Yesterday, we received yet another quarterly update from Nielsen. As you would expect, Android has grown since last quarter, from 39 percent to 40 percent of the US smartphone market share. Apple's iOS has remained a steady 28 percent and BlackBerry slipped one percent to a total of 19 percent market share. Nielsen's report also shows Windows Mobile, Other and Windows Phone 7 with seven percent, five percent and one percent market share, respectively.
Wait, what? Windows Phone 7 still has only has one percent US smartphone market share? Sheesh. Windows Phone 7 arrived here in the States last November and has struggled alongside the little green robot and the iPhone since day one. We knew it would had a mountain to climb, but it showed so much promise. How could it have only gathered a mere one percent of the market share?
Although I wasn't exactly blown away by Windows Phone 7 when I reviewed a few handsets late last year, I felt it was a pretty strong contender coming from Microsoft. Of course, it fell victim to some brutal application load times, lag and issues with setting up new Live accounts. But it was still in its infancy, and part of being an early adopter is understanding that the software may come with a few hitches. After several updates, the vast majority of these bugs and other issues are a thing of the past.
Developer interest and support has also been surprisingly strong in comparison to other platforms like webOS, BlackBerry and even Android. Although it doesn't hold a candle to the sheer size of the App Store or Android Market, the rate at which Windows Marketplace is growing is astounding. Windows Phone 7 blew the doors off of RIM as they flew by the 10,000 application milestone after a mere four months on the market – something that took RIM a couple years. And just a few days ago, it was announced that the Windows Marketplace finally surpassed 30,000 applications in just under 10 months. This same feat took Apple's App Store over eight months to complete and Android 17 months. Impressive to say the least.
So what's really the problem? Hardware, for one. If you want Windows Phone 7, the choice in hardware is pretty slim. Most carriers have, at most, two WP7 phones to choose between – three if you're lucky. Even then, they're all too identical on paper. They may come in slightly different form factors like the Venue Pro versus the Focus, but Microsoft has created strict guidelines for specifications in qualifying Windows Phone devices. The problem is, the specifications used in said Windows Phones are somewhat dated by comparison. Android phones are coming packed with mind-blowing specifications like HD displays, 1.4GHz dual-core processors, 1GB RAM, and pretty much every other form of overkill you can imagine. The truth is, Windows Phone 7 devices do not have to be packed with extremely powerful processors to run smoothly. The software, especially the metro UI, is minimalistic and runs fairly smooth on a simple 1GHz Snapdragon. Microsoft upped the ante a bit by switching the minimum requirements Qualcomm MSM8x50 to MSM8x55 – a small change in comparison to many counterparts bumping from single to dual-core processors, but a change nonetheless. And luckily, the second batch of Windows Phones are just around the corner.
But having OEMs create hardware that catches the eye of the consumer is only half the battle. Android was already huge when Windows Phone entered the scene. Wireless providers quickly learned just how lucrative Android can be and how easily it sells itself. Providers like Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have focused a lot of their attention on Andy, pushing others aside. If you walk into a carrier store today, the chance of someone actually suggesting you buy a Windows Phone is slim. No, almost zero. Windows Phones are usually displayed in the back corner of the store on a broken pedestal, covered with cobwebs and with a busted light bulb over it. That may be a slight exaggeration, but it might as well be true. Just to test the waters, I have entered carrier stores pretending to want a Windows Phone on several occasions. Almost every time I was countered with, “Why don't you buy a [insert popular Android phone name here]? It's what everybody is buying.” Or something to that effect.
There's no one reason why Windows Phone isn't gaining any traction. All of the stars have aligned just right for Android and iOS, and everything else is struggling to stay afloat. Whether it's because the UI is simply too boring or because the device selection is limited, Windows Phone 7 clearly isn't doing as well as Microsoft had planned. It looks like the phone (or platform rather) that was meant to save us from our phones needs saving from itself. Here's to hoping the approaching Mango update can spice up the software a bit and hardware manufacturers can continue to make competitive hardware. I've been desparately looking for something new.