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Microsoft's Betamax Windows Phone OS

Analyst firm IDC says Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS is going nowhere.

According to the latest IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone tracker, Microsoft’s phone OS has just 2.2 per cent market share. That in 2015. By 2019 it will add another 0.1 per cent giving it a total 2.3 per cent of the mobile market.

IDC says despite all the work Microsoft is putting into the phones it doesn’t expect the company to sell many more.

Nothing Microsoft does changes this

Even the company’s push into the phone market low-end isn’t helping. Windows Phone’s average selling price is just US$148. That’s way below Apple’s average of US$687. It’s about two-thirds of the $219 Android phones get on average.

We already knew the phones were a problem. Earlier this year Microsoft wrote off US$7.5 billion of the US$9 billion it paid to buy Nokia.

By then Nokia was the only significant Windows Phone device maker. Part of the original deal include cash, so the write down valued the Nokia business at next to nothing.

Technical triumph, sales disaster

In technical terms Windows Phone 8 was a triumph. It brought a crisp, clear interface at a time Android was a disorderly mess. Windows phones are easier for non-geeks to use and understand than Android devices. Users swear they are more productive. This squares with my experience.

The plumbing is good and Windows Phone integrates social media services like Facebook and Twitter. It also played well with the rest of Microsoft’s world.

For a time, a Windows Phone coupled with a Windows computer was a powerful combination.

Like Sony’s Betamax video tape standard Windows Phone offered superior technology. But like Betamax it was defeated by externalities.

Although there were many great third-party Windows Phone apps, it could not match Android or iOS. Developers prefer to invest time farming more lucrative pastures.

Many of the blockbuster apps never made it to Windows Phone. Or if they did, they would turn up in a non-standard form.

Count the apps

Microsoft had great versions of its key apps, including Office. Yet it bowed to the inevitable creating Android and iOS versions.

The Betamax moment passed in a blink of an eye. Within 18 months of offering a bright new alternative phone OS, Windows Phone 8 was roadkill on the information superhighway.

My analogy breaks down at this point. Sony’s tape standard went on being better than VHS for over a decade. You just couldn’t watch many movies on it.

Slow to evolve

Hardware stays the same for a long time, software changes rapidly. Android and iOS moved on. Windows Phone has been slower to evolve.

When I last looked at Windows Phone it had gone from being at least the equal of Android and iOS to a generation or more behind. At least in terms of usability and suitability to task.

IDC says by 2019 Android will have 82.6 per cent market share and Apple will be at 14.1 per cent. Comparisons between those two operating systems is nothing like VHS and Betamax.