WP7: Not a runaway hit (but not a disaster, either)

Microsoft announces 1.5 million Windows Phone 7 devices sold to carriers

If Microsoft's initial sales figures for Windows Phone 7 are to be believed, Redmond's re-entry into the smartphone wars is proving to be, if not a smash hit, far from the disaster many people were expecting. Microsoft sold more than 1.5 million WP7 smartphones since their October debut, according to Achim Berg, vice president of business and marketing for Windows Phones. Those sales, it should be noted, are from manufacturers to carriers, not carriers to consumers. (Also see: Analyst: WP7 threatens Android after "successful" launch and Nokia joins Microsoft in blowing smartphone holiday shopping sales)

In a feature on the Microsoft News Center (a Microsoft PR site), Berg says: "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." Again, he's talking about smartphones going to the carriers as inventory to be sold to customers. Under some withering questioning by the hard-hitting "journos" at MNC, Berg conceded that "yes," those sales figures do indeed meet Redmond expectations. Further, even brighter days are ahead for this "different kind of phone." We shall see. That 1.5 million in devices sold is decent. But just decent. Not the disaster many people had sensed was in the making, nor a runaway success. And Microsoft hardly is spinning it as an immediate win. In fact, the company is making a concerted effort to focus on the long-term success of WP7. Check out how many times Berg makes that point: -- "we’re in it for the long run." -- "Measuring for success is more long term than short term." -- "we are here for the long run" Enough with the "long" this, "long" that! I believe them already! After all, making your phone available to only a couple of carriers (thus losing potential sales from Verizon and Sprint) during the holiday season doesn't exactly scream marketing urgency, especially when all you're hearing from your ground forces is that iPhones and Android phones are flying out of the stores. There also is an interesting psychological ploy at work here, a classic case of lowering expectations. By focusing on the long term for WP7, Microsoft doesn't have to respond to every quarterly smartphone sales report. If WP7 exceeds market share estimates, Redmond will be "pleased" (but not surprised) by the numbers. If its smartphone has trouble gaining traction, Microsoft calmly reaffirms its "long-run" strategy. And then panics behind closed doors.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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