Blog Post

Why many are unlikely to switch to Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10

The smartphone industry is at an interesting point in time. In 2007, Apple’s(s aapl) iPhone practically invented — or re-invented, if you will — the current smartphone age with a full capacitive touchscreen and support for mobile apps. Google(s goog) 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(s hpq) and Nokia’s(s nok) 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(s msft) 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(s rimm) 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(s fb) 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?

73 Responses to “Why many are unlikely to switch to Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10”

  1. There will be no third horse.

    Even more disturbing, there may not be a second horse.

    This race now has a clear winner, and that’s Google. Already far ahead in phones, watch it overtake Apple in tablets too. The percentage of Apple’s marketshare is declining. Where will that end? It’s possible that Apple could eventually be knocked out of the race altogether.

    One school of thought is that Apple can run its phone and tablet business like it ran the Mac business, and survive with a small percent of the market. But that was in the PC era. Now the dynamics are different. People will migrate to the platform that gives them the most, and much of that data comes from crowdsourcing. The new dynamic may make it unviable for a platform to have less than 10% market share.

    The Windows Phone 8 handsets are going to fail, just like Windows Phone 7 did. Microsoft suffered Apple envy, and tried to copy everything Apple did, when its real enemy was Google.

    Golden rule #1: You can’t beat an open incumbent (ie Google) with a system that is more closed (ie Windows Phone 8).

    Golden rule #2: This war is about smartphones. Win in smartphones and you’ll win in tablets. Without a winning smartphone platform, you can’t win in tablets. Microsoft is approaching from the reverse direction, which won’t work. Microsoft has a top-down approach, trying to use its PC monopoly to win in tablets, by forcing the mobile user interface on users. It won’t work. It can’t work.

    And apart from Microsoft making the wrong platform for the wrong purposes, the biggest reason for Microsoft’s failure is timing, as the article said. Microsoft is six years late.

    • Tano Kram

      It’s funny, in the scenario you describe, with the cloud and the web mattering so much, the best way for APPL and MSFT and AMZN to survive is to unite against Google. Wouldn’t that be funny. THen again, I’ve had it with Google’s attitude, I’m using DuckDuckGO now. Not into any tech company acting like the CIA and FBI rolled into one, and having the tude to match. Just stop going to Google, and they’re screwing up Youtube as well. The brouhaha about Instagram is a perfect example. People are tired of these aholes thinking they own the world.

      I would say Apple should go back to the power users that saved their bacon, but that market isnt what it used to be either. Personally, I’ll find it hilarious if all these tech companies drive their business to such tiny profit margins, they fade away like all the industries they’ve helped to destroy, and maybe those industries can resurrect their value with these tech murderers down on the floor.

  2. Current BB User

    I am a current corporate BB user and in the market for a new phone. I waited for the new iPhone and while it is a beautiful device it was underwhelming when test driving for a day. I stopped at a VZW store last week to look at the new WP8 and stood in line to be helped behind 3 people switching from iPhone to WP8. I knew one of the people from a local store that she worked at and asked why she was switching. She said because her plan was up and WP8 just felt better. iOS felt old and tired and operated similarly to all of the other choices. While I agree that switching will be less common it is happening. Choice and variety are great and we need it to foster innovation which will drive economic advance.

  3. Stefano Leva

    WP and BB10 are going to have hard times to reach one of them or each a 10% of the actual market but without doubts they’re coming out with great products.
    Two alternatives are just about to launch their products too: Firefox and Jolla. They are strongly pushing to get support and to get adopted from carriers as they are some ofthe few companies right now who can in some terms compete with Apple and Google’s platforms by promoting, offering or selling services, apps and contents online.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if telecom giants like Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, TMobile and others start to sell own branded phones which won’t rely anymore on Google’s Android kind of walled garden in the coming future, starting to support the open structure of HTML5 (Firefox OS) or Qt-MeeGo (Sailfish OS) that Mozilla and Jolla are soon going to offer.
    It’s, in the short term, unlikely that this platforms can damage iOS/Android actual world but they could surely slow future BlackBerry or Windows Phone adoption.

    • Susan Antony

      They will have BBM which will attract people but in addition, their new User Experience will not turn off people who like BBM. Many BBM fans switched because the rest of the phone had gone stale. That was their downfall and it will be eliminated with their new phones next year.

  4. architect95125

    Kevin – I agree that current iOS and Android users will most likely not switch to WP or BB10. However there’re still a huge number of feature phone users in the world that may be attracted to them. That’s the market segment that BB and WP should go after, not the current Smartphone users.

  5. For me all it took to switch was curiosity; iOS had become stale for me and technology is best when combined with a sense of joy.

    It’s lack of apps does surprisingly little harm to Windows phone 8 as things like the unified concepts of “people” and “messages as well as the lively interfaces and innovative live tiles make this phone genuinely fun (and effective) to use.

    I’m using the Nokia Lumia 820 and i wont be switching back – although i do now feel a sense of duty to convert as many people as I can to ensure the platform succeeds.

  6. This article lacks the depth for such comparison of smart phone. RIM & MS can’t compare in same ground. Don’t see any credible facts but only an individual’s opinion. Some opinions are clearly arguable and wrong. MS have wide platform across devices and Android will fail if they don’t expand beyond mobile platform.

  7. Maybe Kevin you are missing over the number 80 million and growing. I am a blackberry user and will definitely move to bb10. It is too early to say that bb10 will challenge apple’s iOS or Android OS for glory but one thing is sure it can definitely hold third place in smartphone place. BlackBerry 10 is new and fresh. Apple and Android have peaked and are lacking innovation.

  8. As on a consumer point of view ,,the only thing that matters is the pricing of the products ….give what you have and price it right on a consumer scale and the competitive market u r indulging in ….BHAM!! YOU have the market share you were looking for…..its a simple logic …that most of the big shots miss out .

    This particular option was … the point of concern on many surveys that has been conducted.
    No matter which platform or hardware u choose the …its still going to be outdated sooner or later :so whats the point in pricing it sky high …and loosing it out to the competitors.

    P.S : Have been using ios untill recently when got hands on galaxy s3…:)

  9. RMathis77

    Ive used iOS android and WP I just upgraded to WP8 having used all three for about a year each I LOVE windows phone! so much more efficient than the other OS’s

    People ask me why I like WP instead of IOS or Android I say this phone is not my “toy” it is my life! meaning I dont need to be tinkering with it all day like many people do.

    I use it to do what I need to do for work or communication. Yes a few games when I need a little break but I can use my phone to get what I need accomplished faster!

  10. With an existing base of 80 million subscribers, it is possible for trade up sales to be substantial. It might make for a very successful launch (in terms of numbers) without necessarily increasing market share in the first year. I’m good for one.

  11. My issue with Android is the apparent instability of the OS. Force closes, instances of the OS bogging down, sporadic updates, all of this has combined to not make me “hate” Android but instead has driven me to want to embrace a more put together platform such as WP8.

  12. Jared Westfall

    There are people invested in the MS platforms. Gaming can draw them in if they can leverage the phone and Xbox. I prefer the windows interface and I like and use other MS products already including a Win RT tablet and WIN 8 computers. I gave my Mom and inlaws Windows Phones because they are so easy to use. Also there is still the Enterprise. They need to recapture it by making Exchange and other enterprise software do great things for their phones. Make the phones so easy to deploy. BB has an issue in the added server costs,

    Its time for MS to look at the whole picture, the whole portfolio f products. Make them work seamlessly together and leverage the heck out of them.

  13. this is a very poor article. you are commenting on a platform’s relevancy when you don’t even know what’s in it. I am shocked how did the editors allow you to publish this.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

      • Paul Fezziwig

        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?

    • 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.

  17. Christian Stewart Perry

    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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

    • 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.