Low-end Asian market: not for current Windows Phone

Background: I'm a college student in Southeast Asia region who likes to watch the mobile market in my region.

The recent launch of Nokia Lumia 610 and low-end ZTE was clearly meant for our market, as mentioned by a couple of Microsoft's executives back in MWC. Roughly $250-300 off contract, at first it seems that it's greatly positioned to capture the booming low-end market comprised of people wanting to buy their first smart phone. The hardware is good, and high-quality multi-touch screen will surely appeal to many.

However, the hardware is not the problem. The software is.

The current Windows Phone OS paradigm is too far removed from the culture of mobile phone usage around here. Let me elaborate further based on my observation:

  1. Drag and Drop

    This may seem ridiculous, but most of us are simply aren't used to the concept of synchronization. To use WP7, you still need Zune for filling the phone with photos, videos, and music. This run against the norm of simply dragging and dropping, old-fashioned manual copying of files. Blackberry does this. Android does this. Symbian Nokia does this. Wildly popular chinese junkphone even does this. Of course iPhone doesn't, but here's why people doesn't mind: the iPhones are rarely sold on contract here. Only rich people buys it, and of course rich people are generally more tech-savvy and don't mind to follow the process.

    In my home country (Indonesia, the largest market in Asia after China and India), here's how songs get into your low-end phone: you go to the nearest prepaid voucher vendor (yes, everything is prepaid), you copy (illegal) songs from his PC at $0.10 per song to your phone. Alternatively, you copy it from your friend's phone via Bluetooth.

    You can't do that on Windows Phone.

    Sure, at least you can send pictures via e-mail, which bring us to the second point...

  2. E-mail isn't popular

    E-mail in WP is a very pleasant experience, on par with iPhone and Android client. Some people might argue that BlackBerry is still the king of e-mail, which runs nicely with the fact that it's the smartphone king in southeast asia market (25-50% marketshare for smartphones).

    Except that people don't mainly use it for e-mail. SMS is still the king.

    People here text a lot, now that telco operator are racing to the bottom in the price war. Texting is almost free and don't eat the precious data plan (500MB per month is the reasonable max here). MMS is roughly 5-10 times more expensive than SMS, and most people don't have open their inbox other than for Facebook and Twitter registration process. WhatsApp is gaining huge traction for its simplicity, which app is painfully lagging in its current WP version. We haven't even touched the India market (lowest telecommunication rate in the world) where there's this culture of not even bothering to send SMS (they simply missed-calling instead).

    But for me, the most shameful aspect isn't even written above.

  3. Wallpapers & Customizability

    Metro is the most fantastic user interface design revolution in the last 10 years of mobile computing. Sadly, its simplistic, highly coherent and integrated philosophy means that it sacrifices a popular aspect called personalization. Other than in the lockscreen and Me tile, you can't put the picture of your mom, boyfriend, or cats anywhere else without intending to view photos in the gallery. You also can't send ringtones via bluetooth (see my 1st point), and if you don't link it to your facebook it becomes a very very lonely home screen. People here loves comic-sans infused wallpapers and obnoxious ringtones, and they would love to get it without paying for apps that consumes data plan (see my 2nd point).

So there goes my anecdotal but verifiable observation. Most people (me included) raves on seeing the beautiful Segoe typeface against bright blue tiles on the black screen, and complains about the unexciting hardware (apart from Lumia 800/900) and lackluster promotion. For us, the hardware is okay. The promotion is already really good.The problem is the incompatible mobile culture itself.

Since Microsoft is the newest entrant to this market, we can't blame the culture, thus the problem is, sadly, on the too-sophisticated nature of the software platform itself.