BARCELONA -- Microsoft Windows Phone has, by some estimates, just 2% of the smartphone market. However, Microsoft execs talking to Mashable at Mobile World Congress were smiling and partying and said that they’re exactly where they need to be. Perhaps that’s because they know better than anyone else just how far Windows Phone has already come.
Market recognition and prominence is a tough mountain to climb for any company, but imagine if, before you started your ascent, you had to dig a hole almost as deep as the mountain is high, and then start your climb. That’s what Microsoft did with its mobile phone business as it prepared to launch Windows Phone.
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Back when Microsoft was still shipping Windows Mobile, it sold 20 million units in 2007, had distribution in 27 languages and availability in dozens and dozens of mobile phones. It was an enviable position, except for one thing: no one liked the Windows Mobile Phones. According to Greg Sullivan, Group Product Manager for Windows Phone, Microsoft put carriers and OEMs ahead of consumers. Windows Phone 7 flips that hierarchy on its head, putting consumers over everyone. Microsoft wanted to build “a phone for the hands it’s in.” A reasonable goal, but not something Microsoft could achieve without significant pain.
Digging the Hole
Microsoft essentially started over with Windows Phone 7 and very quickly, Sullivan told me. It went from 27 languages down to five, dozens of handsets down to, initially, nine. That dramatic contraction, though, was considered worth it (even vital) when weighed against the long-term benefits, said Sullivan
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It’s been 15 months since the Microsoft phone business reboot. Microsoft shipped Windows Phone 7 and, along the way, collected some glowing reviews and, with partner and Nokia and HTC, delivered some beautiful handsets. Yet, 2011 was not a big year for Windows Phone; 2012 could be a different story.
First of all, Microsoft lowered the spec required to build Windows Phones. It’s an act that may compromise some performance (but most of the time won’t, according to Microsoft), but will also encourage OEM partners to build more affordable Windows Phone Handsets. Nokia, for instance introduced the more affordable Lumia 610. In turn, Microsoft is leveraging Nokia’s global reach to become a truly international phone platform brand. To work in countries like China, Microsoft had to upgrade the Windows Phone software. That update, called Tango, is not a new version. Instead, Sullivan described it as a build, though it is one that all Windows Phone owners will get in Q2. In addition to international, Tango does bring a handful of other feature updates, including some ease of use fixes and improved MMS capabilities (multiple jpeg attachments, video attachments to text messages and the ability to attach audio notes and ringtones).
Microsoft has also changed the way it markets Windows Phone. It scuttled the “Really?” commercials, which may have given people the wrong idea about Windows Phone. Sullivan argues that those spots were always designed to be “attention getting” and never the long-term marketing strategy. Still, some saw the ads presenting a weird tension between the things people do everyday life (working, walking, playing) and the technology they constantly use. Microsoft’s latest marketing campaign focuses on how Windows Phone works, and Microsoft has re-spun the argument from the original ads. So instead of saying you can spend less time on your phone and get back to your life, Microsoft is now seeking to prove that Windows Phones are faster than other phone platforms and are doing a variety of common tasks.
Here at the show and online, Microsoft’s running The Windows Phone Challenge, which Microsoft contends shows that Windows Phone is faster than competing phone platforms. At Mobile World Congress, Microsoft has won 19 out of 20 challenges.
Microsoft’s rightly proud of that stat, but it’s probably worth keeping in mind that the company has so far only climbed its way out of the hole and is just now starting its way back up the smartphone market mountain.
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This story originally published on Mashable here.