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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Windows Phone 7 Could Fail in Canada

Folks, let me start by saying that I love my Samsung Focus.  Everyone’s seen an iPhone by now, but you can still turn heads when you’re zipping through the home screen on a WP7 device.  The interface is slick, the apps you need are mostly in the marketplace and the cooler ones – I’m still waiting for the possibilities of augmented reality apps with video and compass APIs – are on the way.

The phone is well integrated into my other communication points, from email and messaging to scheduling and sharing, and though I’m a heavy user I’ve seen little by the way of bugs.

But I live in Canada.  And the sale of this phone platform to my friends will be tough.  It’s not because the platform isn’t great – and I do think WP7 phones are on a great platform – it’s because the phones in Canada are crippled.

The Show Me Factor

We are moving away from a people with music players to a people with multifunction devices that have music players on them.  At least, those of us with the ability to support a smartphone contract are.  Well, us and the teenagers whose parents spoil them, but I digress.  I had my first MP3 player over 10 years ago and haven’t missed it a bit.

But the music marketplace in Canada Sucks.  Yes, “sucks” with a capital “S”.  We have very limited choices in where we can purchase our digital content outside of the iVerse.  I’ve used Puretracks and played with the paid versions of some other services but not all the content I want is there and I’ve previously had troubles with DRM content on mulitple devices.

I want my family – we have four PCs all running Windows 7 as well our our Xbox 360 – to be able to use something more fluid within our ecosystem, connected to and built into the devices we use.

Including our phones.

Look, there’s going to be a point where people will have seen it/been there/done that and if the experience isn’t positive they won’t want to go there again.  There’s a really good, but shortening, window that Microsoft should be able to leverage.

The Switchover Debate

Look, if I can’t convince my wife, my soul mate, my partner until forever to buy a Windows Phone device then I’m not going to get too far with others.  These things should sell themselves, but this media marketplace keeps kicking WP7 in the face.

We’ve talked about the switch to a smart phone and she’s been leaning towards an iPhone for some time.  All of her music is in iTunes and we’d need to spend some time converting it (in some cases with DRM that might not be possible) and then we’d be left with the purchase void.

That chasm is too far to cross at the moment.  We’ve agreed to wait for a bit to see if the marketplace changes, but at this point it’s a wide open yawn’s worth of information available and no one is giving any updated information.  For fully three years we’ve been hearing “Keep checking the Zune web site for your region” and nothing more.

Challenge #1 - Marketing

I eagerly waited for the Zune HD here in Canada, only to have my hopes dashed when Future Shop pulled the remaining original Zune devices from the shelves.  A new employee said to me, literally three days after I almost bought one, that he’d never even heard of Zune.

What?!  How could that be?  How could the only device poised to be an iPod killer not even enter the general population’s vernacular? We are talking about a company who did the unthinkable here and broke into the video game industry, a move previously believed impossible as the market already had enough players.  How could, in this young and developing area with few serious players, Microsoft miss the boat with visibility?

The same thing seems to be happening with Windows Phone.  I can still walk into a room of people completely unaware that WP7 devices were actually out.

Challenge #2 – The Marketplace

This appears as #2 on my list, but not because it’s less important.  I will say this as directly as possible, Microsoft: the music marketplace must be fixed.

Technically, it’s not broken.  Because it’s not here.  This is the number one reason my wife won’t buy into the ecosystem, and it’s almost always one of the first things I’m asked of when I’m showing my phone.  You fire up Shazam and it’s right in your face: excellent execution followed by a lack of follow-through.

I am a sell out here, folks and I know it.  I’m a die hard.  This is a platform with great potential and I’ve even gone so far as to evaluate my “grey area” options (US credit card, friend’s address).  But I’d much rather see the ecosystem change for WP7 in Canada so that we can do things legitimately and without hassle.

I understand that there may be other problems.  I’ve heard everything from the CRTC blocking Microsoft, to third party licensing complications, to Apple threatening to make things messy.  But Microsoft hasn’t said peep squat about what the problems are.

Challenge #3 – Marketing

Yes, it’s the same as reason one, but different.  You see, the thing is that Apple didn’t sell it’s iPods to the millions of customers that have them.  The other customers did. Unfortunately, proud Canadians wielding their WP7 phones are ill-equipped to make the sale.

Heck, even the stores clerks aren’t really there as far as sales pitches.  When I asked to see the Focus at Future Shop, I was greeted with a, “Really? Why?”.  He was even more shocked when I took it home with me.

I’m not selling these phones and I don’t work for a cell phone company or Microsoft (yetWinking smile), but if a guy can’t convince his wife to get one, we’ve got a problem.  Shoot, I even convinced her to marry me, but I can’t pawn a phone on her!

The Fix

Actually, Fixes.  It’s plural.  Here are the things that can right the course for this beauty of a ship:

  1. Figure out the content licensing and make music available in the marketplace. If it’s a ways out, for now you must, must clearly communicate what the issues are.  Customers would be happy to lobby any group that is blocking the process.
  2. Set up Zune Pass now, even at a lower cost and with limited content. Get buy in from the Canadian content providers to get them in the streaming mix be it independent radio stations, the CBC, CTV or the sports broadcasters. Flesh out the product and give Canadians the same level of product that’s available in other countries around the world.
  3. Give out some more free phones.  Future Shop wouldn’t even let me play with one of WP7 phones until I said I was surely going to buy one.  They wouldn’t take it out of the box.  This is wrong and bad and a poor purchase experience and bad, too.  Apple has kiosks setup to demo different models of the iPod/Pad/Phone/Thing and for WP7 I get to look at a cellophane wrapped box? Boo!
  4. Increase visibility.  Get storefront space. Encourage cell phone dealers to use and promote the phone.  Roger’s booth in our mall here had the iPhone 4 announcement posters up six weeks before the phone was launched.  There is still nothing in the mall about WP7.  Nada.

I am a software developer and though my previous experience has been on other platforms and technologies, right now I work exclusively on the MS stack.  I am going to MIX11 and am super pumped to see what the year ahead will bring us.

I’ve already come to terms with the fact that most of my concerns will not be addressed by the time the event rolls around, but you can be sure I’ll be sharing my thoughts with whomever will give me an audience.  Basically, it’s a conference where I’ll be hanging out with a ton of folks who’s phones are cooler than mine; sadly, we’ll have the same phone.

This is a phone that can really give customers a fresh experience with a unique level of integration with communication, search, maps, gaming and social networking.  I really hope that WP7 survives in Canada long enough to bear the fruit it is longing to produce.

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