WhartonBrooks is one of the newest smartphone manufacturers on the scene — and perhaps the most unique and controversial one. And they haven't even released a phone yet.
So what is it about this Connecticut-based smartphone manufacturer that has garnered both the praise and the ire of some in the industry? First and foremost its CEO Greg Murphy has invested in what a small but passionate group of enthusiasts hail as the best mobile platform, critics describe as a dead platform, and others barely acknowledge as they enjoy their iPhones and Android phones. Yes, WhartonBrooks is making Windows phones – and only Windows phones. So help them God; is the prayer of the fans.
Social media and comment sections of articles have been the battleground where supporters of this fledgling company, armed with tidbits of information and hope, have dueled with critics garnishing just as little data and cynicism. The mystery surrounding this firm combined with the bold confidence that saturated its initial press release are enticing characteristics that are hard for both the hopeful and critics to ignore.
The mystery surrounding WhartonBrooks is hard for fans and critics to ignore.
In the absence of a phone, a canceled Meet & Greet, a name people don't understand and an apparent arrival out of the blue some have questioned the legitimacy of the company. Does it actually exist? It does. Are they really going to release a Windows phone? They are. When? Soon. Who exactly are WhartonBrooks? - is a question this series and particularly this piece seeks to answer through the voice of its CEO.
On with the show (or Two Huskies and a phone)
I reached out to Greg Murphy a fellow University of Connecticut graduate (Go Huskies!) to see if he'd be willing to answer a few questions. He graciously complied. Through the following piece, we learn a lot more about Greg Murphy, WhartonBrooks and his plans for Cerulean Windows phones. Buckle up and sit back you don't want to miss this!
Who is the man behind the plan?
Greg describes himself as a husband first, then a father and added with quite a bit of confidence that he is the world's biggest Windows phone fan. I'm sure many fans might contend with Murphy for that title (I'm looking at you Sean Johnson aka @TheWinPhan) but this is Greg's story.
My daily driver is my 950xl and our prototype.
Titles aside, he is indeed quite the fan. He has owned one of every Lumia model ever sold and says he's always been a Windows phone fan. He's also owned and loved the HTC Surround, which he bought on launch day, the Samsung Epix and the LG Incite before that. Though he did use Android for a while, he hated the experience and returned to Windows phone. Apple products, he shares, "don't excite me."
His daily drivers today include a Lumia 950 XL (though he prefers the 950), and the prototype of his first Cerulean Windows phone. He also carries a Lumia 1020 in his bag which he describes as "the most important Windows Phone ever. It is truly our aspiration." It will be interesting to see what WhartonBrooks will focus on or zoom into as key attributes for Cerulean phones.
I've spent that last 20 years working with Microsoft enterprise technologies.
Given Murphy's Windows phone history it is certain that many fans can relate to him and the passion he has for the platform. What we might not have, however, is the combination of experience, drive, discipline, courage and will to embark on what is undoubtedly a challenging endeavor: making Windows phones. Of course, being a fan alone wouldn't equip a man to become a Microsoft Windows phone manufacturing partner.
Murphy's professional credentials include an undergrad in Economics with a focus in Health Policy and a Masters in Public Health. He adds:
I have spent that last 20 years working with Microsoft enterprise technologies in various leadership positions. I have also led programming and software development teams at healthcare institutions in CT. I decided to use my skills to develop something new for my own venture instead of someone else's.
This combination of passion, experience and personal character may or may not be sufficient to help this self-proclaimed introvert succeed. But if an OEM founded by a Window phone fan for Windows phone users is as natural a fit as Murphy's affinity for talking with individuals (versus large groups) and working with tech, it just may succeed.
Why are you making Windows phones?
I'm sure that many Windows phone fans have had more than a passing thought about what type of phone they would love to see represented on the platform. Murphy, however, has put his thoughts into action. When I asked him why he is making Windows phones he replied:
I am a Windows Phone user and wanted the platform to reach higher levels. So, I thought no one would care like I would. No one would be driven like me. To everyone else it is their job to make a phone – for us, it is a passion.
It is admirable to hear of such a commitment to enhancing the entire Windows platform. I'm sure many fans are hopeful that Microsoft, the other half of this partnership, will provide WhartonBrooks with all of the support available to a multibillion-dollar firm.
I decided to use my skills to develop something new for my own venture.
WhartonBrooks is a very small company comprised of just six individuals representing varied backgrounds after all. The firm relies on a network of support including manufacturers, software developers, suppliers, and others. When I asked Murphy if his entire team uses Windows phones in their daily lives he responded:
Our team uses a broad range of technologies to ensure we research the competition thoroughly. They are Windows Phone fans and want to bring to life the one device for your computing needs.
Derek Egerman the company's Chief Strategy and Planning Officer, pictured above, can be seen sporting an iPhone as evidence of that statement.
Though some of the more passionate fans out there will pitch a fit at somebody who makes Windows phones using a rival platforms, it's an important thing to do. From a business perspective it's always smart to be familiar with the pros and cons of other platforms. That knowledge informs the work done on the company's devices, in WhartonBrook's case supplementing the user experience on Windows phones.
We have additional technologies that we'll put into place for the consumer market.
Of course, there isn't much an OEM partner can do to modify Windows 10 Mobile, aside from including exclusive apps, but Murphy alluded to a "product" that he is bringing to his Cerulean phones which will enhance the experience. He also stated that we have additional technologies that we will, over time, put into place for the consumer market. It is a small and shrinking market, however.
Murphy, though, seems unconcerned about the small 1% market share Windows phone currently holds:
Since the beginning, we wanted a Windows phone that was accessible to all of us. We don't need the whole pie, just a slice. We care about our market share among Windows Phone makers. As long as Microsoft is making the OS, then we will make a smartphone and push the size of the market.
Of course, we know that Microsoft is committed to the continued evolution of the Window Mobile OS albeit with an apparent focus on the enterprise for the immediate future. This fact brings us to another point.
Tell us about the phone!
WhartonBrooks is making Windows 10 Mobile smartphones for consumers. Murphy sees a market there that he can serve.
This focus is likely good news for the fans that feel Microsoft's vacillation between the consumer and enterprise space is disconcerting.
Murphy puts it this way:
We are consumer-centric with an opportunity for businesses. Cerulean Mobile is the consumer-centric business while WhartonBrooks is for business. For consumers, we need people to enjoy our smartphones and become fans of our company. We have competencies in project management, performance improvement, and software development – these are important to businesses.
Windows 10 Mobile and its capabilities, such as Continuum, are a known entity among enthusiasts. Many fans have wondered what "disruptive technologies" Murphy was referring to in his press release. It's worth noting that the Windows phone fan's knowledge about Windows 10 Mobile is not common knowledge. When I asked Murphy about these "disruptive technologies" he waxed philosophical; literally:
We can't reveal too much here, but let's talk philosophy. Our story begins with our first smartphone; there are important aspects we need to bring with our first entry – light, thin, highly portable, and beautiful smartphone. It has to be a smartphone that people want. There are other aspects that we will propose like a kickstand (i.e., HTC Surround), and wrist strap (i.e., Lumia 1020) are essential, but we need to test this with our future customers.
We have important smartphone-centric technologies in the works, but also we believe that the broader opportunity is how the smartphone can be the one device for all your computing needs. We think it should be untethered. In our press release, we stated that we want to enable computing to be more personal, flexible, and secure – that is the smartphone. People on other platforms don't know about Window 10 Mobile and the disruptions that it brings – the break from current thinking to create a new path. We explored some of that path and envisioned a whole new suite of opportunities that no other platform is capable of. It is the future.
Others want you to buy a separate computer for every function – we think people are not that rich and to be honest wasteful. A CPU for your phone, tablet, laptop, streaming stick, and desktop, really? That does not seem futuristic; it seems more profit driven to me. We think the screen goes into ubiquity, and the pocket computing device becomes the hub for your digital life. Now that, we think is disruptive.
Much of what Murphy states here echoes the analysis that both myself and Daniel have presented as "tomorrows" personal computing experience. There is a paradigm shift on the horizon that will affect both the consumer and enterprise environments. If Microsoft has their way according to the latest information, however, the evolution of Windows Mobile toward that shift will occur under the stoic shadow of the enterprise.
The matter of marketing
One of the primary complaints fans have hurled at Microsoft is that Microsoft has not adequately advertised Windows phone. We do acknowledge several ads for the Lumia 1020, 928 and the hard to forget "The beta test is over" campaign.
These and a few other ads have been far and in between and lack, at least in my opinion, the sensory and emotional connection often found in Samsung and Apple ads.
I asked Murphy how he planned to make Cerulean phones "noticeable" through all of the "noise" Joe Consumer is consistently hit with by Samsung and Apple. Murphy replied:
We are looking for people who enjoy Windows. We look to be a presence in the places where they are. We have information to share about us and how to take advantage of our platform to create, have fun, and be an adventurer.
We will be assertive with our marketing to show the strength of Windows 10 Mobile and to move Windows users to Cerulean Mobile. We are not looking to get people to switch from other platforms – we lost many investors with that statement. We look to grow our share of Windows phones users. The rest will take care of itself.
Naturally, any OEM must have a plan on how they hope to market their product. As a partner to Microsoft, however, support from Redmond would be expected. Murphy shared that Microsoft provided the relationship and partner connections to begin the process.
We are not looking to get people to switch from other platforms.
I wondered if Microsoft would support WhartonBrook's marketing efforts going forward, however. Murphy assured me that Microsoft is holding the company's hand through this process. He also stated that Microsoft is their most important partner and he is grateful for their help and support.
What market segment are you targeting?
Windows phone fans have been itching for high-end flagships ever since Microsoft's low-end assault a couple of years ago. The 950 and 950 XL are spec-wise, undeniably high-end devices. The not-so-exquisite build, however, has left some fans asking for more. The all-business HP Elite x3 has turned some heads, but the steep price tag and troubled roll out have caused many to turn away.
Murphy promises a beautiful device that won't break the bank. As a matter of he is targeting a high growth market, with a phone that has all of the rich features of Windows 10 Mobile including Continuum. As he puts it:
We seek to leverage emerging technologies to create high growth opportunities. An $800 phone is not high growth. We want our technologies to be accessible to everyone. Your computing device needs to function well and be beautiful, elegant, and highly portable. In order to achieve our goal of high growth and still be on the leading edge, it will require what is not available from other makers.
We will start small and everything we do will push the edge of accessibility, computing power, and utility.
It sounds like WhartonBrooks wants the best of Windows 10 Mobile and device quality for the most affordable price. Moreover, "starting small" is likely an initial order of 10,000 phones based on information Murphy shared in his podcast. Murphy knows that the entire market is tens of millions, but doesn't yet know what his initial sales will be. This small initial order may help Murphy get the phones on carrier shelves — but he also acknowledges the importance building their unlocked phones to be as compatible with as many carriers as possible. This isn't just for networks in America — he has global ambitions:
Day one is the U.S. The rest of North America is next. Brazil, UK, and Germany are strategically important. Australia and India are high on the list too.
WhartonBrooks is planning a series of Meet & Greets leading up to the release of their smartphone. Of course, the question on most of our minds is, will we see the phone at these events? The response:
We will use the Meet & Greet events to give people a chance to meet us, connect with fellow fans, and to show people who we are. We are an unknown entity, and we are a new brand. In order to make an impact, we need people to get to know us and understand where we are coming from. We will be a very active participant in the platform. We will overwhelm the competition with our presence.
In case you missed it, the answer is no phone, but you get to meet the folks behind the phone. Murphy feels that it is important to connect with consumers and to listen to what people want from future smartphones.
I want them to have a hand in building it. I also want to build our team to help people take full advantage of our platform. Post-sales are the most important aspect of our sales strategy…Being a user and a fan of the platform, puts us at an advantage over all other makers. We feel like we know exactly what to do and what people want most from their Windows Phone. We will enjoy bringing new features and enhancements to the platform….I'm in love with our first smartphone, but we want to grow from here, and we need Windows Phone fans everywhere to join in and make this a story for all time.
We are very appreciative of the time Greg provided us. WhartonBrooks is in its very early stages, and we have yet to see the phone, though Greg assures me that it will be here before Christmas.
You should be able to buy a Cerulean mobile phone by Christmas.
The strengths WhartonBrooks brings to the table are a laser focus on Window phone fans which no other OEM is doing. Murphy had strong language for critics who claim Windows phone is dead:
They are not using Windows phones, and they don't want to…so they are irrelevant to us. We are making products for people who find Windows Phone a pleasure and want a company dedicated to the platform.
Sure, the quality of the phone, support and other factors will affect success, but the model is a unique and solid one. If WhartonBrooks can deliver on an attractive, and accessible phone on which the unique features of Windows 10 Mobile, like Continuum, can shine Lumia fans may embrace Cerulean phones. This, of course, is Murphy's goal.
We will be assertive with our marketing to show the strength of Windows 10 Mobile and to move Windows users to Cerulean Mobile.
If WhartonBrooks is able to deliver are you willing to embrace Cerulean phones as the next "Lumias?"
So what are your thoughts? There's a lot to talk about, from their launch strategy to price range to the target of existing Windows fans! Sound off in comments, forums and on Twitter!