Category Archives: Nokia

The Windows Phone app gap

Much has been written in the past about Windows Phone’s lack of apps compared with iOS and Android. Both Nokia and Microsoft have responded in the past with claims that quality and not quantity is what matters in an app store. Both arguments represent over-simplifications, and neither accurately captures the reality of what’s going on with the Windows Phone app store and its competitiveness with Android and iOS. This post is a summary of one of the major sections of a new report on the state of Windows Phone published by Jackdaw Research this week, which examines this question among others in depth. The report is available for free here, and I encourage interested readers to download it and read the whole thing.

The quantity gap

Windows Phone does suffer from a quantity gap versus both Android and iOS, which are essentially neck and neck in the app store stakes. On the one hand, Microsoft has done well to get out of the gate quickly and get a good number of apps on the platform in a short space of time – the chart below shows the number of apps on each of the three major platforms within the first 15 quarters following launch:

Major platforms first 15 quartersThe problem, of course, is that Windows Phone isn’t competing against those platforms 15 quarters from their launch – they launched considerably earlier, and the current situation is much less favorable:

Apps available in major storesWindows Phone continues to lag the other two major app stores (and even Apple’s iPad-specific list of apps) considerably, and the gap is widening rather than narrowing.

The quality gap

The frequent response from Nokia (before its acquisition by Microsoft) and from Microsoft itself has been that Android and iOS have thousands of apps no-one needs or uses, and that the real question is one of quality rather than quantity. But the problem is that Windows Phone suffers from a lack of quality as well as a quantity problem. There are several ways to look at that, so I’ll run through a few of them. Continue reading

Quick thoughts: on Microsoft’s IFA announcements

Half the tech world is making announcements this week at the IFA trade show in Germany. A couple of other companies are making announcements elsewhere (Motorola today/tomorrow in Chicago, Apple next week in Cupertino). Samsung, Sony and other companies’ IFA announcements have received plenty of coverage, but Microsoft’s have flown somewhat under the radar, at least in part because there was no new flagship device. And yet I think there’s more significance in Microsoft’s IFA announcements than people realize. Here’s why.

Reconciling “devices and services”: a third way

There’s been significant discussion about how to reconcile Microsoft’s continued focus on both cross-platform services and making its own devices (this is a topic I’ve previously tackled here). The question has been: does Microsoft distinguish its services on the basis that they work just as well on any device, or its devices on the basis that its services work best on them? This week’s announcements suggest a third possibility: Microsoft will distinguish its own devices through commercial bundling of its services at attractive terms in a way others can’t match. For example, bundling in three months of Skype international calling with one of its new phones. We’ll see more of this sort of thing going forward both with Lumia smartphones and Surface tablets. Incorporating Nokia into Microsoft made this sort of thing much easier, and it will fully take advantage of that.

Smartphone positioning beyond low end remains challenging

Microsoft was smart to sit out this round of flagship phone announcements – Nokia’s flagships haven’t sold well anyway, but going head to head against new entrants from Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Apple and others seems particularly foolhardy. But Microsoft’s big challenge is that it’s been unable to establish a solid set of differentiators in the mid and high end, even as its “cheap, but still good” strategy makes big inroads at the low end. Its 500-series devices are its top sellers in almost all its major markets, and that’s useful for scale purposes, but it doesn’t help at the high end (and in fact may hurt if the Lumia brand gets a reputation for being a budget marque).

Branding strategy is confused but should be reconciled soon

The IFA announcements also highlight some brand confusion caused by the co-existence of the Nokia and Microsoft marques on the devices announced. The two smartphones are dubbed Nokia Lumia, while the accessories are the Nokia Wireless Charging Plate and the Microsoft Screen Sharing solution. The Nokia brand is supposed to go away soon except for low-end phones (since it belongs to the rump of the Nokia corporation), but that hasn’t happened yet. And yet Nokia needs to do more than just replace the Lumia brand – it ideally needs to reconcile its various hardware brands, at the very least Surface and Lumia.

Microsoft Screen Sharing has promise but not just yet

The Microsoft Screen Sharing device flew almost completely below the radar, but has in fact been heavily trailed for months. It’s a Chromecast equivalent, but at an Fire TV / Roku price point, and that’s its first big problem. But it’s symbolic in that it’s Microsoft’s first foray into the living room for non-gamers. The second big problem is that Microsoft has done very little to promote the Miracast support in its devices until this point, mostly because it hasn’t had a companion device to sell. But now that it does, the challenge will be educating existing device owners that their devices are compatible. Microsoft Screen Sharing may become a Google Cast / AirPlay equivalent brand which we’ll see show up in more places now, and I think Microsoft should absolutely play that up. But it should also cut that price significantly and/or enable carriers to bundle it for free with Lumia devices.

I’ll be publishing more on Windows Phone in the coming weeks as I have an in-depth report on the state of the platform coming shortly, though I may follow Microsoft’s lead in waiting until after the IFA / Apple hubbub dies down…

Google and Microsoft go in opposite directions

With Google’s announcement that it’s offloading the Motorola smartphone business onto Lenovo, we face the intriguing picture of Microsoft and Google apparently moving in opposite directions, with one acquiring a handset business and the other divesting one. What explains this difference between the two companies’ strategies? Is one right, and the other wrong, or does it reflect a fundamental difference in their businesses?

The reality is that, since everyone else now gives them away for free, Microsoft essentially captures 100% of its two core businesses of productivity software and operating systems, and both are likely to shrink. Software may be eating the world from a functionality point of view, but hardware is eating the world from the point of view of revenues. The global market for consumer hardware (smartphones, tablets, PCs and gaming consoles) is about twenty times larger than Microsoft’s revenues from Windows and Office combined. And that explains its organic and inorganic forays into hardware as well as its Xbox business. If you have to choose between hardware and software to build a business in the consumer market, hardware is the way to go. Between Surface, Xbox and Nokia smartphones, Microsoft has around a $10 billion annual revenue stream from hardware already, and Surface and Nokia should grow well in the coming years. 

On the other hand, those aren’t the only two parts of the consumer technology market where you can make money. Consumer content and online services are another massive and growing market, and that’s where Google plays through search and advertising. Google’s addressable market is growing rapidly as the online population expands and as more and more of the worldwide advertising market shifts to channels in which Google competes, namely online and mobile. As such, Google doesn’t face the same existential challenge Microsoft does.

The key to Google’s future growth is threefold: the ongoing competitiveness of its online offerings (hence the DeepMind acquisition), the ongoing success of Android as a platform for Google services on mobile devices, and a continued ability to create vast data sets about its users and about the world (hence the Nest acquisition). The acquisition of Motorola was clearly intended to serve its goals around Android, whether by bolstering its patent position, providing leverage over its OEMs or pioneering features and functionality that would become part of the overall Android experience. But if Google believed it could turn Motorola around, it failed hopelessly. At this point there’s really nothing left to be gained by hanging onto Motorola. At its present scale, and with the dominance of Samsung in Android smartphones, there was no way Motorola on its own could ever have achieved the significant growth or margins that would have allowed to contribute to, rather than detract from, Google’s overall financial performance. It had become a millstone around Google’s neck, pure and simple, and had to be cast off.  If Google was able to extract some concessions from Samsung in return for the sale of Motorola, so much the better.

As the smartphone and tablet markets grow, Google benefits without having any presence in hardware because the majority of Android devices carry embedded Google services. But for Microsoft to benefit more than marginally, it has to be in the hardware business. Both companies see the same trends, but their positions in the market have led them – rightly, I believe – to radically different conclusions about whether they need to be in the hardware business.

As for Lenovo, they’re now in a very strong position to become the third major company in the consumer hardware business after Samsung and Apple. Last quarter they were number four in smartphones, number four in tablets and number one in PCs. It’s one of the few companies in the hardware business that’s grown profits over the last couple of years and the only one to have grown shipments across all three categories. The biggest challenge for Chinese vendors in the smartphone business has been moving beyond the white label business as HTC did a number of years ago. Both Huawei and ZTE have struggled to establish their own brands in the major carriers’ postpaid channels.  But Lenovo will be buying both carrier distribution and a known brand, which should dramatically simplify the process. Moving manufacturing to its facilities in China and taking advantage of domestic scale will also be hugely beneficial. Assuming regulatory approvals come quickly and Lenovo is able to make a quick start, it could quickly leapfrog much more established brands like Sony and LG and take a prominent position in the market.

Calculating Microsoft’s Windows Phone revenue

I was going through Microsoft’s 10-Q for the quarter ended December 2013 when I discovered that, for the first time as far as I can tell, there’s enough information in the discussion of the results to derive a figure for its Windows Phone bucket for the quarter. In fact, there’s enough information to derive the number for three other quarters as well. Armed with this information, it may be possible to have a pretty good attempt to estimate revenues for other quarters and therefore the run-rate for this business. Let me walk through those numbers first. The key sentence in the 10-Q is this:

Windows Phone revenue increased $340 million or 50%, reflecting higher sales of Windows Phone licenses and an increase in mobile phone patent licensing revenue.

There are two things to note here:

  • First, the company gives both a percentage and a number for the first time (it’s previously only ever given numbers without percentages), which are enough to calculate last year’s and this year’s number. If $340 million is 50% of the number for Q4 calendar 2012, then the number for that quarter was $680 million, and the number for Q4 calendar 2013 is $1.02 billion 1.
  • Secondly, Microsoft makes clear (as it has in previous quarters) that what it describes as Windows Phone revenue actually includes its patent licensing revenue too, e.g. from Android devices. So this isn’t just license fees from Windows Phone OEMs, but that’s one chunk of it and patent licensing makes up for the rest.

A couple of paragraphs down we get this additional information for the six months ended December 2013, i.e. the third and fourth calendar quarters combined:

Windows Phone revenue increased $440 million or 46%

With the information previously given, we can now deduce revenue figures for two additional quarters with reasonable accuracy: $277 million for calendar Q3 2012, and $377 million for calendar Q3 2013. In the 10-Q for calendar Q3 2013 Microsoft said that Windows Phone revenue increased by $102 million, which more or less matches up with the $100 million difference in my numbers, suggesting we’re on the right track here. Digging back through other previous filings, there are quite a few instances where Microsoft gave a growth figure for Windows Phone in dollar terms, which helps get a sense of overall growth rates and allows us to fill in some gaps in between these numbers. I’ve had to play around with the numbers quite a bit here, but at this point my numbers fit exactly with the growth numbers provided, so I feel pretty good about them. Here are my estimates for the last ten quarters: Continue reading


  1. When using percentages to make these calculations, your results might be a couple of million dollars off, but they’ll be very close.