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Windows Phone 7: Rehashing the Zune's Mistakes

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It's been almost a year since Microsoft gave the iPhone a run for its money with a completely revamped OS and sleek interface for its Windows Phone 7 series. It took smartphone interaction into a bold new direction and was definitely the ticket Microsoft needed to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Apple and Android.

But as manufacturers and carriers were being amassed, Microsoft stumbled over its own hubris and delusion.

Its Kin smartphones were a high-profile disaster, another failed attempt to target the youth market with subpar hardware and a surefire method to bruise Redmond's relationship with Verizon. It held a lavishly embarrassing mock funeral for the iPhone 4 and BlackBerry in September -- proving that when it's not in the sand, Microsoft's head is in the clouds. And at the All Thind D conference in December, Windows Phone 7 developers skirted any question about actual sales numbers.

But the responses said it all.

The same week, the advertising network Chitika -- which, according to GigaOM, serves more than a billion ads across 100,000 websites -- noted that while iPhone and Android continue to show solid ad impression numbers, Windows Phone 7 is barely even measurable.

Even manufacturers are sharing their disappointment with the dismal launch. James Choi, marketing strategy and planning team director of LG Electronics, confessed to Pocket-lint that sales have fallen short of expectations. "From an industry perspective we had a high expectation, but from a consumer point of view the visibility is less than we expected," Choi said.

Yeah, we can imagine.

Nevertheless, speaking with All Things D, Microsoft Senior Product Manager Greg Sullivan had reason to brag. He boasted that over 2 million Windows Phone 7 devices have shipped to mobile carriers by the end of last year. Yes, that's shipped, not sold, to stores. There's still no telling how many are gathering dust on the shelves.

But Sullivan continued his glee. "When people use this phone, they really, really like it." He added that the company's customer-satisfaction data registered 93% of users are "satisfied" or "very satisfied." Sullivan said, "That’s a really great number."

You're right, Greg. A 93% satisfaction rating is a very, very good start. But if Microsoft isn't able to get that message out to consumers and have that touted usability rating adequately advertised and marketed to the public, then what good is it? There are just too few Windows Phone 7 users to spread the message on their own.

And when existing Windows Phone 7 ads are centered around deriding competitors for creating devices that consumers love too much, you have to realize there's a problem with the marketing department. But you really should have known that already.

But how will this bode for Windows Phone 7's future? To answer that, you might only have to look at the Zune.

The Zune: solid, serviceable, and satisfying. Came equipped wireless file sharing, streaming, and other features that weren't available in the iPod. But there was never a chance for Redmond to catch up to Apple's market share. The hype and ad campaign surrounding Cupertino's iPod line was insurmountable. However, it never felt like Microsoft really gave it much of a try.

Aside from meritless hyperbole, of course.

In June 2008, Robbie Bach -- former president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division -- managed to out-bombast Steve Ballmer in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. When asked about the existence of a Zune phone, Back replied:

"We ship lots of 3G phones already on Windows Mobile and have for some time. So we continue driving the path we are driving with Windows Mobile and we are very excited about the approach we have taken this year. About 20 million devices will ship with Windows Mobile on it. We will outsell the iPhone. We will outsell the BlackBerry."

Good lord, guy.

But echoing the present, Bach stressed the customer satisfaction rating of the Zune. "We're actually super-pleased at where we are. When you talk to people, customer satisfaction is somewhere north of 90 percent. We think we've got a product that is very strong," he said.

And compared to the iPod, where did that leave you?

I realize that a company's executives always have to remain positive in a public forum, but Microsoft has got to get more realistic. It's as if Microsoft's marketing strategy is a worn copy of The Secret. "If you want something badly enough, just keep saying that it will happen and, eventually, it will come to you."

Listen up, Redmond. Customer satisfaction cannot be the be-all and end-all. At some point, you'll have to round up some creative directors -- emphasis on "creative" this time, guys -- and launch a scathing marketing campaign against Apple and Android. Something that will finally grab the public's attention. Something competent. Something enticing. Jerry Seinfeld or Pharrel ain't gonna cut it this time.

Stop trying to lure customers to Windows Phone 7 by claiming competitors create much too absorbing products. Drop that angle and never look back.

Stop trying to cater to a youth market. In the public's eye, Microsoft will never be as cool as Apple.

Stop introducing features that were novel 2+ years ago. In order to win over the competition, you have to look ahead.

And for God's sake, stop your meritless hyperbole. Yes, you have to look good to the shareholders, but the only way you'll improve a sluggish product is by admitting its faults.

Otherwise, guess what. You'll really have another Zune on your hands.

But I'm guessing you're still too wrapped up with Kinect's success to really care about that, right?
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