It really is no surprise that Windows Phone never took off in the way Microsoft or Nokia imagined it could have. Between an abominable lack of developer support, a complete absence of high-end devices over long periods of time, and a fairly insignificant update cycle, I really can’t blame consumers for not immediately dropping their iPhones or Android devices. Now with the release of Windows 10 not long behind us and the release of Windows 10 Mobile looming on the horizon, I think it’s time to start thinking about what it will need to do to be successful.
Like I have already mentioned, there is a big hole in the heart of Windows Phone where the developers should be. That’s not to say that the OS doesn’t have many of the more popular apps like Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Netflix, and so on, but many of them are very infrequently or never updated. This means they are lacking many of the features and polish found in their iOS and Android counterparts. Even Microsoft’s own apps like Skype get more attention on competing platforms than they do on Windows Phone.
Microsoft took a huge risk in making Windows 10 free for everybody to try and get developers on board with their ecosystem. So far no big names have made noise about developing a universal app for Windows 10, but I expect that to change in the near future with the monstrous adoption rates of Windows 10. A lot of time was spent on making sure that developing a single app for desktop, tablet, phone, Xbox, and even HoloLens was super easy. This should mean that developers can check an extra box, make a few tweaks to the UI, and have everything be hunky-dory for the mobile side. Unfortunately, this all depends on developers deciding to make a universal app in the first place.
While Windows Phone might be one of the kings of the low-end to mid-range market at the moment, there is definitely not enough money to be made there to warrant continuing production of phones. The current rumoured specs for the Lumia 950 and 950 XL look quite promising for high-end devices thankfully. Snapdragon 808 or 810 processor, WQHD OLED display, 3 GB of RAM, and sizable 3000 or 3300 mAh battery are definitely nothing to scoff at when comparing them to the competition. Top that off with the iris scanner, USB Type-C, Continuum capabilities, and a 20 MP rear camera, and you have yourself two beastly flagship devices that have the potential to really stand out from the crowd.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, they also need to make room for other manufacturers to step up as well. When you look at how much of the tiny Windows Phone market share is made up of Nokia devices, you begin to understand why Samsung and HTC jumped ship. Acer has already announced plans for two budget devices along with their flagship, the Jade Primo, all running Windows 10 Mobile. Between the royalties kerfuffle and their move towards the creation of Tizen, Samsung seems an unlikely OEM to jump to Microsoft’s aid right now. HTC on the other hand have said they are working closely with Microsoft on a new Windows 10 Mobile device, but there hasn’t been any word on what that could be quite yet. If nothing else, an HTC One M series device running Windows 10 Mobile in place of Android is a possibility. A nice range of high-end devices across multiple manufacturers is exactly what Windows 10 Mobile needs, but it will be up to those other manufacturers to deliver.
When Windows Phone 7 first released way back in 2010, it didn’t even have support for copy and paste. Users had to wait almost five months after launch to get such a basic feature. That lackluster start really set the tone for how Microsoft has gone about evolving Windows Phone as a whole. Major updates have been few and far between when compared to the likes of iOS, and even to some degree Android. When Microsoft decided to move on to Windows Phone 8, no Windows Phone 7 devices could be updated to it because of major under-the-hood changes. This left a harsh sting on the face of all of the early adopters and recent Lumia 900 purchasers. They released Windows Phone 7.8 as a sort of apology, but for some it couldn’t mend the gaping wound left by the announcement.
Carriers holding back updates didn’t help the cause either. Many phones that weren’t relatively well received would not get any of the minor updates that came between the major ones. This left many owners in the dust for months and even years without the slightest glimpse of shiny new features or extra polish. The only reason that Windows Phone didn’t end up being as fragmented as Android is because there weren’t enough updates and phones to fragment across. The new Windows Insider program might be a good way to get around the carriers, but the majority of users don’t want to opt-in to receive pre-release software to get an update for their device. If Windows 10 Mobile doesn’t become wildly successful, or Microsoft doesn’t come up with some cunning plan to get around carriers, then it could very well end up in the same leaking boat Windows Phone 8 wound up in.
I think Windows 10 Mobile will become a huge contender in the mobile world if the following happens. Microsoft manage to land some big updates for most of the existing big-name apps like Twitter, Messenger, Instagram, Vine, etc. They get the developers of missing big-name apps on board, such as Snapchat, YouTube, Periscope, Google Hangouts, and Gmail. They release multiple high-end devices within the first couple months after launch across almost all carriers (carrier exclusivity needs to disappear). Then they need to show their dedication to supporting the OS by having it incredibly stable when it releases, and releasing a new feature update within the first year after launch. If Microsoft can manage to hit all of those nails on the head, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Windows 10 Mobile make huge strides in terms of market share within the first year after launch.
Phrases like “just wait for the next update” or “just wait for the next phone” are common among the Windows Phone community. The idea that the next iteration will fix the problems of the current one is always there, and has yet to really reach a conclusion. Without the support of third-party app developers, phone manufacturers, and Microsoft itself, Windows 10 Mobile will not be able to excel where its predecessors fumbled. As much control as Microsoft has over the outcome of their next big thing in mobile, it will also be left in the hands of countless others to determine the fate of Windows 10 Mobile.