Ok, this article got away from me a bit and I’m a bit too lazy tonight to edit it down further.  Software Developers and Smartphone Enthusiasts will want to read the whole thing while the rest of you may want to just read the first three paragraphs which contain the more interesting stuff with the big numbers.

It’s clear that Windows Phone has about as much traction in the market as bald tires on a freshly buffed hockey rink

I’ve been rather annoyed lately about a relatively pathetic effort by Microsoft (and partner Nokia) to push Windows Phone devices to customers.  Microsoft’s recently leaked plans to spend upwards of $200 million on marketing for their mobile OS have proven that they still don’t have a proper grasp on the real problems with gaining traction in the market.  Here are the problems facing adoption of Windows Phone devices:

  • Their total app count in the store is still around 50,000, a pretty low number compared to the roughly half-million that both iOS and Android boast in their own markets (and the number climbs higher if you consider the outlying markets)
  • Many potential customers are comparing hardware specs and can see that there’s some disturbingly obvious weaknesses in the windows phone lineup.  While the OS runs great on the hardware today, customers realize that current devices will be woefully underpowered when compared to dual-core processors, substantial ram increases, and higher resolution displays hit the market.
  • Currently, few people own a Windows Phone, which means that few people are getting recommendations from their friends that they should make the investment and take the risk of being stuck on a phone for the next two years.

Surely the reasons number beyond the three above, but it’s plainly obvious that they still haven’t achieved traction.  Unfortunately there’s no clear set of numbers for Windows Phone sales, however Microsoft did admit that in January 2011 they had sold 2 million handsets (sold to carriers, not necessarily to consumers).  Estimates vary wildly but even Microsoft admits to missing their original goal of 30 million for this year.  By contrast, in late December Google reported that 700,000 Android devices were being activated daily (that’s ONLY Google certified devices with a cellular contract, no wifi-only or off-brand devices are included) and just on the 24th and 25th of December they more than doubled that rate; yeah, that’s almost 30 million devices in one month.  At this rate, it’s unlikely Windows Phone will become the #2 smartphone platform in 2015.  It’s clear that Windows Phone has about as much traction in the market as bald tires on a freshly buffed hockey rink.

Microsoft thinks they can solve this problem with marketing, pushing the advertising costs high enough that I wonder how many Super Bowl ads will they be ready to buy this year.  I think they are wasting money, pushing ads on people who aren’t going to notice or care about them.  I picture solving their problems in another way, a way that few companies short of Microsoft could afford…Invest in giving it away.  Two of the three biggest problems with gaining attention for the platform are only solved by having more Windows Phones in the wild.

First, the low count of Apps in their marketplace is due in large part to the low number of users out there to buy paid apps or even to use ad-supported free apps. This is the Chicken-and-Egg conundrum…With too few users the developers don’t want to invest in building an app if the cost of building it is more than they can hope to make from it, but with too few apps the platform can’t attract more users.  By putting phones into the hands of more people, there are more customers for developers to build for.

Second, most people are stuck in 2 year contracts with their phones and they won’t be upgrading for a while.  When time comes to pick the next phone, many of them are considering what phones their friends have and who has been happiest.  Since most people don’t know anybody with a Windows Phone (I only know a few people and every single one works at Microsoft), then very few will give much thought to strapping themselves down to an unknown option for the next 24 months.  By putting one of these phones in close proximity to a lot of people, it’s giving them the opportunity to ask about them in real-world conditions.

Here’s how I would do it.  First, simply give away devices to all MSDN subscribers.  Most people haven’t heard of this program but at renewal prices ranging from $500 to $3,800 per year (yes, the initial year is substantially higher, topping out at $11,900….seriously) you can have nearly unlimited access to all old, current and even some unreleased software Microsoft produces.  The great thing, only developers are likely to be signed up.  By giving them devices, you’re hitting your target group head-on…These are exactly the people you want developing apps for the platform.  Follow up by targeting Network Admins and other developers, as these guys are often seen as the “smart guys” and are frequently the people to ask about gadget related stuff…and an ever larger group of people who might be writing apps in their off hours.  Final step, hold a lottery.  Yes, really.  Make sure it’s geographically spread out, but simply get a bunch of phones out to regular people.  Every month, just send out a couple thousand of these phones.  Who cares if the recipients give them away or even sell them, as long as somebody is using the phone then the goal of putting it in somebody’s palm is met.

I know the obvious question, how much would this cost.  The average retail price of off contract devices is a bit below $500. Surely Microsoft doesn’t pay retail, so let’s estimate closer to $300 (I’ll bet they still don’t pay nearly that much).  With $1 million dollars you can buy more than 3,300 handsets.  Remember when I said they were going to spend $200 million just this year on marketing?  Just imagine, that much money could send over 660,000 devices into the world.  Obviously that might be going overboard, but spending about 1/10th of it that would be easy.  At $20 million, they could easily push around 65,000 handsets out, focusing on developers and spreading the rest to various cities across the US and Europe.  By putting the phones into the right hands, they are doing more for the platform than pushing tv ads in front of people and earn a ton of good will from both their hardware partners and the consumers.