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10 May 12 Windows Phone Smokes Android, iPhone, But No One Wants It

Windows Phone Smokes Android, iPhone, But No One Wants ItDuring Microsoft’s recent Smoked by Windows Phone challenge, Microsoft-based devices were almost always faster at completing everyday tasks compared to Android and iPhone handsets. But even the fastest Windows Phone can’t run away from the fact that nobody’s buying Microsoft-powered handsets.

Despite critical acclaim, cheap phones, and a novel take on the Pepsi Challenge, few people in the U.S. want a Windows Phones and its market share may be slipping faster than its predecessor, Windows Mobile.

Smoked, by the Numbers

Windows Phone Smokes Android, iPhone, But No One Wants ItMicrosoft recently wrapped up the Smoked by Windows Phone promotion claiming Windows Phone devices beat out more than 50,000 challengers in 36 countries. During the challenge, your smartphone would participate in a head-to-head race against a Windows Phone to complete a basic task such as uploading a photo to Facebook, searching for movie times, or checking weather forecasts. If you won, you’d typically get $100, although Microsoft did offer a new laptop and $1,000 at one point. Microsoft only had to pay out 2 percent of the time, claiming a win rate of 98 percent. The software maker will now use its crushing victories to cover the Internet with video ads showing how awesome a Windows Phone can be.

The Fix is in

Smoked by Windows Phone was also accused of being an unfair challenge and Microsoft even tried to wrangle one crushing defeat against a Samsung Galaxy Nexus into a win, citing a technicality. Tech writer Sahas Katta took his Samsung Galaxy Nexus into a Santa Clara, Calif., Microsoft Store and was challenged to look up the weather in two different cities. Katta had two weather widgets on his Android home screen and had set up his phone to bypass the lock screen so all he had to do was turn on the phone and he’d win. That’s exactly what happened, but Microsoft employees quickly tried to wrangle out of giving Katta the prize with several excuses such as he had to show the weather in two different states. After the rest of the tech media picked up the story, Microsoft apologized and offered Katta the prize.

Soon after Katta’s experience, The Verge tried the challenge and claimed Microsoft stacked the deck in its favor by picking tasks that favored Windows Phone features such as social networking and search baked in to the OS.

No Escape

Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, its new smartphone platform is not popular with consumers. In fact, Windows Phone appears to be less popular in the U.S. than Microsoft’s aging Windows Mobile platform, according to Nielsen. The metrics firm issued a report Monday claiming that during the first three months of 2012, Windows Phone had a market share of just 1.7 percent, far behind fourth place Windows Mobile at 4.1 percent. The top smartphone operating systems in the U.S. are Android (48.5 percent), iOS (32 percent), and BlackBerry (11.6 percent).

Windows Phone Smokes Android, iPhone, But No One Wants ItLess than a week earlier, NPD Group said Windows Phone 7 had just 2 percent market share in the U.S. during the same period as Nielsen’s report. But more recent numbers from metrics firm comScore recently claimed Microsoft has about 4 percent of the U.S. smartphone market; however, comScore did not differentiate between Windows Mobile and Windows Phone devices.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s biggest Windows Phone partner, Nokia, recently reported its smartphone sales declined more than 50 percent during the first quarter of 2012 compared to the year previous. And LG has said it does not plan to make new Windows Phones because no one is buying them, according to the Korea Herald. “The total unit of Windows Phone sold in the global market is not a meaningful figure,” the company reportedly said.

Microsoft doesn’t appear to be giving up on its new smartphone platform just yet. The next version of Windows Phone is expected to offer deep integration with Windows 8, Microsoft’s upcoming touch-first OS for PCs and tablets, which could help popularize Windows Phone. Cheaply priced devices such as the $50 Samsung Focus 2 could also help the struggling smartphone OS battle back into relevance.

For the moment, however, no matter how you slice it, nobody is buying Windows Phone in the United States even with devices such as the Nokia Lumia 900 (one of PCWorld’s top-rated smartphones) grabbing headlines.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) on Twitter and Google+, and with Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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07 May 12 CTIA 2012: AT&T, Verizon Debut LTE Phones

10 Ways To Get More From Your Android Device
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) wireless trade show kicks off in New Orleans this week and already two 4G smartphones have been unveiled. The Samsung Focus 2 for ATT brings Windows Phone on a budget, while the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE adds to Verizon’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich roster. Here are the details.

Both phones work on the respective carriers’ LTE 4G networks, which means fast mobile broadband connections. They also support mobile hotspots so other devices can connect to the speedy networks, too.

— Samsung Focus 2. As the name implies, this Windows Phone 7.5 Mango smartphone is a follow-up to last year’s Focus. It runs the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, but the specs date from 2010.

It has a 4-inch Super AMOLED display, which is limited to 480 x 800 pixels. It is powered by a single-core 1.4-GHz processor. If you’re worried that won’t be fast enough, relax: single-core processors are all Windows Phones need for plenty of speed. The camera is 5 megapixels and records 720p HD video. The Focus 2 also has a VGA user-facing camera for video chats.

[ Read Why Apple Must Enable FaceTime On LTE. ]

The device is being offered only in “pure white,” so if you prefer a darker color, you’ll have to use a case. It measures 10.98mm thick, which is rather beefy for a modern smartphone, but it weighs just 4.3 ounces.

The best feature? Probably the price. The Samsung Focus 2 will be available May 20 for $49.99 (with two-year agreement).

– HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE. Verizon subscribers somehow have been blocked from the beautiful One X and One S handsets from HTC and will instead have to settle for this smartphone. The good news is it shares a lot of features with the One X and One S.

The Incredible sports a 4-inch screen, but it’s a Super LCD panel with 540 x 960 pixels. It runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and also uses HTC’s Sense 4.0 user experience. Under the hood, it is backed up by 1GB of RAM and a 1.2-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

The Incredible features an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with autofocus, LED flash, back-side illumination, and 28mm lens at f/2.2. HTC has worked hard at offering the lowest-possible aperture on its smartphones, and f/2.2 is about as low as it gets. This helps boost low-light performance. The Droid Incredible 4G LTE also features a user-facing camera for video chats, NFC for Android Beam, and Beats Audio.

It will be available via Verizon’s sales channels in the coming weeks. Pricing was not disclosed by Verizon Wireless, but I’d expect it to cost somewhere close to $199.99.

At this interactive Enterprise Mobility Virtual Event, experts and solution providers will offer detailed insight into how to bring some order to the mobile industry innovation chaos. When you register, you will gain access to live webcast presentations and virtual booths packed with free resources. It happens May 17.

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10 Apr 12 Lumia 900: What Windows Phones Needs to Succeed

Nokia Lumia 900

Having spent some more time with the Nokia Lumia 900 this weekend, I remain convinced that it’s a well-made phone and that the Windows Phone operating system has a lot of potential.

However, it seems to me that there are still several things Microsoft (and to a lesser extent, Nokia and the other companies making Windows Phones) needs to do to make the next version of Windows Phone more competitive in the market.


Increase the number of commercial applications

I’ve seen stories saying there are 65,000 or even 70,000 Windows Phone applications in the marketplace now.  That’s a huge improvement from a year ago, and indeed, in almost every category you can find something you’re looking for.   But there are still a few big names missing, and Microsoft needs to work hard to correct this.  (My colleague Sasha Segan has a list of some of the most important gaps.)

It’s probably unrealistic to think that developers will typically write for Windows Phone first any time soon – they tend to write for iPhone first, Android second, and then either Windows Phone or BlackBerry – but Microsoft has to work to reduce the time lag.


Allow for faster hardware changes   

Since Windows Phone 7 was announced two years ago and the first phones started appearing in the fall of 2010, all of the Windows Phones pretty much run on the same basic hardware specification, with a fixed screen resolution and a particular family of Qualcomm processors (although the speed for the processor in the latest phones has gone from 1 GHz to 1.4 GHz).     Apple has pretty much upgraded the processor once a year, and changed the phone resolution just once, when the iPhone 4 came out in 2010.  Android supports a large number of processors and many different screen sizes and resolutions.   As a result, typically Android phones offer the latest hardware, throughout the year, but the diversity can make it harder for developers to test their applications; while Apple changes things only once a year, so it’s easier on developers, as there are a relatively small number of models to test on.    

I don’t expect Microsoft to support as broad a range as Android has, but I would like to see the platform support a broader range than it does, and to move faster with new hardware support.  


Make the apps experience easier  

On the Lumia, there’s a tile on the home page for the marketplace.  This leads you to a screen which leads with ATT Featured apps (including its own Navigator GPS system, cod scanner, and U-verse apps).  After the ATT apps, then you see the Nokia collection, which has things like Nokia’s renditions of CNN and ESPN apps, as well as a Creative Studio (Nokia’s picture editing app, which is quite cool – though it shouldn’t be confused with the better known Adobe Creative Studio) and Nokia Drive, its navigation system, Nokia Maps, and Nokia Transist. The third choice gets you to the general apps screen.   Yet another home page app sends you to “app highlights,” which includes the apps that Nokia is highlight (not counting its own), then something called “Staff picks” and finally “starter kit”.  

It’s just too many choices, and if it’s really to be a starter kit, then that should be first, not buried in a menu. (Also, some of Nokia’s apps are a bit of a pain to install. You install Drive, but the first time you want to use it, you then need to download the Maps.  And then you need to install the voice sepearately).


Improve application integration    

Making applications work together is often a great part of Windows Phone– the way the People app lets you add in Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In contacts as well as your email ones; or the way the music+video hub can integrate radio apps, videos from apps such as Vevo, etc.   But the integration is not quite as complete as I’d like.  For instance, the browser now does integrate with Microsoft’s navigation app, but if you’ve installed Nokia Drive, it’s a separate application.  Microsoft is clearly moving in this direction – indeed one of the coolest things in Windows 8 is the ability for applications to really work together, using “contracts” so one application can call another.  I’d like to see this extended even farther in the next Windows Phone.


Improve multitasking 

You can hold down the back button to see the applications you have run recently, but in general, they don’t really multitask.  (You can do things like play music in the background, though.)  I understand the tradeoff between battery life and real multitasking, but it’s still an area where Android 4.0 has a lead.


Make the “tiles” more “live” 

One of the big differences between the tiles in the Metro user interface and traditional icons is that they can be “live” – in other words, constantly showing you information.    The People tile shows faces of people in your social network with updates, the mail tiles show the number of unread messages, weather applications show you the current temperature, and the calendar shows your next appointments.   That’s great.  But I’d like to see this taken further – how about having the ESPN app show me the scores for my favorite teams or the Facebook apps show me posts from only my most frequent contacts?


Replace the Zune software 

To transfer software from your PC to your Windows Phone, you need to download and install the Zune software.  While the program itself isn’t bad, and the Zune services are actually pretty nice, it mostly serves as a reminder of Microsoft’s failure in the music player category.    A simpler program that transfers files (or just having the phone show up as a device in the OS) would be easier.


Improve enterprise support  

It doesn’t get talked about a lot, but in practice, Windows Phone is harder for an enterprise to support than iPhones or Android Phones right now (while BlackBerry still has a lead on everyone).   I’d like to see Microsoft focus more on enterprise support tools – from VPN access to active directory support – as well as mobile device management features (both internally and third-party tools).

Given Microsoft’s formidable presence in the enterprise, the continuing weakness in APIs for mobile device management came as a surprise.  Several of the MDM vendors are working on it, but it seems to me that this should be a strong point for Microsoft instead of the weakness it now is.

Microsoft is widely expected to release the next version of Windows Phone – Windows Phone 8, known as “Apollo” – in the second half of this year.   It’s already widely reported (though not officially confirmed, as far as I know) that it will have improved hardware support and allow for faster changes; and do a better job with enterprise support.   I’ll be looking for that, and how well it will address these other issues, and these will be crucial if Windows Phone is to be a real competition in the mobile market.


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