Guest Editorial: If i was in charge of Microsoft’s Windows Phone…

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If I was in charge of Microsoft’s Windows Phone

I know I’m not, the chances of that happening are a long way south of me winning a decent amount on the lottery, £3.50 was my last big win, but if I was, even for the day there are a few things I would suggest changing.

Packaging
Unless you’re one of those lucky people who have won the lottery, the bi-annual purchase of a new phone isn’t a cheap activity. Yes, they might be free, there may even be cash back, but for a lot of customers the cost over the two years isn’t a small amount. The cost to change to a new handset in contract, or if you’ve gone off piste and are utilising sim free deals, isn’t a small amount either. The problem I have here is that the packaging for the low cost models looks, feels and is in fact the same packaging as the high-end windows phones from Microsoft. Surely this isn’t right, is it?
I know people don’t parade the box the phone came in round their town, but for a product that costs three or four times more than the lower end ones, there should be some sense of buying into luxury. I don’t expect a fur lined marble casket but a different picture on the cover really isn’t setting the world alight either. I know its what’s inside that counts (I’ve been telling my wife that for years), but if a phone is positioned as a high end device in a range, it shouldn’t be risk being confused with its cheaper sibling, something I saw first hand in a phone shop.
I know higher end Lumia devices have recently been packaged with a wireless charger which is great, but its still the same box, at least the Lumia 1020 differentiated its self from a Lumia 620 by having a cloth tab in the handsets colour on it (still not great, but it was something!!)

Music & headphones
Look at this awesome new Lumia device, it comes with Dolby surround, MixRadio, Microsoft Music, it even links up to your iTunes library, fantastic, lets get it out of the box and have a listen……………tumbleweed. Not an alternative folk rock group, but rather the mental image when you open the box, where are the headphones?. The Lumia 925 & the 1020 both came with a really nice pair of headphones, with a microphone, which although not expensive, sound great and worked well as a hands free set.
Neither the Lumia 630, 635 or the 930 I’ve set up for people who have bought them on my advice come with headphones. I know people will go out and buy really nice ones if they want to listen to music, but surely the cost of producing some and boxing them with the phone isn’t going to break the bank. I still use mine as a hands free in the car (it doesn’t have that Bluetooth connection thingy) and I’m sure lots of people do. To confound this issue, a lot of hand sets or headphones with hands free available at a reasonable cost are all “built for iPhone” meaning buyers have to play a bit of a lottery that the hands free will actually work.
It baffles me really, I use my phone to listen to music everyday and find the concept of there not at least being a pair in the box I could use in an emergency, let alone if I don’t want to get arrested when driving, slightly weird. Even more so when other ‘high end’ companies make such a song (pun) and dance (no pun) about the headphones they supply. Surely Microsoft could purchase some headphones, or even a headphone company (RHA’s are really great) and make this a feature for future models.

Apps
I’m really bored of techno journalists using the standard “great phone but not enough apps” line when reviewing WP handsets. It’s become a bit of a cop out, like when people use to say “oh you can’t play games on them” about Apple Macs back in the day (you could). There are a few apps missing, I get that, but it usually doesn’t bother me, but what does is the updating of some of the ones already on there. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn for example are all there on WP8.1 but all received decent updates back in the days when Lumia phones were made by Nokia. Spotify, Netflix & Flipboard are good examples of apps that have been updated, look great and work as well as their OSX or Android siblings. I know app developers, and their customers are focussed on volume, I get that, but doesn’t Microsoft get the content element is at least as equal to the user experience as a cute, low cost handset is. Get some more developers onto working with these people please, even for Instagram (people need the best app experience for taking pictures of the salads).

Handsets
I’ve owned a number of WP handsets, from an Omnia 7 through to my current Lumia 1020, and when there were more mainstream options (Samsung, LG, HTC & Nokia) the choice partly came down to specs, partly to looks and the other factor was cost. As the Lumia brand has developed, wiping out (here in the UK) the majority of competition you’d think choice got easier. Except it hasn’t, when the Lumia 630/635 cam out I thought I understood the range, in that (phablets aside), the numbering kind of set out a gradation of features / functions / cost which should be reflected be a range with noticeable differences. The more expensive the better the looks, the camera, the speed. Unfortunately something strange happened and over the last few months the Lumia range has become a fog of low cost handsets all via for the same consumer. In the UK, before the 530, and the 430 and now the 640 came out, there was still an abundance of handsets to choose from, some outgoing (Lumia 620), some that didn’t take off as well (Lumia 625) and some that did the job well and was cheap enough to be a bargain. (Lumia 520).
What then happened was we got the 630’s, good phone, reasonable spec, nice intro phone for those new to Lumia’s. Then, shortly after we got the 530s, whose purpose was to replace the 520, but the customers for the 520 had started buying 630’s (they were marketed cheaply in the UK). Now we are going to have a 430, sold at about £39 making it dirt cheap, and even though the 630’s aren’t even a year old yet, we get the 640’s. These represent another nice phone, but why? who are they for. I’m not sure Microsoft knows its marketing doesn’t. The high-end units are forgotten about as almost as soon as they come out (seriously, what is an affordable handset, and why does it cost the same on contract as the model above), and don’t get me started on the replacement for the flagship 1020. Rather than concertina the range in the bottom half, lets have less handsets, just easier differentiation and stop releasing new handsets until the OS is ready, Windows 10 looks great, but lets have a launch with a new mind-set, not a few more low end slightly speed bumped / phabletesq handsets please.

The extras
I know this sounds like a rant, I really like the OS and really love the handsets, its just, I guess it doesn’t feel like the brand does. There are so many features that other handset / OS companies aren’t getting right, like maps, sat nav, offline music, MS Office, personal assistance, offline storage, Skype, gaming compatibility, and a pretty damn fine set of camera apps that all come for free with the Lumia handsets, yet no one knows. Well not no one, those that have do, of course they do, but the adverts for Lumia phones really don’t cut it I’m afraid, Cortana talking cheesily isn’t a good selling point, ads need to inform but they also need to engage and as a WP users they embarrise me. Remember the Lumia 900 advert entitled “Smartphone Beta Test is Over”, it was funny, engaging, got a brand across and could have led to a nice features lead campaign (if it wasn’t for the fact that half our apps are in Beta or might as well be). The shouting needs to be different, whenever I show someone some pictures from my Lumia, they tell me that the camera is by far a million times better than that on their iPhone, but how come I see Apple shot on an iPhone6 campaign everywhere I travel. I remember the “Shot on my Lumia” campaign on twitter etc. (notice its my Lumia, not just another iPhone6) but don’t recall seeing the billboards, tube/bus ads or beautifully lit adverts on TV telling everyone about how the Lumia (high end) cameras kick the iPhones butt (as the tech press will also state).

Conclusion
To conclude this random rant from a very interim Head of Windows Phone, before I’m thrown out by security, the problem is identity. Many years ago when Mac’s, iBook’s & iMac’s were the alternative to the windows PC proliferation, the phrase ‘think different’ (lookout, Lawyers!) was something that people recognised, Apple were the alternative, with low market share and a better product. The challenge now, in the smartphone environment is for Windows Phone to make itself the smart alternative, to define what it is best at and focus on its identity, not watering down all it’s positives into a stream of (nicely designed) low end phones that simply don’t set themselves apart from the competition. If MS and those bought into WP don’t focus, the chances are people will start to lose faith, they will consider alternatives, if not through desire, through necessity. I know this isn’t as simple as fix this app, change this thingy, shout at that bloke etc., I’m acutely aware that this is a much bigger ask, but I really want to feel that the vision and momentum is there, not just to make the OS look nice, but to get all the other issues fixed to ensure the best all round experience moving forwards. Oh, and as outgoing Head of WP, can I please have a Surface Pro 3 as severance pay please………………………………….

About the author
Julian (@mrmblue) is a lovely bloke from England who sits on trains a lot playing with his phone. He’s owned iPhones, Samsung & HTC Android Handsets as well as Samsung & Nokia WP handsets. He currently uses a Lumia 1020, a MacBook Air and an old HP Laptop running Win 10 Dev preview (but will happily accept a Surface Pro 3)

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