Microsoft’s efforts to become relevant in a smartphone market dominated by rivals such as Apple and Google appear to paying off: Windows Phone 7 sales have topped 1.5 million since they began early last month.
Microsoft , which has been conspicuously quiet about Windows Phone 7 numbers in the face of Google boasting of 300,000 Android phone activations a day and other smartphone survey numbers emerging almost daily, for the first time Tuesday publicly stated how many Windows Phone 7 devices its manufacturing partners have sold to carriers and retailers (this isn’t quite the same as sales to end users but at least it’s something).
“We are pleased that phone manufacturers sold over 1.5 million phones in the first six weeks, which helps build customer momentum and retail presence,” said Achim Berg, vice president of business and marketing for Windows Phones in a Microsoft-produced Q&A on its website. “We know we have tough competition, and this is a completely new product. We’re in the race – it’s not a sprint but we are certainly gaining momentum and we’re in it for the long run.”
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Microsoft partners include AT&T, T-Mobile, Dell, Samsung, HTC and others.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made clear at the time of the Windows Phone 7 introduction that selling lots of phones would be crucial to the company being successful on the mobile front.
“Job one here will be selling a lot of phones, and if we sell a lot of phones, good things are going to happen,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
“With a new platform, you have to look at a couple of things, first of all customer satisfaction, ” Berg said. “Another is phone manufacturer sales — phones being bought and stocked by mobile operators and retailers on their way to customers. We are pleased that phone manufacturers sold over 1.5 million phones in the first six weeks.”
In other words, Windows Phone 7 manufacturers have sold more than 1.5 million devices to retailers and wireless carriers, not customers. So it’s not clear how many people have actually plunked down hard-earned cash for a piece of Windows Phone 7 magic. Manufacturer sales to stores are important, because they indicate the confidence retailers have in the new mobile platform. But the real test of Windows Phone 7 popularity will be how many customers buy the device.
Phone industry watchers estimated that just 40,000 Windows Phone 7 units sold the first day they went on sale.
Because Microsoft isn’t talking yet about customer sales, it’s hard to compare its numbers to other vendors’ numbers. Apple, for example, made the million sales mark with its first iPhone after 74 days, according to a recent PC World analysis of smartphone makers hitting the magical million sales mark. Of course smartphones have become a lot more mainstream over the past few years as well, making such comparisons even trickier.
While Windows Phone 7 devices have received fairly positive reviews, industry watchers have remained skeptical about whether Microsoft’s latest mobile phone effort is just too little too late in that Apple and Google have already started to win the hearts and minds of not just consumers but also business customers. Not to mention that RIM and its BlackBerry still hold sway in many organizations.
Microsoft’s Berg says the company’s “Really?” ads (questioned by some) have been different and well accepted, helping to fuel early sales.
The company’s strategy for ensuring a slew of useful apps would accompany the first Windows Phone 7 devices also has likely been a boon for Microsoft. Berg says there are now more than 4,000 apps in its marketplace, up from about 1,000 at the start.
That’s nothing compared to more than 300,000 for the iPhone and iPad, or around 100,000 for Android. Nevertheless, 4,000 apps for Phone 7 means most of the big name apps that you’d need are likely available on Microsoft’s new smartphones — except for Angry Birds, of course.
The most recent batch of smartphone market numbers generally pre-dated the Windows Phone 7’s rollout, so at least for now Apple and others remain on top as measured by such factors as customer satisfaction and ad share.
Berg also said Microsoft is going to stick with Windows Phone 7 “for the long run,” and that Microsoft will soon be releasing the “first of several [software] updates in the next couple of months.”
It may not be clear how many people are actually buying Windows Phone 7, but no matter what the platform’s popularity ends up being in the next year, it’s clear Microsoft intends to invest in Phone 7 development for a long time to come.
With notes from Ian Paul