So. Mango is cool… but will it sell?

wp7logo_printSome sort of a flood of Mango hands on reviews released tonight, and everyone from Paul Thurrott to Gizmodo to Ina Fried at All Things D to Tom Warren at WinRumors are gushing over the new update to Windows Phone, code named Mango (WMPowerUser even took the time to assemble a list of the reviews).  And gush they should.  It looks like Microsoft is going to deliver a very compelling product, better seemingly in almost every way than the current version(s) of Windows Phone.  Paul Thurrott nailed it when he wrote (in his hands on post):

Mango is to Windows Phone as Windows 7 was to Windows Vista, an evolutionary update that somehow manages to be much more impressive than its predecessor through an amazing array of relatively minor changes. Just as Windows 7 wouldn’t have been possible without Vista, Mango wouldn’t have been possible without Windows Phone 7.

windows-vista-logo-1We’re impressed by what we’re reading about Mango, but to be honest we were (and are) impressed by Windows Phone, too (heck, we were even impressed by Vista, when it came out!).  We’re also aware of Microsoft’s track record of starting slow and pushing and pushing and pushing.  Remember how the Xbox was a laughingstock when it launched?  The parallels to Windows Phone are worth noting.  Bing doesn’t seem to be quite the brunt of jokes it once was, either, although there’s still a long way to go in that department.  So we’re not by any means counting Windows Phone out.

But sleek new features are one thing, and catching up to iPhone and Android, with little or no support from the mobile operators, and pretty much all the eggs in one Nokia basket, is quite another.  Microsoft has several hurdles to cross in order to get Windows Phone moving in the right direction.

Microsoft made a number of mistakes early on with Windows Phone, botching the upgrade process to an earlier upgrade (NoDo), and in fact there are still a few Windows Phones which haven’t been updated.  Frankly, we haven’t seen much to suggest that Mango will be handled any better, as the carriers, and not Microsoft, hold all the cards.  We wouldn’t be surprised if Mango arrives on new phones well before it’s pushed out to the admittedly meager current install base.  If that’s the case, will Microsoft be able to placate a vocal minority of early adopters left out in the cold while others are free to buy new Mango devices (ahh the joys of 2 year contracts)?  Will the negative press that could generate actually slow down sales, as it did with NoDo?

AppleEven with a better PR strategy, Microsoft is still up against a juggernaut combination of iPhone and Android.  Apple plans to unleash the iPhone 5 as early as this September, and Mango, no matter how good it looks, is going up against a well-oiled machine.  Will anyone even notice Mango in all the hoopla about iPhone 5?  Android continues to steamroll as well, and there’s a good chance that Windows Phone sales numbers are going to suffer this holiday season.  Will Windows Phone be able to survive another round of speculation on how poorly it is selling?

Best-Buy-logoThat brings us to the mobile operators.  Whether you believe there’s a conspiracy to get retailers to push Android, or whether those retailers are just poorly trained, there’s lots of evidence to show that Windows Phone doesn’t get much love on the floors of Best Buy or the local AT&T store.  Microsoft needs for retailers to make a strong push for Windows Phone, but unless something drastic happens between now and the holiday season, that’s not about to happen.

As much as we like Metro, and Windows Phone, it simply hasn’t made much of an impact.  Heck, people (including some of those retailers) still call it “Windows Mobile”.  The truth is, Windows Phone’s poor start has more to do with how Windows Phones are sold than what’s inside them.  It’s a good phone, soon to be made much better.

So that leaves us a little bleak and bleary eyed about the prospects for this season, but maybe that’s all part of the plan.  Next year, with Nokia on board (if they can hold out that long), perhaps some good Mango press and a continued pressure by Microsoft on the carriers and retailers, and things may be looking up.  IDC, for one, predicts good things to come for Windows Phone, but there’s a lot of work to do before then.

In the meantime, we’ll be anxiously awaiting our Mango update, and even scheming our way towards a first gen Nokia Windows Phone.  Hopefully we won’t be the only ones.