Mobile

50,000 apps later, Windows Phone is still in trouble

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Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform now has more than 50,000 apps available — a significant milestone, but one that still puts it far behind Apple’s 500,000 iOS apps and Google’s more than 380,000 Android apps.

At least things seem to be picking up for the platform on the app front. It took Microsoft over a year to reach 40,000 apps on Windows Phone, but only 40 days to add another 10,000, reports All About Windows Phone. But apps alone won’t sell consumers on Windows Phone, especially during its do-or-die year of 2012.

So what’s keeping the platform, which is reportedly still seeing slow sales, from finding the success of the iPhone or Android? As former Windows Phone general manager Charlie Kindel sees it, the real problem with Windows Phone doesn’t stem from hardware or software (which he deems “superior” to the competition), but instead is due to Microsoft’s inability to play nice with carriers.

The company has imposed strict hardware restrictions on hardware partners, which has led to only a few devices being developed, and it has removed carriers entirely from the Windows Phone update process. Those two elements have led to carriers preferring to push Android and iOS devices, instead of Windows Phone.

“Carriers own the marketing money and spend billions a year,” Kindel wrote in a blog post yesterday. “The money is provided by the other sides of the market: OS providers & device manufactures, but the carriers get to spend it; they are the aggregation point where the money actually gets spent. The carriers choose what devices get featured on those TV ads.  They also choose what devices to train their RSP (retail sales professionals) to push.”

While I don’t deny that carrier marketing efforts have influenced Windows Phone sales, the situation seems much more complicated. First of all, Microsoft was way too late to the game, launching Windows Phone at the end of 2010, while the iPhone and Android hit the market in 2007 and 2008 respectively. MG Siegler argues that particular point nicely.

Kindel also fails to mention the explosive failure of Microsoft’s Kin phones earlier last year, which surely turned off many consumers to any future Microsoft mobile platform. I also think consumers are more savvy than the marketing sponges Kindel takes them for. He assumes people will buy what carriers tell them to, when in reality having a product that is clearly superior to the competition (which Windows Phone certainly isn’t) is more important.

You can say that Windows Phone is superior as much as you like, but so far Microsoft has failed to prove that to consumers.

One of the big reasons Microsoft has failed to make much of a splash with the platform is that it’s going after the same market as the iPhone and Android, when it should be focusing more on users who haven’t yet considered smartphones. I previously argued that Nokia’s Lumia 800 is an incredibly important device for Microsoft, but in many ways its cheaper sibling, the Lumia 710, is just as significant.

The Lumia 710 opens the door to a wider market of users who don’t want to spend over $100 on a new phone (T-Mobile will offer it in the US for just $50 with contract). And its inexpensive hardware also makes it more suitable to the prepaid market, a quickly growing segment in which Microsoft desperately needs to find a foothold.

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia also makes it well positioned to expand Windows Phone into international markets as well — though those will admittedly be less lucrative than dominating the U.S., Europe and Asia.