Even before Android and iOS made their debut, smartphones always existed, running on either Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS, Palm’s webOS or Nokia’s Symbian OS. As Android and iOS started gaining dominance, the slow and steady fall of other operating systems started. Companies tried their level best to stay afloat, but somewhere lacked innovation, and trust of its loyal users. Microsoft did everything it could for the survival of Windows Phone, but the efforts didn’t do any good. Now, the company’s VP of the operating system, Joe Belfiore has put the final nail in Windows Phone’s coffin.
Those who have been following Microsoft events would know Belfiore as the face of Windows Phone. He was one of the important contributors in the platform’s development – having created Metro UI, Live Tiles, and also the company’s digital assistant, Cortana. A year ago, Belfiore took a 9-month leave of absence to travel the world, where he created uproar by using the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone. Currently, he owns a Samsung Galaxy S8 loaded with Microsoft software. In a series of tweets, Belfiore revealed why Windows Phone is officially dead, but before I talk more about it, let’s look at some key highlights.
The journey of Windows Phone
I’ve used Windows Phone since the early days, having tried my hands on Krome IQ700, HTC Touch Diamond and HTC Touch to name a few. Using the Krome IQ700 was an experience, it almost felt like using Windows XP on a smartphone. Microsoft made a switch from Windows Mobile platform (till version 6.5 Professional) to Windows Phone 7 with Metro UI. This was also the time when Microsoft partnered Nokia for Windows Phone 7-based smartphones.
A year later, Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 8, with more refined interface, new features, bug fixes along with a bunch of other improvements. It was also the time when Nokia introduced the Lumia 920 which brought the many firsts to smartphones – an 8-megapixel camera with aperture f/2.0, optical image stabilization (OIS) and wireless charging to name a few. ALSO READ: Windows 10 Mobile isn’t the ‘focus’ anymore: Joe Belfiore
Reviewers praised the Lumia 920 calling it – a camera disguised as a smartphone. Despite being five-year-old, the Lumia 920 camera still gives a tough fight to some of the mid-range smartphones of today. Nokia also introduced the Lumia 1020 with 41-megapixel camera, to lure customers towards Windows Phone. However, all those efforts didn’t help either.
Microsoft also went ahead to buy Nokia’s smartphone division, with an intension of making Microsoft-branded Windows phones. The Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were the two flagship smartphones running Windows 10 Mobile OS, featuring top-of-the-line hardware and Windows Hello (IRIS scanner) for biometric authentication. Once again, critics praised the camera on the both the Lumia smartphones, but the wow factor was missing to excite people to buy a Windows Phone.
My personal experience with Windows Phone
Back in 2013, I was reviewing the Nokia Lumia 720, and I was fascinated with the camera prowess of the smartphone. Windows Phone 8 was just in its nascent stage, and it did seem promising. I, for once, enjoyed the no gimmick, pure OS and the Live Tile interface seemed something unique. I went ahead and bought the Lumia 920, where the first few months it felt nice.
I was impressed with the camera performance on the Lumia 920, and clicked a lot of photos, something that the competitor smartphones couldn’t. But slowly, I started feeling left out from the crowd. Yes, the app ecosystem on the Windows Phone OS is to be blamed for the same.
Look ma, no cool apps
The Windows Phone platform had popular apps, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, the ones that I heavily relied on. Instagram, on the other hand, was in beta for over a year, with no major upgrades. In fact, most apps got new features a couple of months after arriving on Android and iOS. Take Facebook, for instance, while Android and iOS versions got the ability to check-in, the same arrived on Windows Phone after four months. Ditto with Instagram, after being in beta for a year, it then moved to stable build, with the ability to record and share videos.
But things don’t end there – it was the time when Snapchat started gaining prominence and I was eager to test it out. But I was disappointed to learn that that company had no plans to release Windows Phone version of the popular app. Snapchat is just one case, there have been many other apps that didn’t make their way to the Windows Phone platform. Reason? Number of users on the platform were too low for the company to invest time and resources for developing Windows Phone apps.
Android app support consideration
When Microsoft couldn’t get developers to build apps for Windows Phone platform, the company briefly considered adding Android app support to the platform. It would have allowed users to sideload APK files of their favorite Android apps and run on Windows Phone. It did create some uproar in the industry, with many calling it a failed move as it defeated the purpose of having Windows Phone OS in the first place. The company did work on it, and offered an early access to developers via preview versions, but the feature never made it to the public version.
BlackBerry, also went through the same phase with app gap problem, where it lost to rivals – Android and iOS. The company completely revived its operating system by introducing an all-touch BlackBerry 10 OS. It also introduced two smartphones – the top-end BlackBerry Z10 and the mid-range Z30. One of the interesting additions of the new OS was the support for Android apps.
While I reviewed the BlackBerry Z10, back in the day, I did give the feature a try. I copied some Android app APKs, such as Facebook, Temple Run and Subway Surfers, to name a few. But the experience wasn’t great. It was basically an app running inside an app, which not only used up resources, but also resulted in stuttering, thus ruining the overall experience.
Enough of past, back to the present
I’ve talked about the journey Microsoft Mobile OS, but it’s time to look into the present and future – where Windows Phone is officially dead! Replying to a few users on Twitter, Belfiore mentioned that existing Windows Phones will continue getting bug fixes and security patches, but the company is not planning to introduce any new features or new smartphones running on the OS.
Belfiore even admitted to the fact that Microsoft tried hard to pay the developers to write apps for Windows Phone platform, but the sheer volume of users was too low for companies to invest in having developers. Clearly, Windows Phone is no longer a focus for the software giant, and if you’re still clinging to one, it may be the time to move on.
The future for Microsoft
While Windows Phone OS was losing to Android and iOS, there was one thing that Microsoft did right. They say, if you can’t beat them, join them. And that’s exactly what Microsoft did by bringing popular apps such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint to Android and iOS platforms.
The move was a masterstroke, not only giving a big boost to the most used Office apps on rival platforms, but also eating a share from Google Docs and Apple iWork apps share. The basic version allows users with read-only privilege, whereas Office 365 users gain access to create and edit documents, as well as access their files from the cloud.
To put the above points into perspective, Microsoft had not only been struggling with the app ecosystem, but also with the Windows Phone marketshare which was less than one percent for over three years. The move to stop focusing on new Windows Phone OS and hardware is good for industry as we only have two major operating systems to look at. It’s also good from developer point of view, as they will only need to focus on building apps for Android and iOS that have good number of users. And considering all these points, it’s a good thing that Windows Phone is officially dead.