By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 10:02 am
Lots of buzz on the Web today about a fascinating question: Why isn’t Windows Phone catching on? You can read thoughts from Robert Scoble, MG Siegler, and former Windows Phone honcho Charlie Kindel, among others. Everybody has a different set of theories.
And Daring Fireball’s John Gruber makes a parenthetical remark that I find intriguing:
(And, as I’ve said before, I think the “Windows” brand hurts them here. Windows Phone 7 doesn’t sound like a new platform. It sounds like an old one. They should have called it Metro 1.0.)
Windows Phone’s market failure to date surely stems from a confluence of obstacles rather than one overriding issue. But there’s no denying that “Windows Phone 7” and “Windows Phone 7.5” are willfully mundane monikers for operating systems that aren’t the least bit mundane. They suggest business as usual, when what Microsoft actually did–rather bravely–was to start from scratch.
(Microsoft’s rebranding of Windows Mobile as Windows Phone may have had some significance in the company’s own mind, but it was way too subtle to matter to the masses, or even to people who care about this stuff; to this day, I keep accidentally typing “Windows Mobile” when I mean “Windows Phone.”)
Normally, I’m wary about companies ditching well-known brands; it’s far easier to stretch perceptions than to start over. (That’s why, when I was editor of PC World, I never would have advocated for changing its name to something with a more 21st-century feel.) In this case, though, it’s worth wondering: Would more people take a look at Windows Phone if it were called Metro, or at least something without “Windows” in it?
We’ll never know. And we don’t know whether Microsoft seriously considered such an option, or did any market research on it. After the ill-fated journey known as Zune–not to mention the Kin meltdown–it may have been wary about creating all-new brands. And it may still think that Windows users the world over are at least slightly more likely to consider Windows Phone because of its name.
But I’m inclined to think that a new name would have made sense. It would have made a statement; it would have made the new software sound more like an iPhone-level big deal rather than an incremental update aimed at Windows Mobile users. It wouldn’t have had a meaningful effect on market share all by itself, but it would have gotten things off to a better start.
Of course, Microsoft being Microsoft, it’s not out of the question that it might change Windows Phone’s name yet. But there’s no way to rewrite history and get the big-bang effect that would have resulted from an all-new Microsoft mobile OS with an all-new name.
Footnote: As far as I know, Microsoft hasn’t stated that Windows 8 will ship under the name Windows 8; it’s still a code name. It would be utterly stunning if that radical upgrade shipped with a name that didn’t have the word “Windows” in it. Unthinkable, really, giving how important it is that Microsoft convince painfully conservative corporate customers to give Windows 8 a try. Even so, it’s fun to toy with the notion: What if Windows 8 wasn’t called Windows?