Microsoft Takes Stock of First Year of WP7

by Jeff Wiener on April 7, 2011

It was just over a year ago, April 4th, 2010, at the MIX10 conference that Microsoft first unveiled the platform and tools developers would be using to build apps and games for its new Windows Phone 7 (WP7) mobile operating system. Since then Microsoft’s WP7 has experienced a slow but steady entry into the cutthroat mobile market, a year capped off by the recent partnership agreement with Nokia that will allow Microsoft access to the largest mobile consumer base in the world.

So as WP7 enters its second year of existence, what will the future hold for Microsoft’s OS? Will it be able to replace Symbian as one of the world’s most popular operating systems? Will it be able to compete with the runaway success of Android or with Apple’s changing global marketing strategy?

It goes without saying that Microsoft clearly thinks WP7 has what it takes to gain a serious foothold in the mobile market, and to that end the company took a little time to boast about its mobile successes in the first year of operating, going so far as to share some hard numbers with the public…just not the numbers we were all waiting for.

Late last year Microsoft, at long last, broke its cone of silence over concrete sales numbers regarding its WP7 platform, announcing that sales had surpassed 1.5 million units over the span of roughly six weeks. While that number initially sounded impressive, the truth behind the press release was that the figure was actually the number of units shipped, meaning that actual unit sales could have been much lower.

Now after a year Microsoft has several numbers to share with the public, but again none of them are actual sales figures, leading me to wonder if market infiltration is progressing even slower than it seems from the outside. The numbers that Microsoft is happy to share deal with the number of WP7 Developer Tool downloads (1.5 million), ad funded apps (1,100), average number of apps downloaded per customer per month (12), and total mobile apps (11,500) available in its marketplace…just to name a few.

First, let’s talk about what we didn’t hear. After a year in the mobile marketplace, Microsoft is still mum about specific WP7 sales figures. Analysts estimate that WP7 currently holds approximately 5% of the global mobile OS market, but Microsoft has yet to release any sort of firm numbers of its own in that regard. Now don’t get me wrong, Microsoft has every right to keep those figures to itself, but its interesting to note what details Microsoft chooses to focus on in its yearly State of the OS address and what details it chooses to ignore.

That being said, as I read over the numbers I couldn’t help but notice how the vast majority of them pertained to WP7 mobile applications. Its no secret that at a total of 11,500 available apps, Microsoft is significantly lagging behind the market leaders (Apple: over 300,000; Android: over 100,000), but the tech company certainly sees no problem with that, choosing a quality over quantity approach.

But just as there’s something to be said for remaining silent on a given issue, so too is there something to be said for saying too much, a point that makes me think that Microsoft realizes that relatively barren WP7 app marketplace could very well be the platform’s Achilles heal and is doing everything in its power to generate hype for the apps it does have.

In the end, with a first year of existence that has come and gone with little fanfare, little innovation, and frankly, little interest, Microsoft is hoping that WP7’s success mirrors the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, a slow starter but the winner in the end, instead of a story where WP7 is simply a slow loser. Needless to say, if Microsoft hopes to break into the upper echelon of the mobile market, the second year of WP7 will have to be significantly more impressive.

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