Is Windows Phone 7 Doomed?

Microsoft is betting that Windows Phone 8 (homescreens seen here) will lead it into the future.

Is Windows Phone 7 doomed?

The answer, of course, is yes: when Microsoft announced in June that Windows Phone 7 apps won’t run on the upcoming Windows Phone 8, followed by company executives refusing to discuss any Windows Phone 7 software updates beyond this fall’s 7.8, you could practically hear the last coffin-nail settling into its hole.

Windows Phone 8 will share a kernel, file system, graphics support, and other elements with Windows 8, and both systems are widely expected to debut in time for this year’s holiday shopping season. Developers will have the ability to port apps between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 with only a moderate level of work (or so it’s been promised). “This puppy’s good for the long haul,” Greg Sullivan, Windows Phone senior project manager, said in an interview the day after the Windows Phone 8 announcement.

He also claimed that Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8 early in order to prepare third-party developers, whose apps will help determine whether the platform eventually finds traction with consumers and businesses.

But where does that leave Windows Phone 7, which, despite lagging well behind Apple’s iOS and Google Android in market-share, had recently enjoyed a small uptick in sales thanks to a massive marketing effort by Nokia? And speaking of Nokia, the Finnish phone-maker largely abandoned homegrown mobile operating systems such as Symbian to throw its weight behind Windows Phone, specifically the current Lumia series—how will Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 decision affect it?

“I don’t know why they felt the need to announce this so early or in the way they did,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, wrote in an email. “The announcement should crater current sales and Nokia is already on life support. They could have just talked about the 7.8 coming upgrade folks can get on their phones and saved Win Phone 8’s announcement until the hardware is ready.”

Indeed, by announcing Windows Phone 8 so early, Microsoft risks incurring the wrath of the Osborne effect, in which unveiling a future product dooms existing ones in the marketplace. The effect is named after Osborne Computer Corporation, which in 1983 revealed a lineup of next-generation computers well ahead of their release date; the popular belief is that sales for existing Osborne systems tumbled off the proverbial cliff as a result (subsequent research has thrown the veracity of the legend into question).

Windows Phone 7.8 will include some of the features meant for Windows Phone 8, including the ability to resize the home-screen tiles linked to applications. Sullivan suggested that hardware OEMs would continue to support the platform, but refused to comment on a Windows Phone 7.x roadmap further into the future.

Even if Windows Phone 7 sales plunge, they might have far to fall before hitting rock bottom. Analytics firm comScore placed Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market at 4 percent in April 2012, down from 4.4 percent in January—and well behind Google (50.8 percent), Apple (31.4 percent), and Research In Motion (11.6 percent).

Microsoft might figure that, with those sorts of numbers, it might as well effectively restart its whole smartphone quest—Windows Phone 8 as the reset of Windows Phone 7, itself a reset of Windows Mobile. Microsoft can only hope its “shared core” idea gains traction this time around.


Image: Microsoft