By Rich W Woods
You might have noticed that there’s been a lot of doom and gloom articles about Windows Phone lately. Microsoft cut 7,800 employees from their phone division. They took almost an $8 billion write-off from the acquisition of Nokia. They killed a bunch of apps that no one uses.
Some have said that Windows Phone is dead; however, they mean Lumia (not all Windows Phones are Lumias). Also, they’re wrong. Microsoft is going to continue to make Lumias, except they just won’t be making new 500 models every year.
I’m not here to tell you that Windows Phone is dead, or even that it’s dying. I’m here to tell you why it will never be successful. I’m not going to say that it’s because of the hardware because hardware is coming. I’m not going to say that it’s because Microsoft showed up too late because that’s just idiotic. I’m not going to tell you that it’s because of the app gap because that’s shortsighted.
NOTE: I’m also not here to hate on Windows Phone. Windows Phone is my personal favorite mobile operating system. My current daily driver is the gold Nokia Lumia 930 and I love it. I switched to it from iPhone 6.
Possible Roads to Success
Rarely in computers are there room for three major contenders. Sure, in the 80s, there was Commodore, Atari, Apple, IBM, etc. Before 2010, there was iOS, Android, Palm, BlackBerry, etc. But then, something gets big enough where people need a common platform.
Throughout our lives, it’s pretty much been Apple and someone else. That’s because Apple really makes a great product. You can get away with a really locked down environment if the way it’s locked down is the right way. Other than Apple, there’s always been one OS that runs on all other hardware. For desktop, that’s Windows. For mobile, that’s Android.
Let’s dispose of the notion that iOS might be the OS that Windows Phone displaces. Apple has a very loyal user base and they are not doing anything to alienate them. Another important thing to remember is that Apple users spend money, which is why iOS is a success at 15% market share. It’s also why Windows Phone still couldn’t succeed at 15%.
So that leaves Android. In order to succeed, Microsoft has to displace Android. Assuming that Android has a roughly 80% market share, let’s say that Windows Phone would have to tap into half of that, so Windows Phone would officially have a larger market share than Android.
Lumia Hurts Windows Phone
As Windows Phone fans, we all love our Lumias. After all, they’re great products. Unfortunately, they hurt the platform as a whole.
A while back, I reviewed the Yezz Billy 4.7. It’s a remarkable device. For $129 or so, you can grab this phone with a 312 ppi pixel density, a 1.2 GHz quad core Snapdragon 200, 8 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera, 1 GB RAM, 7.2 mm thin, and 120 g light. It’s so comfortable to hold. Usually, with a budget phone, you end up saying, “Well, they had to cut costs somewhere”. Not here. The Yezz Billy 4.7 comes with three removable backs, headphones, and even a screen protector.
When I gave the Yezz Billy 4.7 a glowing review, I got an odd response. The general consensus was, “No thanks. I’ll stick to ‘real’ Windows Phones”, meaning Lumias.
Yes, Lumia has about a 97% market share of all Windows Phones. Also, it’s pretty much all we talk about. Instead of Windows Phone 8.1, we talk about Lumia Cyan. Instead of Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, we talk about Lumia Denim.
There’s a reason that the iOS market share is around 15%. The reason is because you can’t get a billion people to buy the same phone. People need choice. We need different brands and different OEMs making Windows Phone.
That’s simply not going to happen as long as Lumia is the only “real” Windows Phone. Sure, HTC makes a flagship, as does Samsung. LG is testing the waters with Windows Phone, but no one is making it a priority because it just doesn’t make sense when, in user’s minds, Lumia is the only real Windows Phone.
Microsoft’s new strategy might work. Instead of 500 new models every year, we’ll see a low end, a mid-range, and a flagship. That should be enough to spark some healthy competition.
Android and iOS are Just Better
You can make the case that you like Windows Phone better for various reasons. You can make the case that it suits your needs better. You’d have a hard time making the case that it’s actually better than iOS or Android.
Remember when Microsoft came out with that mobile keyboard last year? It worked on iOS and Android, but not Windows Phone. That’s because Windows Phone doesn’t support Bluetooth keyboard. That was fixed in Update 2, but most Windows Phones, and no flagships, have received the update as of yet.
Then there’s the Settings menu. It’s in no particular order. If Microsoft decides to update one of your Settings through the Store, it drops to the bottom. Could you imagine if you woke up tomorrow and your Android or iOS Settings menu was in a different order? Of course you couldn’t, because it’s ridiculous. This is something that has also been fixed in Update 2 and more so in Windows 10 Mobile.
Then there’s the Start screen. I love the Start screen on Windows Phone. You know what I don’t love? The fact that when I swipe up to unlock my phone, I see “loading” for a second before I see my live tiles. Could you imagine if your Android or iPhone said “loading” for a second before you saw the home screen? Of course you couldn’t, because it’s ridiculous.
Then there’s the features that we just got. Windows Phone 8.1 is a year old. With Windows Phone, we got the ability to use a photo in the background and we got Cortana, features that iOS got in iOS 4 and iOS 5, respectively (comparing Cortana to Siri).
This is why I got so mad when people say that Windows Phone has failed. It still hasn’t received a fair shot, and it probably never will.
Apple created something in 2007. Ever since, they have been adding new features to it and refining it. The same goes for Android and Google.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is constantly changing things and rebranding things. Rather than stick to a clear and concise vision, they just keep changing it up, hoping for a golden ticket. I really do feel like there’s someone high up at Microsoft that thinks that if they slapped the right label on a product, it would just fly off the shelves.
Android is Too Good
I mentioned earlier that when a new type of device arises, we have multiple platforms, which eventually weeds out the weak ones as the new form factor grows, and it’s not always the best that wins. It ends up being a two horse race; however, sometimes I feel like if it weren’t for Apple, we would only have a one horse race.
Android allows for those times to exist again. Everyone has their own OS. HTC has Sense, Samsung has Touchwiz, Motorola has Moto, LG has Optimus, Amazon has Fire OS, and so on and so on. All of these operating systems have one thing in common. They’re all built on top of Android so they all share the same app platform.
This allows OEMs to differentiate themselves by the software that they use. Obviously, this is something that the company designed. It’s hard to believe that OEMs would walk away from this for an OS where the only real differentiator would be hardware.
Then again, the Android community is demanding stock Android more and more every day. The closer that third party Android gets to stock Android, the closer hardware becomes to being the only differentiator.
The Big One
All of the things I listed above are problems that are being solved. Windows 10 Mobile fixes a lot, Microsoft’s new device strategy fixes a lot, but there’s one more thing. It’s the big reason that Windows Phone will never be a success.
Windows Phone is simply not Microsoft’s top priority. iOS is Apple’s #1 priority. It’s up there on Google’s list. It’s not even close on Microsoft’s list.
You can see that this is true from the Windows 10 Insider Previews. It’s so clear that Windows 10 for PCs is the main version of Windows 10.
We got our first Windows 10 Insider Preview on October 1, 2014. We got three more before we got our first Windows 10 Mobile build on February 12, 2015. Another Windows 10 Mobile build didn’t arrive until April 10, 2015.
The first time I came to this conclusion was March 30, 2015. That was the day that Microsoft seeded Windows 10 Build 10049. Suddenly, Project Spartan was now available. The headline was “Introducing Project Spartan: The New Browser Built for Windows 10”.
This was a time when we didn’t know that Windows 10 Mobile was going to be called Windows 10 Mobile. Remember one Windows? All SKUs of Windows 10 were just going to be called Windows 10 and the phone SKU would be called Windows 10 for phones or Windows 10 mobile, with the small “m”.
So when Project Spartan was launched, it was just naturally assumed by everybody that it was coming in the desktop build 10049. No one even asked about the mobile version.
This was when I wrote Microsoft is Still Focusing on the Desktop, because, after all, if Office, Azure, and Windows are Microsoft’s first priorities, how can they possibly compete with Google or Apple?
As Windows Phone fans, we tend to have this delusion where we say “If only more people would try Windows Phone, they’d love it”, or “If salesmen just tried to push Windows Phone more, it would be popular”, or “If the apps were just better and Google would develop for the platform, it would be perfect” or “Microsoft just showed up too late. Everyone has made their choices”.
It’s all bullshit. Every friend that I’ve convinced to try Windows Phone hates me for it. Saying Microsoft was too late is a cop out. Better technologies take over old ones all the time. If Microsoft made this thing a priority to make it the best mobile platform on the market, it certainly would be.
Microsoft has an awesome strategy right now. Windows 10
Mobile will support Bluetooth keyboard and it fixes the Settings menu. Developers will be able to port iOS and Android apps, even web apps.
The best part is universal apps. Windows 8 apps didn’t work because it has a 14% market share. Why would you make a Windows 8 app to target 14% of people when you could make a desktop app that 100% of Windows users could use? Windows 10 is free, so developers are more likely to develop for it. Those apps work on Windows 10 Mobile, so they’re actually using their desktop market share to leverage their mobile platform.
The problem is that Microsoft seems to expect overnight results. Even Paul Thurrott said on “What the Tech?” that Microsoft is acknowledging that Windows Phone is a failure. It just never got a fair shot.
When Windows Phone 7 was lacking features, we were told to wait for Windows Phone 8. When Windows Phone 8 was lacking features, we were told to wait for Windows Phone 8.1. Now, we’re told to wait for Windows 10.
Windows Phone, in its current form, is not done yet. The features like Cortana and using a photo in the background are only a year old. Calling it a failure after a year?
Let’s face it, Windows Phone 8 was very lacking. It didn’t even have a notification center. People love to say “It’s so light”, but what they really mean is that it’s lacking features.
Microsoft just can’t create a clear and concise vision. This is the problem. I feel like they think that if they rebrand something and slap just the right label on it, it will fly off the shelf. I feel like they think that if they just add the right features to Windows Phone, it will fly off the shelf.
It just doesn’t work that way. Apple created the iPhone in 2007 and has been improving on that ever since. Google created Android in 2008 and has been improving that ever since. Microsoft has more experience than anyone. Windows Phone has roots going back to the 90s.
So Apple and Google made a product almost a decade ago and have been improving it ever since. Microsoft created Windows CE, it failed. They scrapped it and created Pocket PC. It failed. They scrapped it and created Windows Mobile. It was competitive with smart phones at the time, but then the iPhone came out. They scrapped Windows Mobile and created Windows Phone 7. It failed. They scrapped it and created Windows Phone 8. They updated it to Windows 8.1. Now, they’re kind of half scrapping Windows Phone 8.1 and creating Windows Mobile 10.
Could you imagine if they stuck to the vision that they had in the late 90s? What if they had the insight to take the extra step and use multitouch? That’s all it is. You simply can’t just keep scrapping projects and building it all over again, thinking that this time, you’re going to get it right. The only way to get it right is to refine a product over years.