With the holiday season upon us, my son is back from college. Yesterday he had a dozen of his friends over to “hang out”. Since this was costing me around 100 pizza bagels and a couple boxes of mozzarella sticks, I thought it was only fair for me to have an impromptu mobile focus group of college students.
Most of them were on the Verizon Network, with one on AT&T and one on T-Mobile. There were 7 Smartphone class devices (1 iPhone, 3 Blackberrys, 3 Android), 3 Multimedia class devices and 2 feature phones. Those who had the more impressive devices were much quicker to wave them in the air and show them off, while the feature phone owners were trying to avoid eye contact.
Their preferred manner of communicating with each other was text first, then voice, then Facebook, then IM, and lastly email.
I then described the features of a Windows 7 phone, without naming it. The live tiles, music integration, gaming system integration, etc. I got a reasonable concurrence that those features were “cool” and was asked if they were available on their “app stores”.
More on that a little later on.
I then asked them if they heard of the Windows 7 phone and what they thought of it? I got lots of frowns and looks of disgust, “A Microsoft Phone?, not cool” , “That’s for computers, not phones”, “Will it work all the time?”. You get the general reaction. The group thought the basic features of the Microsoft phone were desirable, but had a very negative reaction to the name and software system.
I asked them if they would trade in their phone for a free Windows 7 model? Only the feature phone owners indicated that a free Windows phone would be better than the 2006-era voice and text via t9 models they were forced to endure.
This result is similar to other impromptu focus groups I have managed with my kids’ friends. Their phone is a social accessory. It is the most important electronic gear they own since they have it with them 24/7. Blackberry’s have strangely entered the “cool zone” and are as socially acceptable to the teen crowd as iPhones and Droids. Windows phones are clearly not cool, even though their features are desirable.
What does this mean for Microsoft? They made a big mistake, another in a long list of mobile missteps, by naming their mobile phone after a PC operating system. Did I mention that 75% of my sample group used Apple computers as their main machine? Microsoft has been very successful with XboX, partly because it was NOT called Windows Vista Game System. Microsoft called their mp3 music player “Zune”, not Windows music player. Zune has been a market failure, not because of its name, but rather it was outclassed and out marketing by Apple iTunes and iPod.
Microsoft released sales figures for their mobile device on 12/21. They touted 1.5M devices sold in the first 6 weeks. This number, however, reflects the number of devices that are in the Carriers stores and pipeline, not how many have been sold to actual subscribers. Verizon has over 2000 direct retail outlets and easily a similar number of resellers. You can appreciate how many phones you have distribute to fill the distribution pipeline.
In comparison Android is activating 300K phones a day and Apple sold (really sold) 3M iPhones in its first 3 weeks on the market, over three years ago.
What should the team in Redmond do now? I believe the clue is in one of the comments from my son’s friends. “Where can I get these in the App store?” If XboX gaming on a mobile is valuable, then Microsoft should develop their own apps for Blackberry, iPhone and Android and make money from their “competitors” mobile platforms.
Likewise, they could provide a Zune application for music on these platforms (well maybe not iPhone). My point is that if Microsoft has valuable applications then sell them as applications. If my small sampling is at all indicative of how Microsoft’s core targeted market is reacting to their mobile device, they have to seriously re-think what they have done. Find a cool name for the phone, don’t rely on a Zune/Xbox positioning, and tout the basic phone interface as better than other Smartphone’s. To some degree they have tried the latter with the ad campaign promoting the ease of use of their device.
The real question will be is the market willing to accept another smartphone platform at this point? What do you think?