What’s Wrong With Windows Phone?

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The OS is Not the Problem

Ask Windows Phone users why they favor Microsoft’s platform and they point to the refreshing Metro UI that goes beyond the typical grid of icons on Android and iOS. Instead, Windows Phone focuses on large tile icons that display Facebook and Twitter updates, weather, and e-mail at a glance.

“It’s not the same boring interface...[Windows Phone] is completely new and fresh and it still makes me smile every time I use it,” says David Erwin, a passionate Windows Phone user based in San Diego, California. “My phone feels like an extension of me,” Erwin says. “It's the most personal thing I have ever owned.”

“It’s very easy to set up and use, super fast, and Window Phone seems to have all the apps I need for my personal and professional needs,” David Kirkdorffer, a Boston-based marketing executive and Windows Phone fan said via e-mail.

But maybe that refreshing and easy-to-use interface is part of the problem. Windows Phone is a big change from the typical icon grids on Android or iOS -- even basic feature phones use a grid of icons to display apps. The problem is people generally don't like change, at least at first.

“I think the challenge is to get someone to try something that’s completely different,” says Juuso Myllyrinne, a former digital marketing manager for Nokia. From a marketing standpoint, Myllyrinne says, AT&T is the company doing the best job of grappling with this dilemma.

“AT&T is trying to communicate this new type of experience. They are talking about the live tiles, the experience of actually using it,” Myllyrinne says. AT&T commercials, for example, tend to show people navigating the Metro user interface with ease and using the phone to access Microsoft Office, or the People Hub that integrates your contacts and social networking activity into one spot on your phone. Microsoft meanwhile, is focusing on speed with its Smoked by Windows Phone campaign, while Nokia is making an aggressive play against Android.

The App Gap

Another issue: the all-important question of apps. Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace has more than 85,000 apps, a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of choices for Android and iOS. But it’s not all about numbers. For every hit like Angry Birds in the iOS App Store or Google Play, the selection includes dozens of low-quality apps offering nothing more than fart sounds, device wallpapers, or photos of scantily clad women.

But even when you cut out all the fluff in competing app stores, the Windows Phone Marketplace still comes up short, according to critics and users. During Windows Phone’s early days in 2010, Khan says he could get many of the popular apps that Android users also had such as Facebook and Netflix. “Now, Android has many more mainstream official apps than Windows Phone,” Khan says.

“[Microsoft] has has been doing a good job growing the catalog, but there are still some big holes,” adds NPD’s Rubin, who points to Pandora Internet radio as a service missing from Windows Phone. Other users complain of missing apps from Chase Bank or popular streaming services such as HBO Go.

To overcome the app gap, Nokia is tackling the matter directly. Microsoft’s closest smartphone partner in early May announced a number of apps exclusive to Nokia Windows Phone devices for a limited time, among them ESPN, Groupon, and AOL Entertainment. Critics argue that Nokia’s efforts might help the company but could lead to fragmentation with manufacturers laying claim to a variety of exclusive Windows Phone apps. Nokia’s Slater disagrees, arguing the company’s exclusive apps aren’t about fragmentation but adding value for Nokia users. “We are absolutely not fragmenting for our consumers,” Slater says.

For its part, Microsoft says it is adding roughly 300 new app titles to the Marketplace every day.

Next: The Future

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