Earlier this week HTC announced its Windows Phone 8 line-up, and with the official support of Steve Ballmer unveiled the Windows Phone 8 “Signature” device, the Windows Phone 8X. Nokia’s reaction to HTC claiming “favored child” status was immediate and epidermic, with Nokia’s Marketing Head Chris Weber dissing HTC’s effort as a “tactical rebranding”.
All this is misplaced energy and poor marketing execution for the Windows Phone ecosystem, which really needs all partners to put aside their differences and work shoulder to shoulder to build a bigger opportunity for all of them, rather than fight one another before entering the ring to see who will get the bigger crumbles from a still tiny market.
Clearly the new WP8X is a nice looking device, with a design reminiscent of Nokia’s Lumia 900 and 920, which is probably not a coincidence but rather a planned move from Microsoft’s design leadership working with handset manufacturers to establish a common and recognizable upscale design across all handsets (in a similar vein as the Windows Vista Design Language and Design Kit for PC manufacturers which I worked on in 2005 in the Msft Hardware Innovation Group). The specs are very solid and the WP8X easily qualifies for Superphone status with a large 1280×720 screen, a 2MP wide angle front camera clearly built for a great Skype video conferencing experience, and an 8MP camera, Beats Audio sound, dual core CPU, etc.
Great phone…but frankly poor marketing coordination and execution to introduce a new entrant in a predatory manner, with an exclusionary positioning of “we are the one…” and putting down the other Windows Phone handsets from Nokia (and Samsung).
To survive and succeed, Windows Phone needs a family of handsets that build on one another to generate buzz, momentum, carrier and store presence. Microsoft must act in a fatherly figure and keep all its children in line, working as a team to push their way into a market held by Apple and Android/Samsung. The Windows Phone playground is too small to be viable – for handset OEMs, for carriers, for apps and accessories developers, for consumers. Microsoft must manage its Windows Phone ecosystem to all march forward in a coordinated front to expand their playground, and win market share over Android and Apple. Any share gain by Windows Phone as a whole benefits all of its players. And conversely, any loss hurts all of them equally.
This is not an easy market, and Nokia and HTC both have a lot at stake this fall. There might be good reasons why Microsoft chose to endorse HTC’s positioning of the Windows Phone 8X. Given its past history and relationship with Microsoft, HTC may prove to be a much more flexible and amenable partner than Nokia, willing to follow Microsoft’s Smartphone design ambitions much more closely, whereas Nokia wants to maintain control of its own design and brand identity. HTC seems to have more success than Nokia in securing much needed carrier support (some of which I venture is related to Nokia’s lacking Android handsets to make it a more attractive handset OEM for carriers – see my previous post on the topic).
Unfortunately, and whatever the underlying reasoning may be, the outside view is one of a Windows Phone strategy that lacks unity, with ecosystem partners fighting one another and Microsoft either playing them against one another or not being in control of the ecosystem marketing strategy at a most critical time for the Windows Phone evolution.
The big winners in all of this? Apple and Samsung, sitting on the sidelines and comforting their leading positions.