Windows Phone 7 will fail if the channel is not ready

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Windows Phone 7 is a great new operating system. With an innovative and fresh user experience, it could help to put Microsoft back into the mobility game… but they are coming from behind – a long way behind established competition from Apple (and more recently Google) so Microsoft needs every little bit of help it can get from it’s channel partners.

Today is Windows Phone 7 launch day in the UK. Except the channel is not ready.  And that means they’re selling competitive devices.  Not good for a company that’s trying to get its mobile mojo back…

I’m not a journalist, and I haven’t been briefed on Windows Phone 7 launch so I don’t know who the launch partners are but I have seen some of the comments on the web and elsewhere so, this lunchtime, I headed into London’s busiest shopping street to see what the various mobile carriers would sell me.  Remember, I’m a consumer – and I’m also right smack bang in the middle of the demographic that Microsoft wants to sell Windows Phone 7 to.  What I found was dissappointing.  Not so much a big bang launch as a fizzle.

I started out at Vodafone, where the duty manager was happy to give me advice.  He asked what I was looking for (bored of my iPhone, currently out of contract, looking for a personal smartphone, with ActiveSync support for connection to work e-mail) and, to be fair, he asked me if I’d be interested in a Windows Phone.  That was positive, as the Windows Phone merchandising in that store was almost non-existent (a small poster on the wall, and a small transfer on the window, right next to a bigger one advertising the iPhone).  Unfortunately, he didn’t have stock: there had been some mix up with the courier delivering HTC Trophies; and the LG Optimus was, apparently, delayed due to a software fault.  So I left the store empty-handed, although he did ask if I’d consider an Android device if I couldn’t get a Windows one.  Further along Oxford Street, a larger Vodafone store had stock of the HTC Trophy but, again, no real merchandising to indicate that a new device was in town (just a small A-frame outside), despite the entire store being wrapped in Smartphone advertising.

Next up was Carphone Warehouse, who suggested a Nokia N8, or Blackberry Torch might meet my needs.  When I asked about a Windows Phone they said it’s was not available yet, even when I told them that today was launch day and they told me it had been put back by a couple of weeks, before suggesting I try the HTC Desire (on Android).

At Orange, there was at least a big display for their exclusive Windows Phone – the HTC 7 Mozart, so I didn’t talk to any staff in store.

A few doors along at O2 there was nothing at all to indicate there were any smartphones available from Microsoft. Meanwhile they had a big queue (this is lunchtime in London), so I didn’t speak to any staff – but I didn’t buy a phone either.

It’s great to see Windows Phone available in the UK ahead of the US – it’s been a long time since we were first in the queue to get our hands on a device.  Except it seems the channel is not ready.  I wasn’t expecting an Apple-style queue around the block but, if I was a “normal” consumer instead of a geek, I would be sold something else and, if Microsoft can’t get its channel partners to sell their handsets, Windows Phone 7 will be a monumental fail.  I sincerely hope not – as I said at the head of this post, I think Windows Phone 7 is a great new operating system and it has stacks of potential.  I just hope that Microsoft can recover from this false start and ship serious volumes of handsets over the coming months.

8 thoughts on “Windows Phone 7 will fail if the channel is not ready

  1. Interesting observations Mark.

    I have thought all along that the key for Microsoft is to really get the retail outlets on board and get them pushing the WP7 phones – but where is the incentive for the retailers to do this? at the end of the day they probably don’t care what phone you walk out with.

    I would think that all they care about is if you sign a contract through them and possibly if you spend a large amount on a handset.

    Microsoft needs to address these issues, otherwise it won’t matter how great the tech is if nobody is buying it.

  2. Personally, I’m still reeling from the fact that I can’t upgrade the phone I bought last year to Windows 7 – even though I was told that I could in all the literature!!

    Mind you – I’ve learnt my lesson with buying ‘bleeding edge’ – both vendor and carrier support was rubbish for the first 3 months… so perhaps not buying the phone on day 1 is a blessing Mark!

    As an aside, if I’d known you were in London…

  3. Well said, Mark. Such a shame this ‘launch’ day has been a damp squib. I did the same trawl of carrier shops and re-sellers in central London today and met with similar results, the Orange flagship store being the only shop I could have walked out of with a handset (contract only, SIM free handsets can’t be found on the high-street or online in my experience). The blank stares from sales assistants was dispiriting and made me think what a wasted opportunity this could be for Microsoft. As you say, their partners are clearly not ready and therefore launch day has been a failure in my opinion. Still, it’s only day one and I really hope they manage to convince people they’re a credible alternative in the long run. We just need handsets on the high-street and sales people who have been briefed! Cheers, Mark

  4. I did the same exercise Mark – massive fail on MS UK’ part here. TNo pre-order, no banners. The phone looks a beaut, but the folks at MS UK have spent zilch on prepping the channel.

    Hanging out with Stephen Fry and the digiteratti getting cool reviews is all well – but it needs some old fashioned grunt-work at the coal face to get the sheds to shift your boxes. Trouble with these people is that they don’t seem to think it’s their responsibility to do this – that’s for the little people. Ballmer should eat them alive.

  5. I hate to say “I told you so” Dave but that’s why I didn’t buy an HD2 – as great as it was, the sources for future upgradability were not credible enough :-(

    (I’m in the West End 2-3 days most weeks these days but rarely out in Docklands)

  6. Wow, you called it man. This is exactly what happened, and the poor sales channel has been the biggest obstacle to WP7’s adoption.

  7. I wouldn’t call launch something that happen in August. MS UK probabbly prays that nobody will come to this launch. I expect real WP7(.5) explosion in October.

  8. @NV I’m struggling to understand your comment – Microsoft “launched” Windows Phone in October 2010 – Mango is just the latest update. You’re right that it might be when some traction starts to build but it doesn’t change the fact that Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 launch lacked a crucial element: channel/carrier support. Application support is another issue, but that will come when the devices start to ship in quantity (chicken… egg…).

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