Lenovo just announced they would be bringing out a Windows 10 phone in China in support of the launch this summer. What makes this fascinating is that Lenovo built the only Windows phone that I thought could have given the iPhone a run for the money, but they never moved it out of China—and this was about the time they’d decided to sell their phone division off.
As you can imagine they came to regret this mistake and bought the division back and have since bought Motorola from Google. They are also the only company that has tried to create someone like Steve Jobs who can uniquely pitch products. So, with the right mix of product and magic, they could have the right stuff to spin the market like a top and maybe take the fight to Apple.
The Problem with Android
Android is the most successful competitor to Apple’s iOS today but it mostly competes on price, not on user experience. Google doesn’t believe in marketing (except really cute animals for some reason) and they are relatively inconsistent in their enforcement across their phone ecosystem. In addition, the carriers tend to control the update process and Google isn’t particularly aggressive with regard to forcing timely upgrades, so the experience with Android, in terms of consistency and end-to-end ease of use, tends to lag behind iOS.
Certainly design choice is far higher with Android phones than iPhones but too much choice apparently isn’t a good thing because consumers not only have a hard time choosing, the rolling release of Android devices means they can seldom go a month with a new phone not looking out of date because another better phone has launched.
Samsung dominates the Android space but they are actually losing share to Apple now (Android isn’t doing that well in general against iOS) and vendors like HTC are all but out of business, suggesting that Google has largely lost interest in this effort and the Android OEMs aren’t able to effectively make up for this.
Windows 10 Opportunity
Windows Phone has been in decline as well but Microsoft continues to fund the effort and their phones have been far more consistent and have had some strong advantages in terms of certain features like photography and cloud file sync (OneDrive). Windows 10 is a cross platform product promising a much tighter relationship between PCs, tablets, and smartphones running this OS than even Apple can provide. Apps will remain a problem, but people don’t seem to be chasing them as much as they did in earlier years and cloud services that run on all mobile platforms are becoming more prevalent anyway. This provides an opportunity to create a stronger value for this platform than has existed for some time, but what is needed is a vendor who can execute more like Apple does.
Nearly a decade ago, in China, I saw what I believed was the best alternative to the iPhone that had (at the time) yet entered the market. It was from Lenovo and it too was a screen only phone but it had a design that was very different than Apple’s. It looked more distinctive, more iconic, and I thought it would have done well against the iPhone. It was from Lenovo and it won design awards and it was a no-compromise phone priced in line (unsubsidized) with iPhones of its time.
Lenovo also was quick to realize the potential of leveraging both Microsoft and Intel in a device like this because of the combined pooled resources of both firms. This is what helped create the Windows PC in the first place, and having a lot of executives out of IBM’s old PC division gave them the perspective that if it was done once it could be done again.
Lenovo is also the only company that has a true Steve Jobs surrogate, at least with respect to launching products. They’ve recruited Ashton Kutcher to help them with their mobile efforts (he actually played Steve Jobs in the movie) and he has not only aggressively promoted the Lenovo Yoga tablets, he has helped design them—a role very similar to what Steve Jobs did at Apple.
Wrapping Up: A Perfect Storm
This all leads to a potential perfect storm product with Lenovo’s announced (but otherwise secret) Windows 10 Smartphone: Weakening Android, potentially leveraging both Intel and Microsoft, an iconic award winning design, the end to end promise of Windows 10, and a Steve Jobs like roll out with Ashton Kutcher again playing the role of Steve Jobs.
Done right and released internationally, this phone has the potential of being an upset product much like the iPhone was. We won’t know until we see it, but this summer, Lenovo and partners could become the first company, other than Apple, to ever do what Apple and Steve Jobs did regularly: disrupt an existing market with an amazing and magical new product.
We’ll see, but this does give us one more thing to look forward to. Your next phone could come from Lenovo, Microsoft, and Intel if they bring it out of China this time (and I expect they will). Wouldn’t that be interesting?
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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