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IDC just updated their Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker and revised their smartphone forecast through 2015. I long gave up on putting much faith in analyst forecasts, and IDC’s latest marketshare estimates are “interesting,” to say the least:
|Win Phone 7||5.5%||20.9%|
I would love to see the model and assumptions behind these figures. A few things strike me as odd right off the bat:
- IDC has much more faith in RIM’s ability to grow their business than I do. RIM’s numbers are already showing signs of weakness, falling behind the industry in unit growth. Why does IDC think this will be reversed?
- iOS share falls in IDCs forecast, implying faster growth of others in the market. That’s fine, in principle, but IDC expects iOS CAGR to be only 18.8% over the next 4 years. That is a dramatic drop from the past three years. This represents a reversal that implies executional bobbles from the most buttoned-up company in technology today, something I wonder how IDC rationalizes.
The turnaround in Windows Phone that these numbers represent is positively epic. I think the link-up with Nokia is smart, but it pairs two companies that are struggling in mobile right now, not two leaders. It will take time for them to get their execution right, much less step into the #2 position. I’d be surprised if even Microsoft is this bullish on their prospects over the next 4 years. As Horace Dediu tweeted:
In 2010 Apple shipped 48m iPhones and 90m since start. IDC forecast: in 2015 192m Windows Phones will ship. Total 479m between now and then.
I think the dark horse in mobile right now is HP, and it appears they are buried down in “Other.” I think IDCs is dramatically underestimating the quality of the WebOS platform and HP’s ability to execute. If HP/Palm doesn’t have at least 10% share in 2 years, I’d be shocked.
The other market dynamic I do not see reflected here is Android’s increasing commoditization.
Android came along at exactly the right time, offering the platform Samsung, LG, HTC and others needed to compete with the then-new iPhone exactly when their alternative, Windows Mobile, was floundering. But the albatross around Android continues to be its ubiquity: it is difficult for OEMs to distinguish their devices when the same underlying bits are available to their competitors. In response, I expect at least one OEM to break from the pack in search of meaningful differentiation and the better margins that go with it. “Vanilla” Android is ultimately a race to the bottom of the market.
Success with this strategy would favor OEMs with the combination of industrial, software and hardware design chops to make something more than just the sum of its parts. Samsung and HTC are ahead of the others in these areas and already positioning themselves at the premium end of the market. A custom fork of Android by one or both of these companies wouldn’t surprise me at all.1
This differentiation-on-custom-Android strategy could be pursued by a new entrant, as well. The one that intrigues me the most? Amazon.
When Infiniti, the luxury brand from Nissan, first entered the U.S. Market in 1989, they were up against long-established rivals such as BMW and Mercedes whose brands had come to define the luxury car segment for years. They also had to contend with upstart Toyota, who just a year before had launched Lexus and surprised everyone by becoming legitimate players in this lucrative niche.
Entering a crowded market, Infiniti needed something to capture the attention of American consumers. Months before cars showed up, they started a “teaser” ad campaign to generate awareness and excitement. And while this technique was nothing new, their creative approach was.
Ads featured scenes of pastoral calm, waves crashing into secluded beaches and lush forests surrounded by mountains. In the case of the TV spots, a somnolent voiceover extolled the virtues of luxury inspired by the beauty of nature and ended with a bare background and a prominent Infiniti logo.
One of the launch ads, “Geese,” can be seen here:
The connection of natural imagery with concepts of luxury is commonplace now, but at the time, this was groundbreaking stuff. Unfortunately, these spots have gone down in advertising lore as one of the biggest marketing failures of all time. Infiniti scraped out only a tiny share when the cars finally went on sale, and the brand has never recovered. Even today, 20 years later, Infiniti sells about 1/2 the number of vehicles Lexus, BMW or Mercedes does.
Reviewing everything that went wrong is well outside the scope of a single PunchingIn post, but there is one thing that most pundits have agreed on over the years. For all of their creativity and intriguing imagery, the Infiniti ads were ill-conceived not for what they showed, but for what they didn’t: the car.
For months, Americans saw the Infiniti brand and didn’t even know it was for a car (go back and watch the “Geese” ad again). Ironically, Infiniti actually had a good product to show off, so the decision to deny it any screen time was a strategic one, not borne out of embarrassment.
When presented with new information, people need context — how it relates to other things — to add it to their understanding . Infiniti didn’t offer any. Using trees, geese and beaches as images for automotive luxury was new and caused a perceptual dissonance that was hard for Infiniti to overcome. People didn’t connect natural scenes with an automobile purchase, and Infiniti didn’t get placed in context with BMW, Mercedes or Lexus, as a result. And, while some consumers might have been aware of “the strange new ads,” that wasn’t what Infiniti needed. When they arrived to the party, no one noticed.
I was reminded of this story when I saw the first ads for Windows Phone 7.
Show the Car
Microsoft was entering a crowded market. The established players were well-known and had a solid reputation for making excellent products. Dissatisfaction with the incumbent products was incredibly low. Those with Smartphones were not looking for an alternative. And those who had yet to upgrade already had an obvious choice in the iPhone that seemed wise and uncontroversial.
So, what did Microsoft do? They pulled an Infiniti. Out of the gate, Microsoft didn’t “show the car.”
Their first campaign, “Really,” argued that today’s smartphone users had become slaves to their phones, immersed so deeply in the experience that they were using them obsessively, often in inappropriate situations. The ads were funny, and even for the people they were mocking (a move some called “dangerous” but which I think was overblown), the message resonated. What smartphone user hasn’t been admonished at least once to “put your phone down and pay attention,” after all?
But there was a problem. The ads were full of smartphones, but they were competitor devices carried by their zombie users, not the new Windows Phone 7. Viewers didn’t get a glimpse of the new Windows Phone 7 experience until late in the ad, and for only a few seconds. And given that mobile devices today are all about the experience, a few seconds on the screen is nearly as bad as “not showing the car.” It’s not surprising that Windows Phone 7 has been met with a tepid response in the market: outside of tech enthusiasts who read blogs like this, who really knows what makes WP7 unique?
But now, Microsoft looks like it is (finally) getting it right. In their new campaign, “Everything a smartphone should be,” it’s not even the phone itself that is front and center. It’s the experience.
The ad opens tight on a mocked-up chat as someone types in a glowing quote about Windows Phone from a reviewer. Moments later, it spirals away in what we soon learn is an example of the kind of fluid animations the platform offers. The next 30 seconds is a parade of fonts and menus and apps and animations, intimately shot often just millimeters from the glass, interspersed with quotes from ‘regular people,’ laid bare and offered up for the viewer’s assessment. No voice-over, no contrived situation with actors looking for their big break. Just Windows Phone all by itself.
It does what Apple’s ads for the iPhone and iPad have done for years — show the car — but in a way that neither copies nor pays homage to the folks from Cupertino. It’s honest and genuine and shows pride in the product itself, without being boastful.
See, Microsoft Windows Phone has another thing in common with Infiniti, as well. Namely, the product being launched is actually pretty good. Reviews have generally been very positive, even from unexpected sources. Of course, it’s shortcomings have been noted, and these put WP7 at a competitive disadvantage right now. But frankly, I think tech pundits have put too much blame for slow sales on things like the absence of multi-tasking and copy-and-paste.
Yes, they hurt. And yes, Microsoft should have shipped WP7 with them to be truly competitive. But I would submit that for many potential customers, these are nuisances, not show-stoppers. And the promise of a “fix coming soon” will very likely satisfy many of them.
The problem is not purely one of “Feature Gap”. There is also a significant “Awareness Gap,” and Microsoft did not help themselves with their launch campaign. The reality is that the Windows Phone experience is an original one. And even given Microsoft’s reputation for “just copying
But it is also different from Windows, and that is the thing most consumers would not realize. “It’s got Windows in the name, after all, and it’s from Microsoft, so it must bear some resemblance to that PC on my desk, right?” Of course, that is miles from the truth; the UX is in fact the primary innovation of WP7. But in not showing the product, Microsoft failed to address this misconception and saddled one of their newest and most clever designs with the baggage of one of their oldest products.
Now Microsoft is taking a more direct approach. Instead of telling their story using competitors’ phones and their customers, the new WP7 experience is the hero, and it absolutely dominates the narrative. They show the car. It’s about time.
In the early 90s, Infiniti finally realized their mistake and soon returned to more traditional advertising that put their Q45 and M30 models front and center. For them, it turned out to be too late.
Some would argue Microsoft faces the same fate. Clearly, new ads will not fix what ails Microsoft and their struggles in the mobile market. But the poor conception and execution of their launch campaign has been an unnecessary albatross about their neck for too long. And replacing it with one that speaks directly to customers about what they have to offer can do nothing but help.
DISCLOSURE: I was an employee of Microsoft for over 20 years, leaving the company three years ago, in 2008. They are a client of my firm, modernis_, though we are not currently engaged in a project with them.