The news of Microsoft's purchase of Nokia was expected by many pundits, but still sent shockwaves when it actually happened last month. It was the end of an era for one of the prominent names in the mobile communications industry. Microsoft now may not have to worry about the biggest Windows Phone hardware maker ever adopting to Android, but the future is literally in their hands.
Why do people care about Windows Phone?
- Because unlike Android, the design team at Microsoft brought a refreshingly unique UI with Windows Phone 7 in 2010. Three years down the line, Apple too seemed to drawn some inspiration from it for iOS 7.
- Microsoft's pitch at the time of launch seemed promising. Android manufacturers have had a free hand at customising the UI the way they want, which leads to inconsistency and fragmentation. With Windows Phone, users would get the freedom choosing from a variety of handsets like Android, with the consistency in UI and timely updates just like Apple's iPhone — best of both worlds one would say.
Then what went wrong?
- First and foremost, Microsoft screwed up with the timely updates part when Windows Phone 7 handsets were refused an update to Windows Phone 8. There may have been technical challenges to do so, but for the end-users (in this case the early adopters of Windows Phone), it was a smack on their face. In comparison, the 3+ year iPhone 4 still got the latest iOS 7 update.
- Next, both BlackBerry and Microsoft are prime examples of how the success of a consumer mobile platform is determined by the number of apps on that platform. Although Microsoft has fought an uphill battle to get popular apps on their platform, the list is incomplete. Instagram, Mailbox, Pocket, Pintrest, Vine, Flipboard, MX Player are just a few of the many apps that are missing in the Windows Phone store. A Facebook employee revealed to us that 80% of Windows Phones are returned in US because it lacks Instagram. He also confirmed that the Instagram team at Facebook is still small and is unlikely to develop a Windows Phone version very soon.
- Moreover, many of the apps listed on the platform don't seem to have the quality that's seen on iOS and now even Android to an extent. And if you heavily use Google's services, then you're sheer out of luck. Google has consciously avoided making a variant of their popular Maps, Gmail, Drive, Hangouts, Chrome or Google Search apps for Windows Phone. It is a classic chicken-and-egg story — developers don't want to spend their resources on a platform that has a low market share, and users won't buy them because that platform doesn't have all the apps.
- Windows Phone as an OS should also share the blame. Nokia outdid itself by delivering on innovative technologies like Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), Image Oversampling, wireless charging, a touchscreen that works with gloves etc. But Microsoft did a poor job of complimenting Nokia's efforts — the reason why so many people yearn for a Lumia 1020 with Android instead of Windows Phone on it. Windows Phone 8 was largely a snooze-worthy update with Kids Corner and Resizable Tiles being the only two memorable features.
Here are some basic but painful issues that still plague WP8:
- Windows Phone still lacks a centralised place for all your notifications.
- The Search button on every phone still opens up the Bing app instead of opening up a contextual search box when within an app.
- There's still a single level for all sounds — yes, a common control for your ringtone sounds, alert sounds and music volume.
- There's no orientation lock to centrally prevent the phone to automatically rotate between portrait and landscape; only some apps individually allow you to do that.
- There's no way to keep the status bar which shows the battery level constantly visible (it hides after a few seconds).
These are a few of the many problems people complain about the OS. The only win they've had is with the entry-level Lumia 520 which is selling well in developing markets like India. Why the success? The Lumia 520 presents itself as an attractive, colourful alternative with a polished user experience to the endless tirade of big Android phones flooded by Indian phone makers, in that price range that just keep throwing specs in order to dazzle the customer.
BlackBerry's series of recent troubles and their plan to "focus away from consumer segment" firmly places Microsoft as the third horse in the smartphone platform race.
Here are a few things Microsoft can do to make Windows Phone a genuinely recommendable platform:
- Fix the above mentioned problems with the OS. People won't to buy smartphones just because they have a great camera.
- Only a massively radical effort is what could break the vicious circle of app unavailability.
- Speaking of apps, the Windows Phone Store could do with a tighter control over the quality of apps. At this moment, many apps on the store seem like they were put up just for the heck of it.
- As noted by many WP enthusiasts, there's need for more phones like the Lumia 520 added to the current lineup. This will create a bulk of Windows Phone users, which hopefully will make app developers start taking the platform more seriously. A bottom-up approach seems to have a better chance than a top-down one.
- Make some noise officially about the next version of Windows Phone — something more than just leaked screenshots. Apple's iOS 7 was highly buzzing because people got a taste of what to expect months ago in June at the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). Even though Google's Android 4.4 KitKat marketing effort is not giving away any new features of the upcoming OS, at least it is keeping people on their toes to expect something.