Over the next month, two new Windows Phones are set to go on sale in the UK: the colourful Nokia Lumia 710 and budget priced ZTE Tania. Neither alone will likely change the status quo at gunpoint, but they point to an extremely useful plan B that Microsoft has been working on: getting the price – and the experience – down to compete with the cheapest Android smartphones out there right now.

Right now, both Apple’s iOS and Google’s mobile operating system, Android, are dominating the smartphone space. As of November 2011, Android devices made up 46.9 percent of the US smartphone market, according to ComScore, while Apple’s iPhone accounted for a solid 28.7 percent. Between August and October however, Microsoft’s Windows Phone (and older Windows Mobile) percentage actually fell, from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent.

Microsoft needs to up those numbers urgently, and while flagship devices likes the Nokia Lumia 800 are a good start, they’re not going to change the situation drastically overnight. But budget Windows Phones? They really could.

Even though it seems like everyone and their dog has a smartphone these days, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a growing market. Actually, make that mushrooming. Mobile phone sales are shooting up, and within that, smartphones are becoming more important than ever, growing 74 percent in demand year on year according to Gartner’s August 2011 findings. Leading the charge? Budget Android phones from the likes of Huawei and ZTE, who, as we’ve reported before, are leaping up the ranks of the world’s biggest mobile phone peddlers.

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“Smartphone sales continued to rise at the expense of feature phones,” says Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner. “Consumers in mature markets are choosing entry-level and midrange Android smartphones over feature phones, partly due to carriers’ and manufacturers’ promotions.”

And there you have it: people aren’t buying these phones because they run Android, but because they’re cheap and their network is shoving them their way.

It’s hardly surprising – for the most part, they’re not very good. Take for example, three that I have on my desk at the moment, the Huawei Blaze, the HTC Explorer and the Samsung Galaxy Y.

The surprisingly thin Blaze can now be had for around £60 on Pay As You Go, but comes with a truly awful default keyboard pre-installed, and runs on a paltry 256MB of memory. The Samsung Galaxy Y unforgivably uses a low-res QVGA screen – a resolution many Android apps don’t even support. And the HTC Explorer? Well, despite its similarities to the Blaze, it’s twice the price. And twice as ugly.

By contrast, you know what you’re getting with Windows Phone: Microsoft lays out the minimum specs. That can be a curse with a flagship phone (how to tell one apart from the other?), but it’s a guarantee of a minimum standard of satisfaction – crucially important in the area of the market crowded by cheap Android phones with tiny screens and a load of bloatware installed on them. With Windows Phone, you know you’re getting that great big homescreen layout that’s easy to navigate, and a keyboard which won’t force you to become illiterate in order to get anything done in a reasonable time. There is no guarantee of this when you pick up a network-branded Android phone.

The Nokia Lumia 710, which packs most of the same innards as the polycarbonate 800 in a cheaper plastic shell, goes on sale here in February, but it’s the ZTE Tania that could really put an end to budgetdroids. Due in March, at £249.99 SIM-free, or a promised £10-£20 on contract, it’s the cheapest Windows Phone yet. I haven’t tested a final review unit yet, but given those minimum requirements, I can’t see how this isn’t going to become the default phone I recommend whenever technophobic friends ask me what phone they should get because theirs just broke and they want something that has internet and oh oh Facebook as well and they don’t care otherwise.

Both Orange and ZTE have told me that they are not planning a subsidised Pay As You Go model of the Tania, which is a shame, as this really could have brought the price down (A similarly sized and priced ZTE Android phone, the Skate, now goes for £150 on Orange PAYG as the Orange Monte Carlo).

But ZTE, now the fourth biggest mobile manufacturer in the world by volume, wants to carve out a brand name for itself in the West, and you can bet it’s going to continue to slash prices aggressively. Mid-range smartphones are cut-throat business, no doubt, but in this case, it’s ZTE that’s holding the bloody knife.

Enter Nokia

It’s not going to stop there, either. Microsoft – while carefully vetting the experience, something it completely failed to do with Windows Mobile – is paring Windows Phone down for cheaper devices.

The next update, Tango, is reportedly due out by Summer, and promises to provide Windows Phone at the “best prices”, according to a leaked roadmap. That means Windows Phone on less powerful hardware, and thus at lower prices.

That’s where Nokia comes in: while the Lumia 710 is smaller and slightly pricier than the ZTE Tania, Nokia still knows how to produce phones at scale. What happens when Microsoft provides a new set of minimum specs with Tango, letting it put all its expertise with QWERTY keyboard phones and manufacturing at vast scales to good use?

Windows Phones wins the middle ground – and that’s exactly what Nokia boss Stephen Elop said it would do almost a year ago, with “a very low price point.”

“We have become convinced that we can do that very quickly,” he told Reuters at the dramatic announcement that Nokia was dropping Symbian in favour of Windows Phone. Combine that with Microsoft’s somewhat cynical plan to give phone shop sales folk commissions for every Windows Phone sold, and you’ve got a recipe for dramatic growth.

In other words, just because the Lumia 800 isn’t setting the world on fire in the same way the iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S 2 is, don’t rule Windows Phone out just yet.

Samsung Galaxy Y kindly supplied by Expansys

  • http://twitter.com/Barbaragain1 Barbaragain

    Nokia Tag Line for 2012

    Come flop with ELOP

    • George

      The only thing that flops is whats between your legs.

      WP FTW!

    • Anonymous

      Nokia sold over 1 million Windows phones in 2.5 months in 6 Euro markets. Reading the reviews from users they have a very high satisfaction rate. It’s only a matter of time. Android will lose share, as it happened in US. Not many people are happy with Android, only the top spec are good enough.

      • Anonymous

        We’ll see what happens at MWC next month, but if as is rumoured, WP Tango brings the specs down, Android’s days dominating bargain bin smartphones are numbered.

  • http://twitter.com/Barbaragain1 Barbaragain

    Microsoft to give away phones to ever sell any

    • mlewis

      Microsoft doesn’t make phones so how can they “give them away”?

    • mlewis

      Microsoft doesn’t make phones so how can they “give them away”?

      • http://twitter.com/ReverendAndroid Reverend Android

        Microsoft doesn’t need to make WP7 phones to give them away for free …………………………………

      • Anonymous

        By throwing money at the problem, which is what they’re doing currently!

        • mlewis

          Well at least they’re all in, and NO they’re not going to abandon the platform and let it fail like 90% of the doubters said!
          Winphone7 will be a market share winner over time, guaranteed!

  • http://twitter.com/Patrick_J73 Patrick

    I think its great that Microsoft lays out the minimum specs, I have owned the Monte Carlo for 2 weeks it was that bad, yeah nice big screen etc but the cpu was a joke, they only cost a few dollars so god only knows why it was so low spec the dual core 1ghz arm’s cost around $15 so thats not to bad
    .
    I still only own a Sony Ericsson WT19i on three, the Phone has the same cpu/gpu as the xperia play and some of the best stereo speakers on a mobile I have ever heard and I have owned a few. 1ghz cpu and can run alot of the games on the android market, only real downside is the 320*480 res screen, but for £99.99 plus topup its great.

    It Google got there act together and did a real min spec like MS do they could do even better too. I like android but on anything less than most £150 phones its crap.

    • Anonymous

      The problem is the modifications made to Android on low end phones tend to make it worse  -they’re cheap, rushed and often on there for the money. Orange shoves so much crap on its San Francisco and Monte Carlo phones you would not believe. The Huawei Blaze is the most sin-free of the lot, but even it has an awful keyboard (TouchPal Input, a bi-lingual English/Chinese keyboard. Yes, Huawei is a Chinese company, but last time I checked, most people in the UK speak English as a preference – is it so hard to change that between countries before an unwitting customer gets it out of the box?).

    • Anonymous

      The problem is the modifications made to Android on low end phones tend to make it worse  -they’re cheap, rushed and often on there for the money. Orange shoves so much crap on its San Francisco and Monte Carlo phones you would not believe. The Huawei Blaze is the most sin-free of the lot, but even it has an awful keyboard (TouchPal Input, a bi-lingual English/Chinese keyboard. Yes, Huawei is a Chinese company, but last time I checked, most people in the UK speak English as a preference – is it so hard to change that between countries before an unwitting customer gets it out of the box?).

    • Anonymous

      It’s not the cpu that it’s bad, it’s Android. Android is very inefficient and this where Windows phone can take the lower market by storm. I have 1000Ghz and 500MB on my windows phone and it’s faster than any mobile I have seen. The Nokia 710 may just do this as it comes at a budget price. The Samsung S2 can survice cause it has a high end hardware spec and still can’t beat any windows phone with half the hardware.

  • Anonymous

    windows phone is the best OS right now. Can’t believe I can get the  fluid and trusted experience of Windows phone on a 15-20 per month with internet. Android is junk, does many things but does it badly, only the £600 2 core, 1G memory androids can just about handle the load and still not as good as a cheap WP in terms of general performance. The man in the street will be very happy with a Windows phone and everyone had enough with the junk android software and all the bloatware. All good news for consumers though.

    • Kjhjk

      umadbro?

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely. That fixed experience and huge tile homescreen will really lend itself to cheaper phones as well with Tango.

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely. That fixed experience and huge tile homescreen will really lend itself to cheaper phones as well with Tango.

      • Govinda

        Tango has already failed, man.

    • Suma

      WP is best ? Bastard ! WP had over 40% market share before iOS and Android and now it is hardly 3%, yes hardly 3%, that too Nokia giving away them for FREE , just to increase market share at investors cash.

  • http://twitter.com/Safdar312 Gaz

    What ever happens at least Elop tried to fix the problem.  There are idiots out there who think Nokia should have stuck with Symbian and changed nothing, in that case we would now be talking about the end of Nokia, you cannot go on forever losing 5-10% share per year because guess what if you do nothing then one day 0% arrives.

    • Anonymous

      +1

    • Anonymous

      As a man who’s just received his new Lumia 800, I agree. A year ago I was telling people I’d never buy a Nokia phone ever again, but I just love Windows Phone 7. People say that the amount of apps is an issue, but it’s got all of the big ones you’d expect and they all operate so slickly. 

      Microsoft just needs to get Windows Phone handsets into people’s hands. Not enough of the ‘man on the street’ types (who aren’t that deep into technology) even know that WP7 exists.

      • Anonymous

        Cheap network backed phones will be the solution. Fingers crossed!

    • Anonymous

      As a man who’s just received his new Lumia 800, I agree. A year ago I was telling people I’d never buy a Nokia phone ever again, but I just love Windows Phone 7. People say that the amount of apps is an issue, but it’s got all of the big ones you’d expect and they all operate so slickly. 

      Microsoft just needs to get Windows Phone handsets into people’s hands. Not enough of the ‘man on the street’ types (who aren’t that deep into technology) even know that WP7 exists.

  • PhonePhone

    Price is one thing, but Android is much easier to swallow and it all depends on what you want to use the phone for.  Carriers and manufactures now their customer base and their needs, see carriers have the information on what percent of the type of phones their customers prefer and what will sell.  The majority of the public are not IT professionals or are using such phones as tools for their occupation.  With Microsoft and Apple phones that are restricted to a certain extent, unlike Android you have more freedom.

  • Sundarangi

    Paid junk article comparing superb Android with waste WP !

    WP is a toy OS suitable for children under 5 years. It can’t do real work. With those ugly looking tiles interfaces, its market share sits below 2% even after 2 years of debut.

    Android is famous because it is very nice and open (FREE). Thus, several OEMs are able to price their Android phones aggressively low. If they had to give $75 as royalty for OS, we would not get cheap and best phones. Android is making that possible. WP can’t come up as it is just a waste OS, costly, and its ecosystem is a joke.

  • Kanapur Goa

    If Windows Phone OS is good, it wont lose market share sequentially !

    Every quarter, WP is losing market share and now it is hardly 2.6%.

    With over 150 million smartphones sold in the 2nd quarter of 2012, hardly 4 million are WP phones. So, it is much less below 3%.

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