen the sizzle in the guise of the sleek brushed aluminium fashion life-style statements that were the iPhone and Huawei and they couldn't get enough of them. 

MS side-stepped all the market wisdom of making your competitors' proven products but making them even better-looking and cheaper. Don't believe me? Well, try to imagine how good that beautiful Windows 10 UI would have looked running on an iPhone 6 Plus clone. Yes, I can too.

Sausage Two

The full-featured bargain basement Windows phone didn't happen in time
 
Don't underestimate the number of cracked screen, past-their-best phones out there. I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days on public transport and took a close look at the phones people were carrying. I was surprised to see how many phones of yesteryear were still in service. The Lumia 520 had it all or rather it could have had it all if someone at MS hadn't decided to release it without a flash or front-facing camera. The bargain basement smartphone market fell obligingly into the pockets of Motorola and its successive imitators and it's still going their way as dumpy old phones are begrudgingly replaced by their owners. The full-featured bargain basement Windows phone took ages to arrive. MS should have worked 24/7 on getting it to market but no, they knew better; they were busy cooking up their third strategic error (sausage) - Continuum.

Sausage Three

Continuum 

Continuum is an advertiser's dream. It enables a phone to be turned into a laptop. Wow! All you need is a foldable keyboard, a dock, a spare screen (a hotel room always gets mentioned at this point. Heaven knows they've always got nice flat screens with easily accessible ports), patience while apps run s-l-o-w-l-y and you're there. The public wasn't, isn't and won't be there though. Fiddling around to connect all this paraphernalia together to perform its functions better than a modestly priced laptop can, was never a good idea except to MS advertising teams. Real people outside that niche of enthusiasts didn't want Continuum, don't want it and won't want it. This will not stop MS from pouring millions of dollars into this Sinclair C5 of a project.

Sausage Four

Replaceable batteries

Replaceable batteries. These black slabs mean you need to wrench off the back of the phone and this procedure has an overwhelming (devastating) implication for the design of its hardware. Well, replaceable batteries are needed, aren't they, because people are always buying new batteries and swapping them in aren't they? Only they are not. Like hundreds of millions of smart phone users I have never bought a battery to swap in and don't intend to. Designing a smartphone around its replaceable battery was a self-imposed burden as bad as trying to run a 100 metre Olympic sprint while carrying a suitcase. To those few battery swappers out there I say there are hundreds of millions of us who outnumber you. 

And how.

Sausage Five

"Concentrating on the corporate market."

I'll come clean. I don't know what that means but I have heard the phrase bandied about and I have made a genuine attempt to understand. You buy all your employees a discounted Windows Phone and everyone including MS are happy. But they're not. Your average Samsung and iPhone toting employee cannot understand why she or he has been lumbered with a phone from the joke end of market share. Your employees are not just that. They are consumers. At best you'll get wry acceptance from them and at worst resentment at the imposition of a plastic fantastic Windows Wonder. Once again, if only the sleek brushed aluminium fashion life-style statements Windows Phones had been there to supply to the corporate market. 

It is with irritation and sadness that I predict the Windows Phone Goose is finally cooked. All right, two years tops, then. Still we have Android with its bewildering smarties-scattered-on-a-plate  interfaces and tiny system fonts or the deeply intimidating walled garden approach that is the world of Apple products. 

It could all have been so different. 

Off to cook some sausages.

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