Windows Phone is an interesting operating system that on paper, made a lot of sense. It’s a lightweight operating system that’s smooth and responsive, requiring less in the hardware stakes compared with iOS and especially Android, but is compatible with the same hardware. It’s backed up by one of the biggest software companies in the world, Microsoft, who have spent billions in creating and supporting an application ecosystem that has seen almost 400,000 applications available via the Windows Phone store. Microsoft even bought their very own equipment manufacturer, Nokia, for $7.2 billion although the cynical amongst us would claim that this is so that at least one manufacturer supported the platform.
This week, Microsoft announced that it was shedding most of the jobs in its mobile division and reining in the smartphone business. Windows Phone isn’t dead, but instead the product range will be consolidated for the benefit of those customers heavily embedded in the Windows ecosystem and, from the sounds of it, a few low end models. Reading between the lines, if a customer really wants a Windows Phone, they can still buy one, but Microsoft has decided that it cannot compete with Android and iOS and is giving up trying.
What happened? Where did it go wrong? Put simply, Windows Phone devices didn’t sell and Microsoft has other products to sell. Microsoft tried to navigate between the consistency of Apple’s iOS by setting minimum device standard, and the vitality of multiple hardware manufacturers as we see with Android. Unfortunately, because device manufacturers could use lesser hardware in Android devices and it would still run the software, they did: customers bought the cheaper Android device compared with the Windows Phone and relatively few people switch platform after the initial purchase. Microsoft’s refocus into low end smartphones is interesting because many manufacturers use these as an entry point into a family. When a customer has spent two years with a low end Windows Phone smartphone and run out the contract, will there be an upgrade available?
The other side of Windows Phone is that the lightweight nature of the platform meant devices had respectable battery life, but this was partially because the smartphones didn’t do as much as competitor platforms. Unfortunately, as Microsoft has increased the functionality of Windows Phone and allowed deeper multitasking, so battery life and usability has suffered. The Nokia Lumia 925 that I reviewed a while back was a solid ‘phone in many respects, but suffered from poor stability and interface hesitations and lags.
What next for Microsoft? Microsoft’s idea of pushing into other platforms is very sensible. Windows Phone hasn’t been a hit with consumers or enterprise customers, but Microsoft Office and OneDrive are both great products, supported by the most common platforms and allow a customer to use a Windows laptop, Apple tablet and Android smartphone as one big happy family. There’s an opportunity for a Windows tablet here too, as these have improved considerably in the last few years.
And before too long, Nokia can sell Android-based smartphones…