Moorhead agreed. "I really do think that there's a possibility that Nokia took their eyes off the ball," he said. "They spent more time in transition meetings than making sure the sell-in and sell-through for the holidays was ramped up."
Tuong Nguyen, principal analyst at Gartner, echoed others when he pointed to likely uncertainty on the part of mobile carriers, who sell the bulk of phones at retail. "The wariness would come more from the vendor partnership side rather than consumers," he said, reflecting on the speculation that Microsoft's acquisition had turned off buyers.
If they're right, Microsoft's chances of improving Nokia sales may not have taken much of a hit, if any. But that doesn't mean the Redmond, Wash. company doesn't face some huge challenges making the deal pay off.
"The challenge is two parts," said Nguyen. "First, the feature phone business is scaling down as they ramp up the Lumia line, but that's not ramping up as fast as the feature phone is ramping down. And as the industry as a whole has seen less true innovation, the fourth quarter isn't a blow-out quarter like it once was. The market's hitting the point, in developed countries anyway, where it's a replacement market now."
Milanesi said that while Microsoft clearly lost some of the momentum it had thought would be there, it could still make good if it hustled, something Microsoft has had trouble doing even in the recent past.
"It is critical that when [Microsoft] lands the deal, they go out and show something and say something," Milanesi said. "Microsoft cannot take six months to do that. It would kill them."
Moorhead was on the faster-not-slower bandwagon, too.
"Microsoft does have a distribution problem. When only two out of 100 phones are Windows Phone, it's very hard to drive meaningful share, it's hard to get developers excited, and creates a vicious circle," said Moorhead. "The top of everyone's mind in the channel and among developers is, 'What's next, Microsoft? How are you going to drive volume?' It needs a very early disclosure of what it wants to be in mobile, and must move as quickly as possible to do that."
While both Milanesi and Moorhead expect Microsoft to use its Build developers conference, slated to run April 2-4 in San Francisco, to clarify its handset strategy, Moorhead believes that might be too late.
"I don't think Build is early enough, but I do think that's where they'll give some disclosure," said Moorhead. "Microsoft will want to take advantage of the friendly environment at Build, where developers who are arguably pro-Microsoft may be able to influence those who are on the fence."
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