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The rise and fall of the Windows Phone… what went wrong year by year

ByinAnnouncements | November 12, 2017

Windows Phone

Last month Microsoft issued an official announcement on discontinuing works on Windows Phone OS. Since the system is dead, there will be no further developments, no successors to Windows 10 Mobile to compete with dominating the market Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Introduced by Satya Nadella, the new Microsoft’s strategy focuses on collaboration rather than rivalry. This is at least what the Redmond’s team tried to tell itself to explain the decision on giving up on mobile software venture.

However, we can’t forget that the Windows Phone path to failure is paved with a series of smaller successes and developments, which truth to be told Microsoft and its hardware partners have never received enough customer faith in. At the day of its debut, Windows Phone was considered the most original and innovative OS offering beating even the introduced three years earlier Apple’s iPhone. Unlike Android, the Windows Phone didn’t derive from the iconic iOS and worked fluently even on smartphones with basic tech parameters. To understand the reasons behind the Windows Phone failure we need to look back at the beginnings of this ill-fated mobile OS.

Microsoft Windows Phone is dead. To understand the reasons behind the Windows Phone failure we need to look back at the beginnings of this ill-fated mobile OS.

Microsoft Windows Phone

Radically Different Phone OS

It was seven years ago, on October 11th, 2010, when Microsoft held a conference in London during which the company presented the new Windows Phone OS. Considered a radically different phone OS, the Windows Phone 7 abandoned skeuomorphism typical for both Android and iOS and replaced it with live tiles design. There were no static icons. Instead we got a calendar surfacing our next appointments, a messaging app showing fragments of text or a phone app with last missed calls. Some of those features inspired other mobile OS developers, resulting in creation of subsequent “hub” pages on Android or things like HTC’s BlinkFeed or Google Now cards with contextually relevant information and news.

No matter how fresh and innovative the first Windows Phone was, most mobile users considered it too alien and unfamiliar. Such  a critical feedback discouraged Microsoft from staying faithful to their OS concept. Perhaps if the company manifested more non-conformist attitude and did not treat the initial market feedback too seriously, the Windows Phone would be still safe and sound.

We all don’t remember how incredibly fast and responsive Windows Phone was in comparison to anything Android offered us at that time. Microsoft’s solution provided us with the most elegant system of delivering information and notification on the lock screen, and the vastly superior on-screen keyboard. Just as Apple, the Redmond team tightly controlled the user experience across devices and manufacturers. This walled-garden software production allowed Microsoft to achieve the unprecedented degree of refinement.

Design Revolution in 2011

The Windows Phone contribution to the wider spectrum of smartphone design have always been neglected. When speaking of the ecosystem, we often omit the fact that the platform launched with several truly unique handsets like the Samsung Omnia 7 sporting 4-inch OLED screen, HTC 7 Surround with a large speaker and kickstand, or finally the Dell Venue Pro with slide-out keyboard for convenient input. Most of us identify Windows Phone with the Nokia Lumia 800 released in 2011 along with the HTC’s Windows Phone 8X and 8S. It was the device that allowed Microsoft to stand out of the crowd in terms of industrial design.

Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone
The Nokia Lumia 800 was admired for its attractive and innovative design, and Windows Phone has some of the best hardware around. Sure, the iPhone 4S had its fans, but it was widely criticized for its quite boring, non-original character. It featured the one-year-old design and packed a smaller display. At that time, Microsoft’s position enabled the company to invite any aspiring global phone manufacturer to cooperation.

The best designs, however, came from Nokia and HTC. The former planned to build its entire future on Windows Phone, the latter put all their efforts in making the Windows Phone 8X and 8S good enough to deserve the “Signature Windows Phone devices” title. It was a crucial moment for Windows Phone, as the eventual failure of the handsets to limit the iOS and Android duopoly could led to a chain reaction, resulting in the loss of Microsoft’s credibility among its hardware partners and even the end of Nokia brand.

Focus on Smartphone Optics

Windows Phone completely redesigned the standards of what we consider good users interfaces. The OS provided us with some of the coolest phone hardware we’d used. And before it started to fall into oblivion, it managed to raise the bar in the approach to camera technology – mostly due to the courtesy of the Lumia 1020 and its famous round camera bump on the back. The said smartphone was the most mainstream alternative to the Symbian-based Nokia 808 Pure View. Equipped with 41MP camera sensors, both devices introduced significant improvements in mobile optics. Both were good enough to stand the test of time. Perhaps Windows Phone had a variety of problems to struggle with on its way to success, but the essential hardware aspects, including modern design, reliable battery life and sharp imaging surely weren’t among them.

Google’s YouTube Blockade in 2013

The key issue undermining Windows Phone chances of the market success was the fact that Microsoft did never put too much attention to attract third-party app developers. Each time when Nokia released a new Windows smartphone there appeared the question of when the Windows-dedicated version of an Instagram app will be available. No wonder then, that mobile users preferred Google’s platform. It delivered more essential apps and more favorable third-party ecosystem. If Microsoft tried harder to encourage third-party developers to cooperation, they could win the OS battle and beat Android. Just imagine a situation where Hotmail has more users than Gmail and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is the dominant web browser – it sounds like an alternate universe, doesn’t it?

Microsoft did never put too much attention to attract third-party app developers

Even if we could deal with the lack of Instagram on Windows Phone, we couldn’t bear the fact that the platform missed YouTube. Google have been always blocking the YouTube’s presence on Windows Phone because they didn’t want Windows Phone to became an official Android rival. Since we all spend hours watching YouTube videos on out phones, the lack of the YouTube app on Windows Mobile platform was a huge drawback.

Nokia Purchase in 2014

Over time Microsoft neglected its cooperation with HTC and Samsung and focused on exclusive collaboration with Nokia, which led to the purchase of the deteriorating Finnish phone maker in 2014. Big expectations associated with taking over Nokia have never been fulfilled. The fusion resulted in launching a series of rebranded devices with Microsoft’s logo. Unable to change the fact that Windows Phone suffered app deficiency, Microsoft just kept trying to appeal the market with phones whose biggest selling point was traditional Nokia’s design known for its durability, simplicity and reliability. Microsoft’s efforts to regain interest in Nokia phones turned out to be insufficient to help the company win a strong market position, and Microsoft was quickly overtaken by Samsung and its flagship Galaxy line whose biggest advantage was Android and tons of apps available via Play Store.

Conflict of Interests

Another crucial problem that Microsoft had to fight with before Nokia takeover was the company’s indecisiveness about priorities. Microsoft wanted to win over iPhone, while Nokia was interested in bringing Windows Phones to lower price point. Microsoft was busy thinking of ways to position itself against its biggest and oldest competitor, whereas Nokia focused on conquering rapidly developing Asian markets.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone

The lack of agreement on common goals resulted in frustration on both sides. Companies like Google which just acquired HTC’s smartphone division should learn from Microsoft’s experience and never neglect the interests of its hardware partners. Microsoft merged Nokia to have its own smartphone division, simultaneously it was greedy enough to demand HTC and Samsung to invest into releasing new Windows phones. Instead of trying to have it both ways,  Microsoft could have save itself many unnecessary problems by taking Nokia over much earlier and setting one fixed policy concerning the future of Windows Phone. Rivaling with both iOS at the high end and Android at the low end was far too ambitious plan.

Market Share Decline in 2015

In the following years Apple and Google maintained their position, proving that in the market dominated by their duopoly has no place for Windows Phone. Almost 97% of phones purchased at that time run either Android or iOS platforms. By comparison, Microsoft’s share in the market accounted for 2.5 percent, and it’s been constantly decreasing ever since then.

Windows Phone Legacy

Even if Windows Phone ended up as an unsuccessful trial to provide phone users with an alternative to iOS or Android, it has left a positive legacy. The mobile business wouldn’t be as rich as it is without the developments authored by Microsoft and its hardware partners targeting at creation of third equally reliable ecosystem. Concluding, with all the inspiring hardware innovations Windows Phone OS is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable failures of the mobile industry.

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