Windows Phone

Windows Phone: The Hail Mary pass is now in the air

Windows Phone had a big CES with major announcements from Nokia, HTC, and AT&T. It's now do-or-die for Microsoft in mobile. Learn why.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, and AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega show off the Nokia Lumia 900 at CES 2012. Photo credit: CNET/Lori Grunin

There are going to be no more excuses for Windows Phone by the end of 2012.

As I've said before, Windows Phone 7 is a terrific product, but it was a blazing failure in the smartphone market in 2011 and it had two legitimate excuses:

  1. Phone makers weren't putting it on their best hardware
  2. Wireless carriers weren't promoting it to their customers

After CES 2012, it's clear that both of those excuses will soon be history.

Microsoft and its three biggest phone parters -- Nokia, AT&T, and HTC -- went all-in on Windows Phone at CES this year.

HTC, which has been leapfrogged by Samsung and Motorola in the Android phone market, announced the HTC Titan II, a super-slim phone with a 4.7-inch screen, AT&T's 4G LTE, and an eye-popping 16 megapixel camera. The Titan II is arguably HTC's most significant and innovative new phone since the ThunderBolt, which was announced at CES last year. This year, HTC decided to power its flagship smartphone with Windows Phone 7 instead of Android. Part of that has to do with the fact that there's not as much competition among WP7 phone makers and part of it likely has to do with Apple's massive legal attack on Android hardware makers (HTC recently lost a court case to Apple). HTC is a much smaller company than Samsung and can't withstand as many court battles. It's a little safer for HTC to make phones for WP7 right now.

As amazing as the HTC Titan II is, the even bigger Windows Phone announcement at CES was the Nokia Lumia 900. This is the device we've been waiting for since Microsoft and Nokia announced their global partnership last February. In the fall, Nokia announced the Lumia 710 and the Lumia 800, which were solid-if-not-spectacular entrants into the highly-competitive smartphone market. The Lumia 900 is a larger version of the 800 that packs more power, includes a bigger 4.3-inch screen, and fixes the biggest design flaw (the hidden Mini USB port). I got a private demo and some hands-on time with the Lumia 900 at CES and I was impressed. The screen looked great and the 1.4GHz processer and AT&T's 4G LTE made it very fast. It was a little heavy, but overall the design looked and felt very high-end. I'd put it in the same category as the Motorola Droid Razr and the Apple iPhone 4S, which I consider the best two designs in the smartphone market right now.

Nokia also announced at CES that it is going to sell an unlocked version of the Lumia 800 at Microsoft Stores in the U.S. starting in February. Pricing wasn't announced but we should expect it to be around $600. This GSM phone will only have the cellular bands for AT&T and not T-Mobile, so it's basically an unlocked device that will only work in AT&T in the U.S. But, Nokia did throw T-Mobile a bone by launching the Lumia 710 on T-Mobile for $49 during the middle of CES week on January 11. This is a decent little low-cost device aimed at competing with the entry level Android and iPhone devices.

As you've probably already figured out, AT&T has developed into Microsoft's primary wireless partner in the U.S. AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega was on stage with Nokia CEO Stephan Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer when the Lumia 900 was unveiled on Monday. Even more importantly, Microsoft and Nokia are reportedly about to launch a $200 million marketing campaign to promote the Lumia 900, and a chunk of the money will apparently go toward big displays in AT&T stores and sales incentives to AT&T employees who move the most Windows Phone devices. Ballmer all but confirmed this in his CES keynote when he said that the Lumia 900 would be "heavily promoted" in all 2400 AT&T stores across America.

While all of those are big developments that can only help Windows Phone, it's important to remember that Microsoft is still up against the wall in the mobile market. Things aren't quite as desperate for Microsoft and Windows Phone as they are for Research in Motion and BlackBerry -- only because Microsoft has a product that can compete -- but it's still fighting an uphill battle against Android and iPhone, which have all of the momentum and brand recognition among phone buyers. Also, don't forget that Motorola still continues to snub Windows Phone 7 and Samsung has moved farther away from Windows Phone and gotten even cozier with Android. Other hardware makers such as LG, Dell, and Lenovo haven't given any indications that they'll take a risk on WP7.

If sales of the Nokia Lumia 900 and HTC Titan II are disappointing then it's unlikely that any of these other hardware builders will jump on the WP7 bandwagon. So, in a very real sense, it's crunch time for Windows Phone. Microsoft has made some big moves, signed up some big partners, and now it will have to wait and see how the market responds. The Hail Mary pass is in the air. It's entirely possible that it will be caught in the endzone for a touchdown. But, let's not forget that it's still a Hail Mary.

Photo credit: Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

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About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

128 comments
Juno.az
Juno.az

Clearly the public does not like widows phone (with exception of som fringers). These are the steps to success. 1. Swallow your pride 2. Abandon Metro UI (like... Now) 3. Purchase webOS and start over. You'll thank me later.

Babur
Babur

+1 khallal. Luckily I can usually 'try' out most of the new smartphone launches, and TBH I think WP is a beautiful OS, smooth, easy to use, and stable when compared to Android. Whereas almost all droids which I've tried or owned (e.g. SGS, Desire / Desire HD, Sensation: few I could remember readily) suffered from instabilities i.e. mysterious crashes, hang-ups, slow downs etc. Only very few droids I tried which didn't suffered from some of the ills I mentioned e.g. Sensation XE or SGS-II etc. Anyway, IMHO android feels like a cheap copy of iOS, beside it steals lots of IP from others ......... so I'd rank iOS as the best OS of the lost with WP as #2. Unless Google comes with a rock solid plan for unified UI + improvement on security and stability front, I don't see myself buying another droid when I'm done with HTC Sensation.

reneetheproduca
reneetheproduca

I was really tired of my Samsung Vibrant, an Android phone, which, after only a few months, was outdated. My company's switch to Outlook email was the perfect excuse for me to switch to a Windows phone and, I must say, I can't be happier. I went with the HTC handset, which was released before Nokia's. However, Mango on the HTC phone is amazing. I love the Windows UI on the HTC Radar. Since I have a Microsoft Zune, which has an interface I love, there was no learning curve with the Radar. It's easy to use, easy to see notifications and alerts. As for the apps, I don't miss Android much at all. I was able to find replacements for all of the apps I need from Microsoft's marketplace. Beyond that, there were only a couple of fun games and apps that I couldn't replace. But, new apps are being added everyday and I've discovered some fun ones that I can only get on my Windows phone. Web pages open quickly on T-mos 4G network, even if it isn't quite as fast as Verizon's LTE network. Pushed email is quick and call quality is great. I am very happy that I gave up my Android phone, although I must admit that I do have other Android devices. This is one of the best phone decisions I've ever made.

The Management consultant
The Management consultant

Clearly MS seems to give an air of desperation.It has been busy cutting up Nokia into bits and plundering the cupboard dry.They have transferred most of the high value r and d from Finland to the states leaving Nokia the dead caucus of what is left the low end development, low value propositions for emerging markets. Its almost as though they believe its all over already for the Nokia takeover? Sony has the number three slot in focus this year.Be weary Sony could do great things in this space if it avoids Windows mobile and the court room dramas that MS is associated with. Expect MS to be in court again this year.

Fletchguy
Fletchguy

As a techie and always around many electronics users the things I hear and personally agree with is the UI with the ugly panels is a huge turn off. Its just well ugly and not very well done. Then add very limited apps, partnerships with the likes of AT&T and Motorola who hasn't made a great phone in a decade your left with a boring unattractive uninspired phone on AT&T. If Microsoft dumped the metro style panel ui worked more with HTC and samsung stayed away from AT&T they might have a chance but all arrows point to it and windows 8 being huge failures and as a microsoft guy I hate to see it but Microsoft doesn't seem to care about its customers concerns or wants and is making a move to a very small niche market of people and thats a definate way to fail.

tk.jose
tk.jose

What every the praisers say, I have a strong opinion that MS must fail. The damaging role they played (and even playing) in the technology industry is still the highest. Beyond that with out the bully (aka marketing) nature they wouldn't be any where (and copy from some where and eliminate them in marketing). MS must fail along with the Nokia.

willmington
willmington

I got a one of the Windows smart phones. When I found that you couldn't use Outlook with it except in Exchange, I returned it and got an iPhone. I was real disappointed.

schmidtd
schmidtd

This is 100% psychological and stupid, but speaking as a windows user for years, the windows logo doesn???t mean "new", "shiny" and "Cutting edge" to me. I know this has nothing to do with the phones merits, but I can???t help it. When I look at the logo I just don???t feel like I am getting ???The next big thing???.

CassiopeiaLord
CassiopeiaLord

Maybe my needs are minimal but my Casio Cassiopeia Windows CE phone is still going strong! I can still control my Aston Martin with it as well. In fact, that downed drone over Iran was the only time it failed me!

darrell.bateman
darrell.bateman

It's too bad MS was so late getting Windows Phone 7 to market. It is an outstanding OS that is second to none in email sync (I use it with Exchange, Yahoo, and Gmail). There are a few quirks with the browser, which can be said about any of the mobile OS's. If it goes under, I'll be forced to switch to iPhone and suffer through all of the email, calendar issues of my colleagues.

Jaytmoon
Jaytmoon

I've been using a WinMobile 6.1 phone for about 4 years. It works ok, but the AT$T overlay is a performance killer.With no updates to the OS and virtually zero apps for that version, I'll be replacing it this month with a rooted Android phone . My Tablet is android and I can do everything on it and more that my LG Incite could. I'll stick with Windows 7 for my real pc's but Android is my mobile platform.

ksaldutti
ksaldutti

Not for one minute do I count out Microsoft becoming a major factor in the mobile business. BUT! But they need to revamp their Administration. They need to be young again and they will not be until they step aside and let the future Steve Jobs like young tikes make a hard driven a path to what people want now and in five years increment steps. Microsoft can do this and they can move ahead with a Win8 mobile platform and it will have to be extremely smart smooth and way ahead of the curve. Now get to work!

cwayneu
cwayneu

$600, yikes... What amazes me is that companies are asking more for a phone than a typical laptop, and we just keep paying.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

I was playing around with a HTC HD7 and I kind of like the interface. it's very well balanced between simple and beautiful. But I can't help it that the fact is, it's not easy to browse through installed apps, dependability on Zune(100MB+) and can't be detected on the PC without Zune. It's a bummer. But if there's some option to browse network storage and local storage that would be very very awesome. I have bad experience with automatic sync since the glory days of Symbian especially when I need to transfer files to different machines or devices at different times. I sure won't like it on any other sync apps like Kies, HTC Sync, Zune etc.

realvarezm
realvarezm

There is nothing like freedom. To look at the screen of my motorola Droid 3 and see a GUI that emulate a SNES console or the fact that i can tweak some things the way i like and if didnt work roll back. IOS and WM7 wont allow you to do that cause the "warranty" may be voided or it is "illegal" And now M$ did the terrible mistake of letting the carrier to perform and manage the FOTA. That was almost the ruin for Android...imagine what it will do for WM7. So let Windows keep pushing (cause in this case, they cannot bully its partners anymore) and trowing money like a drunk millionare. The hail mary will be a hangover so big that it will need half a bottle of vodka to come to their sense and focus on corporative and industrial mobile solutions.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

but I realized my mistake before I asked what a "hairy mail pass" is... :D

cybershooters
cybershooters

"As I???ve said before, Windows Phone 7 is a terrific product," And you were wrong. And that is why people are not buying it. Simple as that.

suncatTR
suncatTR

Windows phone lost me with no memory card slot, as did iPhone. My Nokia N79 has 16GB card in its slot, and another card waiting under the battery. N8 takes 32GB card and has HDMI. Nokia may do well in the US with its new Windows phone, but there are lots of us around the world, including US, who prefer Symbian^3 and Meego/Tizen [Linux]. The smartest move they can do is sell a phone like the N8/N9 with a memory card slot, and the choice of interchangeable operating systems. No slot, no deal.

rengek
rengek

Used a windows phone for the first time recently. I was amazed at how fluid and intuitive everything felt. Its a great phone.....but it has a looooong way to go. I'm a techie and I develop on .net for a living. The fact that it took even me this long to handle a windows phone tells me they are not doing enough good PR. They're doing plenty of PR but its just not effective enough. Microsoft should do what comcast did and rebrand. Comcast now goes by xfinity. On their cable trucks its in big letters while the comcast letters are in small font. MS should just buy nokia and rebrand the name. Is MS willing to swallow their pride for that kind of move? Bottom line, they have to find better ways of getting their phone into people's hands to try. Once they try they will like. Then they have to not let people correlate the phone with windows/microsoft. At least not until later when they have some momentum.

ramos806
ramos806

I bought HTC Radar WP7 1 month ago and its awesome. Very fast and does not lagged. Only thing Windows needs more apps :/

clavius
clavius

I was starting to get interested in WP7, until I found out it can't do a local sync with Outlook. I can sort of see why some marketroid thought it would be a good idea to try to force everyone into the cloud, but I say bollocks to that. (And based on other comments I've read here and elsewhere, I'm not alone.) Outlook (not exchange) is my PIM hub, and any phone that doesn't sync with Outlook is going to be a non-starter for me. No way am I going to put all my stuff in a Windows Live account just to get it on my phone. Looks like my options are going to be restricted to iOS or Android.

gstrock
gstrock

Please buy a Windows phone. Mr. Ballmer needs more money.

BG2000
BG2000

"Complete incompatibility with Windows Mobile 6.5 software". That's what screwed it. Anyone who'd been running Windows Mobile 6.5 was completely screwed and would have been starting from scratch with Windows Mobile 7. So if you're starting from scratch, you may as well go Android or iPhone, as they look after their customers and don't force obscolescence upon them...

phillyjud2
phillyjud2

I have been using the Samsung Focus since it came out last year with Windows 7 (about 16 months now.) I love it! I've never had a dropped call, Never any trouble with it at all and since it has windows office apps right in it and can work with Windows Exchange, it is the ideal phone for me. One problem which is a little bit of an inconvenience (but not enough to get me to change) is that Adobe still had not written an adobe flash app for Windows mobile. So if someone sends me info that requires FLASH, I can't look at it until I get to my computer. I will buy another Windows mobile phone when my contract is up. I just hope if Samsung is moving away from Windows, that the HTC is as reliable

Gerbilferrit
Gerbilferrit

Personally, from my experience with windows Phone I bloody love it and would not touch android with a barge pole after having to supoprt it in our office - too flakey round the edges where it matters and bugs bugs bugs. having said that, supporting iphone users when i don't own one has been pretty easy, but i've even got one staff weighing up the lumia 800 as he's bored with iPhone! And as much as i've banged on to whoever will listen regarding the Windows Phone 7 experience, quite independantly since the launch of Lumia 3 friends i hadn't seen for a while have all picked one up, and my girlfirend gave in too! She keeps cooing and aaahing over it and is well impressed the neat little touches. Win Phone 7 rocks!!!!

JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

"The Hail Mary pass is in the air. It???s entirely possible that it will be caught in the endzone for a touchdown" This sentence is utterly meaningless in the UK. Please explain in English (NOT American) what it means!

troy
troy

When I switched from my iPhone 3G to the Samsung Focus the day WP7 launched I discovered something very interesting. My dropped calls went away. It was like AT&T was suddenly fixed. In the last year I haven't dropped any calls except when I drove into a cellular wastland. My buisness partner, whom thinks Apple can do no wrong, would mumble that he couldn't wait for the iPhone to move to Verizon so he could get off of the crappy network. Well he moved over to Verizon and now the grumbling is even worse! I have tried to tell him of my discovery but he refuses to listen. He, like so many others, have lost site of the main function of these devices. Sure, he can waste a lot more time shopping for apps he dosen't need but at least I can make it thru an entire phone call without dropping the call. The voice features of 7.5 allowing you to send and receive texts without wipping out your phone should be a bigger focus in the adds. Having lost a Son to a traffic accident in which he was texting and driving, it is a life changer.

glamothe
glamothe

A 1.4Ghz processor on a showcase phone for CES doesn't cut it. It's not the fastest...PERIOD. You have Qualcomm testing quad-core phones with a release date set for Q2 2012. Microsoft should have showcased a beta version with a quad-core chip. Then again, Microsoft should have made WP7 sync natively with Outlook and allowed for the ability to open pst files. Character count restriction in the notes field for syncing WP7 with Outlook is a major flaw; as is a character count restriction in syncing with Windows Live. Bottom line, Microsoft doesn't understand how to utilize the Cloud and doesn't understand how to use data from a mobile perspective. Microsoft pushed Windows over Mac OS at the desktop level by saying Windows supported a much greater number of applications. Can they say that about Windows Mobile?

cef1000
cef1000

I was all excited to maybe finally get back to a windows device. The hardware looks great, the "social" interaction, ie Twitter, Facebook, games, music, movies, YouTube, etc. is all irrelevant to me. I need ONLY fantastically reliable hosted exchange support AND a solid easy to use client Time & Billing software that works on the Mobile device and my PC. Simple. I went looking at the Mobile App market place and, though the hosted exchange integration is as solid as possibly (I can???t get this to work properly yet on Android devices and update properly) no Time & Billing app is an absolute deal killer.

paulraustin
paulraustin

Unless these devices are adopted by enterprises as a means of augmenting / replacing their fleets of blackberries, MS will face significant challenges. One issue that still perplexes me is why MS does not address the need for file encryption on these devices. For want of that feature, MS is probably seeing a lot ot potential market share go to iPhones. Pity.

rpollard
rpollard

Does anyone have unbiased opinions of the WP7 and the eco system or does everyone simply prefer MS products no matter what they put out? I would like to know what it is that sets it above all the other phones according to everyone that uses it. There are people that prefer Windows over Mac just because it's what they're use to or have a bias toward for some reason. I would like to hear opinions from people that prefer Mac as to why they prefer a Windows phone. Is that possible or is it still the Windows vs. Mac rhetoric that has been going on for many years?

maethor
maethor

I thought MS had pretty tight control over the hardware spec, so maybe the "not on phone maker's best hardware" problem is at least partly Microsoft's fault.

maethor
maethor

US market-wise then maybe this is the hail mary pass, but I think you'll need to wait until MWC at the end if February to see what future Windows Phone has. If that ends up being Nokia + a couple of "so Microsoft won't sue us over Android" handsets from other manufacturers then the future is a pretty bleak one.

jason2000mj
jason2000mj

They need a great Superbowl ad to get the word out! One that focuses on what the phone can do and not what it is.

suncatTR
suncatTR

How about "Momentum" Nokia should fire Elop. They've already decided not to go fully with Windows [YAY!]. Meego/Maemo rocks; so does Symbian^3. We like choices.

elvisfan0108
elvisfan0108

I have had Windows phones for years. I was looking forward to WP7.5. When I realized that I would not be able to Sync with Outlook Contacts and Calendar, without going through the cloud. And that I would lose the backing up of my Word and Excel files, I moved to iPhone. Outlook Contacts and Calendar are backed up everytime and I have Documents to Go for Word and Excel. I just find it hard to believe that I had to go to Apple to interact with my Microsoft products.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Have you seen the growing list of older devices not getting Android updates; "that device is obscolete, you want this new one running the newer OS version". And Apple's whole market strategy is built around dropping older hardware as soon as possible so they can sell a newer Iphone hardware version. What vendor are you on about not forcing obscolescence?

Larry Huisingh
Larry Huisingh

Everything is riding on this one effort and it's not a sure thing. It will either succeed and "win the game" or it won't and they will "lose the game".

BG2000
BG2000

I'm British, but I think I know, as I used to play American Football at school. I think it's right at the end of a game, say 5 seconds to go, and the quarterback throws the ball as high, and far as he can, such that it's caught by on of his team mates at the far end of the pitch, resulting in a Touchdown. It's an 'all or nothing' maneouver to gain that last point. So I think 'Hell Mary' means sending the ball skyward ! In the context of this article it means a last chance to get a win...

suncatTR
suncatTR

iPhone has plenty of good features and apps, but it's a terrible phone, bad reception. Your Samsung and my Nokia don't drop calls where iPhone does. It's not the OS, it's the hardware. My phone also reads texts to me, so I'm not distracted.

grayknight
grayknight

Microsoft understands the cloud, WP7 uses the cloud. Skydrive, hotmail, gmail, yahoo, and exchange can all be used and integrated at the same time. WP7 runs fast on a 1GHz processor, which is unlike Android on even a quad-core.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Loose customers because they do not deliver file encryption? It's not like Apple delivers any kind of meaningfull encryption or app permissions and it's not hurt there sales. (Not an Apple dig. I'm not actually aware of a phone/tablet OS that does provide meaningful encryption or program sandboxing to be honest.)

grayknight
grayknight

It contains some of the main features of WP7. Email is superb. Having contacts from Windows Live, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail, Twitter, yahoo, etc. all integrated (and can easily be combined/linked) makes it easy to contact people via texting/facebook/email/etc. and switching to other methods between. Windows Phone is about accomplishing tasks first, then apps.

maethor
maethor

If Nokia did a Superbowl ad that's as bad as the current Nokia ads in the UK, then I wouldn't get my hopes up. The current ad for the Lumia 800 is terrible - you have no idea what they're trying to sell until right at the end.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but it lacks the aura of desperation implicit in the "Hail Mary" analogy.

schmidtd
schmidtd

Seriously though, do baseball and basketball players also play on a pitch, or just soccer, rugby, cricket and football?

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Sorry for the Americanism in this case. It was just the best way I knew how to express the concept.

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

The reference to the 'Hail Mary' pass refers to a quarterback (team leader) in a football (American football, not European, which is called Soccer in the US) game. There was a late play in a championship game where the quarterback from a small Catholic college (Notre Dame in Indiana) was losing, and made a late game very long pass. The reference was to the team members who just after he threw the ball heard him repeating the 'Hail Mary' prayer. The pass was successful, and Notre Dame won the game. In short, the parent poster is saying that Microsoft will come from behind and dominate the market by pulling a miracle. I wouldn't bet on it. But it could happen, I guess. If you like the new 'Metro' interface on your computer, you will probably like it on your phone. Me, I don't. I like the minimum of actions to do anything. Oh, and how something works as a phone is important. It is after all, a phone. Some manufacturers (*PPL*) don't seem to understand that.

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