Why 2012 may not be the year of the Windows Phone

Watch out now, because this is probably going to descend into a rant.

Task – Windows Phone. Microsoft. Discuss.

Most of my day is spent looking around the web to try and get a handle on the “vibe” and what’s going on in the mobile market. Now, I’ll be up-front here and admit that I like Android and use the Galaxy SII as my daily handset. It’s phenomenal. Sure, battery life could be better but it’s a stunning bit of kit.

The iPhone is also a great bit of kit and yes, yes, yes, Windows Phone is good too.

Windows Phone, as you may have noticed recently, is getting a broadly positive welcome from reviewers and critics. There’s now an almost constant stream of news posts, blogs and reports which applaud Windows Phone. Recently many have declared 2012 to be the ”Year of Windows Phone” and that the Lumia devices from Nokia will win ”Phone of the year”. Today Forbes has chipped in with another article proudly touting Windows Phone as the “next big thing”. It all smells a little fishy to me. In my darker moments I can’t help remembering the millions that had been set aside for the launch of the Lumia 800 here in Europe. Where did it all go? I’m certainly not tripping over Windows Phone adverts on my daily commute or when I’m browsing the web. Has some of that marketing money found it’s way into the pockets of website Editors? I’m wrong, of course…. aren’t I?

Charlie Kindel makes some.. interesting points about Android and Apple. He’s obviously a big fan of Windows Phone, and berates the path that Android has chosen because out tries to be “everything to everyone” with extreme flexibility for both consumers, networks and manufacturers. That’s something that Windows Mobile tried to be, and something that Charlie accepts is a little ironic. Why? Well, because Windows Mobile suddenly hit the wall and died. Charlie argues that continual, uncontrolled Android fragmentation will cause more and more problems for the platform.

Why 2012 may not be the year of the Windows Phone

That, though, isn’t the whole truth. See, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been to Microsoft HQ a number of times. I’ve spoken to their mobile teams face-to-face in Redmond. We knew what was happening, we could see out ask around us as customers. The iPod was generating a massive user base, then the iPhone appeared and, even before the apps arrived, people bought it. Microsoft did nothing. The App Store appeared, the iPhone 3G.. Microsoft did nothing. Windows Mobile continued to walk the Green Mile, and despite our un-ending rants, recommendations and questions, nothing was done after we left Seattle. HTC tried valiantly to keep Microsoft alive, adding a heap of customizations to the HTC HD2, but this was 2009, and the writing was on the wall. Eventually, a year later, Windows Phone was announced.

Why 2012 may not be the year of the Windows Phone

This is where the differences are, Android, love it or hate it, continues to innovate, upgrade and change their OS. Yes, this can cause fragmentation. Yes, this can annoy consumers too. Networks add their ”tweaks”, manufacturers add their UI’s and skins and suddenly the user experience between Android handsets is very different, plus the upgrade path becomes very muddy. A new OS update won’t just appear (ala iPhone or even Windows Phone), it’ll have to go through the manufacturer and network checks first.

Microsoft are stuck to some degree. They can’t push the networks around like Apple did, and they’ve refused to bend over for ”tweaks” and UI changes. This makes it hard for manufacturers to make a “Samsung phone” or a “HTC phone”. What you get instead is a Windows Phone, made by someone…does it really matter who?

Apple have it all wrapped up. They are now the BMW or Mercedes of the computing world. When I attend Press events or visit Microsoft I see a sea of Apple logos because, quite simply, they have the X-Factor. They do the job well, they get updated, they look amazing and…to hell with the cost.

There’s another key difference. Now sure, it’s a company called Foxconn who make the iPhone for Apple but…. ooohh.. look.. Apple logo.. Shiny….

Apple don’t have to worry about upsetting manufacturers, because they make it. They don’t have to worry about the networks, because the networks want to sell them. They don’t even have to worry too much about upsetting consumers, because we will buy it anyway. The brand is strong.

So there are two approaches that appear to be working. The iPhone way, with manufacturing and updates under the control of one company, or the Android way, where manufacturers are free to customize the OS and make it ”their” phone, with possible fragmentation and staggered updates.

Can Windows Phone push forward with a third way? Personally, I really don’t think so. Microsoft took a big decision with Windows Phone and took aim directly at the consumer, the average Joe. A consistent, familiar interface across the phone and a user interface that remains throughout.

Microsoft have lost their business users. I now see business people attending meetings with iPads and iPhones. It may not be the best solution to their needs, but everyone wants them. It wasn’t so long ago that those business-people had Pocket PC’s and Microsoft Smartphones.

Word has it that Microsoft are to splash the cash to sales reps in order to push units. This, in my opinion, is rapidly edging towards dangerous territory. If you go to the shop and want an iPhone but come out with a Windows Phone, would you keep it? Would you feel happy when you realise that your favourite apps just aren’t there? “Where’s that thing I saw on the TV where you get to talk to the phone?” Faith will soon be lost.

Have you ever really liked anything you’ve been pressured into buying?

Mark my words. 2012 will not be the “Year of Windows Phone”. I predict that LG, Samsung and HTC will slowly tire of making a phone which doesn’t help their brand. They can’t add their own “stamp” onto the phone – not to the extent they can with Android. Will they be happy with people saying..

“Hey, look at my Windows Phone”

“Who makes that?”

“Err… Not sure.. ”

For Nokia this isn’t a problem, but the increasingly cosy Nokia and MS relationship won’t please the other partners. If they start to reduce the use of Windows Phone, Microsoft will have to seriously think about making Nokia their Foxconn.

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  • Saffronjade62

    I so wish I hadn’t got the Windows phone, everyone was pushing me toward Android, now I’m stuck with a brick that can only do half of what my friends phones can do. Moving to Android as soon as I am able. Susan

    • What can’t you do exactly? Thats just plain rubbish. I’ve had all the major platforms and Windows Phone is right up there. It all comes down to persnal preference at the end of the day but don’t make out your phone can only do half what your friends can. What handset did did you buy? My LG Optimus 7 is 15 months old and I could upgrade but I’m holding off because newer phones DONT do any more and the OS/hardware is so quick that I dont really need a dual core cpu. The main reason I will upgrade in a few months is for a 720p screen res.

      • Daceaki

        The homescreen full of live tiles is just not efficient enough when I want to toggle system settings.

        • I appreciate that, but thats personal preference. I’m happy with the set up but clearly if you want widgets you need Android. The question was what can’t Windows do that other phones can? I cant think of anything. I’m not a Windows fanboy, I’ve been considering the Galaxy Nexus or maybe the Xperia S. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out at MWC next month. If theres a Windows phone with a 720p screen and a few more bells and whistles than my Optimus 7 it may well be a contender.

          • It was experience that made me get rid of my Windows Phone. It was so slow and unresponsive. (I had an HTC Mozart) 

            I liked the look of it, but I can get the look from apps on Android, and the experience is so much quicker and smoother. 

          • ColinP

            i think your mozart must be faulty, i have 40 at work and non are slow or unresponsive

  • Steve

    Great article, Leigh.. Was there a reason you left out RIM devices? These are also seen being used by business people, particularly with the implementation of BES. I see quite a lot of kids using them too.

  • Liam

    I’m sorry, but the iPhone 4S 16GB on PAYG for £499 seems quite a good price if you consider that the likes of HTC and Samsung release their phones at that price at launch without much inbuilt memory. I don’t see how the iPhone isn’t good value – it’s the contracts tied to them which aren’t value for money.

  • Hunyango

    Windows mobile is barely breathing……

  • Proximal

    windows phone gets a thumbs up from me…I can see no reason why this platform should not hold the markets interest…..Why is there so much negativity about it?…Microsoft have actually done something well !!……….I cant see how anyone moving over could honestly not be able to work with it. At the end of the day perhaps we need to stop being so obsessed about these products and just get a life.

  • Proximal

    windows phone gets a thumbs up from me…I can see no reason why this platform should not hold the markets interest…..Why is there so much negativity about it?…Microsoft have actually done something well !!……….I cant see how anyone moving over could honestly not be able to work with it. At the end of the day perhaps we need to stop being so obsessed about these products and just get a life.

  • Mitch

    I think people sometimes miss the bigger picture and just look at everything from a purely phone prespective. The arrrival of Windows 8 will be a big boost for Windows Phone in 2012. The Metro interface will become more familiar to the public than it currently is on just WP7 and Xbox. Also, with WP8 being introduced using a cut down version of the Windows 8 kernel, developers will have an easier job developing for Windows 8 on desktop, tablet and phone.

  • HildeMan

    The writer is probably right. 2012 won’t be the year of the Windows Phone. I am an avid Windows Phone user and can’t wait for WP8. However, knowledge of Windows Phone among the people I know is still pretty low. I just don’t think 6 months is enough time to move the public broadly to the format, if that is even what is meant by the expression. Over time though, assuming MS is in it for the long haul, the format will come to be just as recogonized as the other two players Apple & Google. And I agree with the previous commenter that Windows 8 and the Surface tablet will help to accelerate that acceptance.