Current Windows Phone 8 and upcoming BlackBerry 10 handsets look great, but will people switch? Not likely, and even first-time smartphone owners may balk. It’s a perfect example of old phrase, “timing is everything” as most smartphone innovation has already taken place.


The smartphone industry is at an interesting point in time. In 2007, Apple’s iPhone practically invented — or re-invented, if you will — the current smartphone age with a full capacitive touchscreen and support for mobile apps. Google Android followed in 2008 and although it was slow to catch up, is relatively on par with iOS in terms of usability and app support.

Can Microsoft and RIM succeed where others have failed?

blackberry-10-os-1These incumbents — Apple and Google’s Android partners — account for 89.9 percent of smartphone sales as of the third quarter of 2012, per IDC. Some alternative platforms, such as Palm’s webOS and Nokia’s Maemo software, entered the market only to disappointingly disappear: webOS is now an open-source platform and Maemo became MeeGo, which Nokia abandoned when it chose to use Microsoft’s Windows Phone software. Windows Phone has been around for two years but has relatively little in the way of sales to show for it.

With Windows Phone 8, however, Microsoft now has its best chance for success. It appears that Research In Motion’s BlackBerry 10 system, which will be unveiled on Jan. 30, is RIM’s last-ditch effort at relevancy as well. I’ve used, and like using, Windows Phone 8 and I also like what I’ve seen from RIM as it has shared limited details of BlackBerry 10. But I’m unlikely to switch platforms now and based on the timing of these two products, I expect many current smartphone owners to avoid switching as well.

What can a new smartphone platform offer at this point?

There are a few reasons why I think this, with the first being the maturity of the current smartphone platforms. After five years in this current age, all the heavy lifting is done, meaning the biggest platform breakthroughs have already been made. Put another way: All of the recent incremental upgrades to iOS and Android are just that: incremental. The pace of change for a native smartphone operating system has slowed and the changes themselves are mainly small features or minor user interface tweaks.

HTC Windows Phone 8XOf course, it’s always nice to have more options. And in my opinion, some native smartphone features are actually better on Windows Phone than on Android or iOS.

The People hub in Windows Phone, for example, makes it easy to see all of your contacts, their social status, updates and photos. While the approach is sound, and perhaps even better than contact management on alternatives, one could always add Facebook sync to their phone for a similar experience. So the value of the People hub is diminished when making comparisons.

And while RIM employees I’ve spoken with tell me that the BlackBerry fan base is excited by BlackBerry 10, nobody at RIM answers me directly when I ask, “Yes, but what feature(s) will broaden the BlackBerry base?” which has been shrinking over time.

Consumers aren’t buying hardware, they’re investing in platforms

I’ve been saying this for months, if not years: The battle for smartphone dollars is only partially won or lost by the hardware itself. The longer a handset owner sticks with one platform, the more they invest in content and apps that only work with that platform. This lock-in cost — something I mused about over two years ago — is a potential barrier to switching. And for those who invested early in a platform, as much as four or five years, its highly unlikely a switch will occur. Who wants to re-buy premium apps, books, videos and other content?

To Microsoft’s credit, it has more of a platform play than Research in Motion does. Between Windows 8 and its Xbox Live service, Microsoft has a wide range of support for music, videos, games and more. So far, however, that platform strength hasn’t equated to Windows Phone sales. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has the been the best-selling console for 23 consecutive months and total lifetime unit sales hit 70 million as of Microsoft’s most recent fiscal quarter. Yet, Windows Phone shipments in the third quarter of this year are estimated to be 3.6 million handsets. To put that in perspective: 1.3 million Android devices are activated each day. And Apple just sold 2 million iPhone 5 handsets in China during this past weekend.

Maybe there won’t be a third-horse in this race after all

Barring any major smartphone advances by Microsoft or RIM now, neither appears poised to become a third horse in smartphones, at least when it comes to smartphone switchers. Bad timing and prior consumer investment are sure to hold back both platforms, at least in areas where smartphone penetration has already reached the tipping point. Could either of these do well in other regions, however?

Lumia 620

Yes, they can, but the upside appears limited in my opinion. Even in areas where the smartphone population is low, both platforms are competing against low-priced but still capable Android handsets or older, and less expensive, iPhone models. Even so, I think the idea of catering a low-cost device to first-time smartphone buyers — exactly what Nokia is doing with its Lumia 620 — is a smart play at this point. That strategy may not get you or I to switch platforms, but it could rack up sales through first-timers.

Whether you currently own a smartphone or still have an old feature phone, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts: What will it take for you to switch to or initially start with Windows Phone 8 or BlackBerry 10?

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  1. I’m a current BlackBerry user that will be probably be moving to the new BB10 system next year. I’ve given IOS, Android and WP7.5 a good try, but I always come back to BlackBerry. For my specific use-case, the instantaneous communication and alerts that a BB device provides can’t be matched yet. All I’ve seen of BB10 seems to indicate that the interface will be better for the constant email/messaging user than what IOS/Android/WP8 currently offers. But despite all this, I still agree with you completely, the ecosystem is just too mature on the two leading platforms to make a dent in them anytime soon.

    I think BB10 may find its niche audience, but in the near term I believe it will remain that way. The question is, will this niche market be enough keep RIM in business?

    1. The author is obviously an apple fan boy. How can the heavy lifting be done? Are we to go no further than this? RIM all the way.. They are bringing something new to the market and it will not be the same old blackberry. Better browser than many desk tops, tons of apps, use of android apps, awesome UI… January 30 should be a brand new start. But I forgot, it is only cool or good if Apple does it…. even when they do it poorly in their closed system.

  2. I disagree, I think the important question is if WP or for that even BB – can they reach a critical mass of switchovers to make the trend of switching go mainstream.

    Now that nokia’s share of symbian is so low, that if its WP sales increasing means some of those who left Symbian for Android or iOS are coming back or might be even first time.

    Its not a black and white statement – (just check out some recent Verge forums on critical mass of switchovers) – the question is if they are capable of reaching a crtical mass of switchovers to make it a mainstream trend.

  3. I’ve been with Android ever since Huawei released small $99 priced models that could tether (Android 2.2). I only use free apps. So I’m not tied to any platform. I’m ready to switch to Win8 with the right hardware. Not impressed with the offering at the moment.

    1. Dude, what are you waiting for in terms of hardware. I’m not planning to buy a W8 phone but the new ones out are very nice.

  4. I understand your point I’ve been with apple since the iPhone in 07 before that I had a Samsung tocco light, so I now find myself with the iPhone 5 I had the 4 and the 4s before I also have my iPad and all my music films photos pretty much all my online life is apple associated I’ve been told and read articles at how difficult it is to switch to let’s say android because apple have made it this way to keep you with them so yesterday I took the plunge and bought a nexus 4 smartphone the google android phone and its a great phone but I’m finding it extremely hard to transfer years of data(music,films so on) but I’m going to stick with this nexus and with android as its still nice to have options i wont be leaving apple as all my paid for music and films are in itunes but with blackberry they sort of got left behind and they didn’t think the large touch screen on phones would last and now there paying the price, so to sort of answer your ? Yes it’s difficult to switch operating systems that aren’t and don’t want you to go elsewhere.

    1. Not to be a Android fanboy or anything but the reason its hard to switch your data is because Apple has made it hard to switch your data.

  5. I am getting a set of BB10 phones for my family – goes well with the Playbooks and it looks like a great new OS with a twist..

  6. I disagree. Smart phones are still changing rapidly. The processors in phones are following a similar path to the one that PCs followed 15 years ago. As the processors, and other harware improve, it will open the door to new innovation. I remember thinking and reading that the PC I was buying would be good for a long time only to replace it every 3 years. I am on my 3rd smart phone and replace that every 3 years. I can think of a lot of both hardware and software improvements. Some of the changes I would like are not practical with current hardware. I also think the exact mix of phone / tablet / laptop / and desk top is still being resolved with line blurring between phone and tablet, between tablet and lap top, and even between servers and the cloud. I expect a lot more years of changes before phones become “commodocized”. I would also say that as the phone become more of a commodity, price will play a bigger roll. That will open the door for a whole new set of competitors. I hope both RIM and MS stay in the mix because I think competition will drive the innovation. I already see things in WP8 that both google and apple should copy and perhaps improve on.

  7. Christian Stewart Perry Monday, December 17, 2012

    For me, it’s a question of integration with my non-mobile digital footprint. I’m switching from iPhone to Android because of Google’s deep multi-platform integration. As a tech geek and founder, I rely extensively on Google products to run my company, and I’m frustrated with Apple’s poor integration with Google products (iCal anyone?). It’s enough to make me jump platforms, as I’ve already done on the desktop, going from a MacBook to Chromebook — because really, a blazing-fast fully-equipped web browser for $249 is about as good as it gets.

    I used to hate Microsoft with a fiery passion, but lately I’ve come around more and more to them. Perhaps it’s because they’re becoming an underdog in a field where they once reigned supreme, and acting less dickish as a result. I think they have a fighting chance at winning the coveted third horse title in the mobile space. If I were in their shoes, here’s what I would do:

    1) Build a channel partnership with Intel, who is making an aggressive push into the mobile chipset space. Microsoft and Intel have a long and close relationship in the world of PCs, and could make a formidable partnership in mobile.

    2) Focus on gaming. iPhone became a gaming platform more or less by accident. With an install base of 70 million Xbox users, why not make a mobile OS that integrates into the Xbox experience? It would distinguish the gaming platform from its Japanese rivals, drive tons of revenue by the addition of a Mobile Arcade, and open up games to endless multi-platform opportunities. Microsoft is already stepping in this direction with SmartGlass, but it could go a lot farther.

    3) Out-google Google. Make a suite of cloud apps that are so good, they get users to switch over. Gmail and Google Docs are great, but there’s no reason why Microsoft couldn’t do better — or just as good — while empowering users with a multi-channel experience that runs seamlessly across phone, desktop, tablet, and phone — and maybe even the Xbox console.

    With bazillions of dollars and some of the best engineers and product visionaries in the world, mobile is Microsoft’s game to lose.

  8. I think RIM has a chance because BBM is still popular and they have a small market share already in the US. Blackberry is popular in South America, Africa and the middle east. Rim only need to find mild success in America so keep a large market share in developing countries.

    Likewise WP is supposedly popular in Asia.

    1. RIM is toast. Their user-base didn’t wait for them. Enterprises are embracing other solutions and BYOD en masse.

      1. re: RIM is toast. Their user-base didn’t wait for them

        Their user base has been increasing by millions every year, what planet have you been living on for the past 5 years?

    2. RIM’s problem is that post-sale revenues are now necessary to make a smartphone business model work, and the regions you name won’t give them enough app sales and service revenues to subsidize the rest of the business while hardware margins fall of a cliff for everyone in 2013.

      Sure, RIM’s service business is still running at $1 billion/quarter, but it’s coming under margin pressure as the customer mix continues to shift from high-end business users to third world teens, and as Google, Apple and others provide similar service without the fees.

      Mcbeese is right – they’re toast. An asset sale at best, and in such a sale we’ll see that you can’t sell the same horse twice; their patent portfolio and their service business overlap too much to realize full value for both.

  9. I am defiently switching to windows or bb10. Apple hasn’t done anything ground breaking and nether has android. These two companies don’t warrant the higher price tags especially apple.

    1. Good for you Kevin, I did and love Windows Phone.

  10. Kevin, as a US based smartphoe user I did switch to Windows Phone (7.5). I used Android as my primary phone for 2 years – and am not religious about my smartphone platform. I just looked at what would work for me (and I hated MS Windows Mobile platform), but I saw a fresh breath of air in Windows Phone. Also the prospect of something new whihc makes my tasks easier was one consideration.

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