Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Stop Start World of Windowsphone

With the release of Windows 10 Mobile shortly we have another re-launch of Microsoft's mobile platform that went off the rails when the iphone danger was not understood back in 2007. If you care about a mobile ecosystem not being owned by Apple or monitored by Google to serve advertising then you may well be a Windowsphone user. However it's tough.

Windowsphone love is tough because while the OS is solid the ecosystem is not. Too few apps that matter to people rn on the platform and most developers, for obvious reasons, develop for iphone and Android.

However let's just switch back to 2007 for a moment and have look at the mobile world then.

Blackberry dominated the business smartphone world and it was well understood you had to have a keyboard to be a 'serious' business device. Nokia - remember them - were the largest smartphone maker in the world. Microsoft had a comprehensive mobile vision with Windows Mobile 6 on the phone and it's Zune player. You can see this vision in a video of the period - remember this is pre-iphone.




Apple, and their fanbois, keep quiet about the Rokr these days. This was a mobile phone they made in co-operation with Motorola. In reviews it was described as 'dull'. No wonder that Microsoft were not feeling pressured by Apple. Even the iphone in 2007 was hugely expensive, had limited storage, no 3G and Apple were forced to drop the price within weeks due to poor sales.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS was a mature offering looking a lot like the Windows desktop and was part of their mobile computing strategy. The Compaq iPaq was one of their Pocket PCs running Windows CE. This concept of mobile computing had been devised in 2000 some 7 years before the iphone but was the prefix 'i' just a coincidence?

After the iphone launch it was quickly apparent to Microsoft that touch devices were the consumer devices of choice so Windows Mobile was engineered to become Windowsphone. From 2007 to 2010 it became clear a re-design was in order and Windowsphone 7 adopted the 'metro' live tile design of the Windows 8 PC OS. Microsoft had gone all out for touch. However Windowsphone 7 had used the kernel of Windows CE and could not work on the newest hardware. The phone OS was also designed by a completely different group of people from the PC so integration, that should have been its strongest asset, wasn't there. Windowsphone 8 was quickly released incorporating the 'NT kernel' used by Windows followed by Windowsphone 8.1. Windowsphone 10 wont exist because the name Windows 10 Mobile is being used now in a strange reversion to the old name.

The name change goes deeper than just a name. It represents a stop start development process that has hindered almost everything about the platform and constant re-invention has not informed consumers of what makes Windowsphone different.

One problem Microsoft had from the start was they had no control. The model where partners built devices, which worked on PCs where Windows dominated, had a problem where Google was giving away Android to anyone who made a phone with almost no design restrictions. The iphone was developed in a closed ecosystem after Apple had decided it was done with a partner like Motorola and the Rokr. Microsoft had to wait for partners. It's biggest supporter became Nokia that was under attack from iphone and Android. Nokia decided to join Microsoft completely and quickly dominated the Windowsphone market.

Windowsphone 7 sold itself as an integrated platform around hubs. Your People hub would link to all you contacts no matter what email service you had and all your social networks. You could post one message to everywhere with one keystroke. Your photos would automatically upload everywhere. Customer friendly but services hated it. Google pretty much sabotaged attempts to get their services on Windowsphone and other services realised that if people were posting centrally without visiting sites then it was a revenue loser because people didn't see ads. So they all made subtle changes that stopped this integrated world working well.

Updating Windowsphone was also a nightmare. Only market leadership would force phone companies to push out regular updates but phone companies were not interested in this as they would prefer customers to buy new phones than get updates to prolong the use of existing products. Only Apple had the marketing power to do really comprehensive over the air updates.

With each OS update the integrated Windowsphone pulled those features into apps to make updates easier and be friendly to other services. Google just ignored Windowsphone.

Microsoft kept promising features and taking years to deliver. Their entertainment services like music, tv and video where half-heartedly delivered and almost no-one knew they had a music service.

Each iteration of Windowsphone started with writing the OS almost from scratch, changing the branding, names of apps, services and support.

As 80% is now Android almost every Microsoft service is available on Android. It's also there on IOS. I really like Windowsphone and Windows 10 Mobile but everytime I get an upgrade it seems to be a downgrade where we start from the beginning all over again. Some features in 8.1 have disappeared in the preview versions of 10!

If Doctor McCoy was looking at the Windowsphone (Windows 10 Mobile) he would issue that immortal science fiction exclamation - "Its dead Jim".

The next big deal for mobile seems to be mobile payments. After several false starts people are actually now getting used to contactless cards and a cashless world. Apple Pay has appeared, Android Pay is coming and Samsung have a payment network. Nokia had put NFC contactless chips in their phones for years and Microsoft could have had wallet and loyalty card functionality years ago. Guess what - it's coming "soon" to Windows 10 Mobile some 5 years after Windowsphone 7. Too late.

So you can look back at the Microsoft vision of the pocket pc in the year 2000, the first tablets in 2002, the mobile cloud world with integrated music in the 2007 with some bemusement. Microsoft saw the mobile world clearly but failed to dominate the market. The companies that seem to have exploited the Microsoft vision of the mobile future were Apple and Google.


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