Microsoft and the Long Road to the Excellent Mango Smartphone

By Rob Enderle August 01, 2011

Each company has a story to tell. Often successes are more chance than brilliance and failures are caused by organizational mistakes rather than market pressure or competitor brilliance. The new Windows Phone version, “Mango” represents one of the most painful paths to market I’ve ever seen. The tale starts with a series of horrid decisions and ends with a competitive phone, but a market that is very much like the PC market initially was; only Microsoft is both better funded and massively behind in terms of market share. Being behind is a problem for most tech companies because the industry, and this is generally true of Microsoft, tends to both under fund marketing and avoid the necessary sustained expensive marketing required to close the gap with the leaders. 

However all is not lost. Mango is very competitive, both RIM and Google are exposed and Apple is still carrier constrained. Let’s look at how we got to Mango, what Mango is, and how it could succeed.

Zune and Microsoft Mobile

Back before there was an iPhone, I’ve been told of a catastrophic meeting at Microsoft where an iPhone-like consumer phone was pitched to better compete with the iPod. “Plays for Sure”, Microsoft’s licensed platform, wasn’t doing well in market and executive management blamed the OEM partners who, in turn, generally blamed Microsoft. It was clear at the time the issue was a combination of no one owning the total experience, a difficult to use product (the joke was “plays for sure doesn’t”), and almost nonexistent platform marketing. Competing head to head with Apple wasn’t working and people argued that the only way to win was to get to the next generation of hardware, the Smartphone, before Apple did.

Top management didn’t agree and argued that Microsoft’s phone platform was an enterprise/business offering and that wouldn’t dovetail well with a consumer focus. That instead of a Smartphone, Microsoft needed a widget which became Zune. Zune was like a checklist of how to create a product that would review poorly. It was unattractive and led with the color brown (creating a natural “poop” trend in reviews), it had a big screen but no real video content, it had Wi-Fi but would only connect wirelessly to other Zunes, and it lacked a good demand generation campaign. That last is pretty critical if you are going to compete with Apple. But seriously, if they had a primary goal to fail, they couldn’t have done a better job initially.  

The Microsoft Mobile platform, on the other hand, was positioned against RIM. It was largely panned for being too Windows like, it had a horrible browser, and its main competitive strengths consisted of management tools that few IT buyers wanted to use. IT didn’t want to manage the phones and users generally chose the phones they used. 

Two shots two misses, and currently, in terms of market share, they are a distant 4th of the 4 major platforms

Mango: Mostly Hits, One Possible Miss

The latest release of the Windows Phone platform addresses virtually every mistake that was initially made. It is a blend of a rich portable media player with a PDA and a phone. It is differentiated from the iPhone, which has an emphasis on the iPod aspects of that device with a tighter focus on being a phone, stronger email and social media integration. There are more hardware partners for this round and they have quietly moved to correct the naming problem – the Windows brand didn’t transition well in the minds of buyers to a phone – by using the code name “Mango” rather than Windows Phone 8 to present it. 

The only possible miss in the phone is marketing. To move from 4th to contend for 2nd, which is where Microsoft needs to be to truly be viable, will require an expensive sustained effort. Their prior campaign was well thought out, it did resonate on the somewhat strange theme that a Windows Phone was better because you used it less, but it was nicely done. But Microsoft didn’t sustain it. When you are as far behind as they are it takes a sustained effort to close the gap and Microsoft just doesn’t seem to have this kind of effort in their DNA and that will be a problem.    

Competitive Advantage

However, working for them are three things. Apple is not able to sell through every carrier and has an extremely shallow product line. They have a one size fits all strategy and the market tends to be more varied. Google has three major problems – they can’t seem to spell marketing let alone fund it, they have no customer satisfaction effort that anyone can find (and their products trend toward “built it yourself” offerings), and both they and their partners are being sued for intellectual property theft.   RIM is in free-fall, having also missed the meeting that IT doesn’t want to manage or buy phones anymore and losing the perception that they are more secure due to some questionable deals with foreign governments, they seem to be losing market share like water through a sieve.   

This means Microsoft has a shot if they play this right.  

Wrapping Up:

Mango had an ugly birth but it actually has a decent shot at gaining market share through a combination of being a well done product and weaknesses in the platforms it has to compete with. It may still suffer from underfunded marketing and the general tech company problem of no sustained demand generation marketing which only Apple avoids, but it should challenge for number #3 as RIM falls and might even reach #2 though that is not very likely this year.   

Microsoft finally got it right. One hopes that someone in the company is watching so that maybe they can get it right the first time next time. That is another historic problem with the company, and in this industry, companies so like to avoid learning from each other and repeating mistakes they have already made. It is somewhat ironic that Scott Adams, who writes Dilbert, is now using a Mango phone

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. To read more of his articles on TechZone360, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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