The difference between a drowning man and one who has everything to lose are very obvious to the casual onlooker. A drowning man would seize on any attempt to save himself, grasping at the most straws and reaching for anything that could give him a chance at survival, while the man with everything to lose simply sits comfortably in his chair, potentially missing obvious things that could help later in life. In the Windows Phone world, there once was a company which had nothing to lose, whose life raft was Windows Phone. That company was Nokia, and once Microsoft purchased Nokia’s D & S division and then changed CEOs, you could see the downward spiral of Windows Phone hardware begin. In my research for my history of Windows Phone, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, you could just about see the point where the Windows Phone platform began to flounder and fail.
After Nokia announced and released the 1020 and subsequently the 1520, the Windows Phone platform looked like it was going to move forward, ostensibly for the better. We had powerful flagship devices, and apps by big names regularly being updated and the looming shadow of Windows Phone 8.1, which was going to change everything. The future was bright. What happened? Simply put, nothing. Once Windows Phone 8 released, Microsoft left the barely functional OS as it was for a year with bugs like the “other storage” bug and limited support for hardware. The 920 and co were great phones, but you couldn’t put them side by side with the monsters Android was bringing out. Imagine being Samsung or HTC, and releasing the Galaxy S4 or HTC One M7 and then showcasing the Samsung Ativ S2 with a Snapdragon S4 or HTC 8X2(Windows Phone 8×2 by HTC) with 720p and not bursting into laughter. It’s simply not going to happen.
Then there was the apps issue. Unlike Apple and Google which constantly produced apps and services for its platform, Microsoft did not prop up Windows Phone with new or exclusive features for a while. Kids Corner and Driving mode are useful, but I note that even now in Windows 10 they have yet to be updated. Even innovative features like the hubs did not receive extension from Microsoft services. Microsoft Outlook did not support all Outlook features, neither did Microsoft Office et al. Then Windows Phone 8.1 happened, Microsoft released a powerful new OS with quite a few new features. Yet it wasn’t enough. The OS had several strong points, but the loss of the integrated hub features and the abysmal state of Microsoft apps like Skype and Xbox Music put a dampener on the situation. To place everything wrong with Windows Phone 8.1 in a sentence, Microsoft released an OS without a functional music player. In the words of Joe Belfiore himself, “Alpha-level”.
After the release of Windows Phone 8.1 and the subsequent purchase of Nokia’s devices decision, not only did software updates cease, but hardware stopped coming as well. Windows Phone fans who follow the news would remember the story of the McLaren and how it was cancelled just before launch, leaving Windows Phone without a flagship device. Apparently, there was also another flagship designed by Nokia as well that- like the McLaren- didn’t see the light of day. Microsoft didn’t release these devices because some theorize, they didn’t offer enough differentiation. A point I find fascinating as Microsoft did itself release the 730, 735, 830, 640 and 640 XL which not only had inferior specs to similarly priced devices, but all had the exact same bas specs. If Microsoft had released the 935, 938, 939, 940 and 940 XL in the place of these devices, I doubt Windows Phone would be in the same situation.
Aside from hardware, Microsoft also switched focus to Android and iOS in terms of software, not only releasing great apps for them, but also releasing better apps than Windows Phone equivalents. See my article on how Skype is one of the biggest issues for Windows Phone on that. For most people, Microsoft didn’t have to say it and probably didn’t intend it, but they delivered a vote of no confidence on Windows Phone right there and then. That killed Windows Phone in 2014, and each new low-mid range handset was like an escalating series of offensive gestures towards Microsoft’s long-suffering fans.
Like I put it a year ago, its like Microsoft got bored with Windows Phone 8 and moved on to Windows Phone 8.1 once it released. Then got bored with that and moved on to Windows 10 and Windows 10 mobile. I’m not sure how they managed to keep increasing sales for the past year (though I did theorise that flagship launches boosted Windows Phone sales and once they stopped, the drift began). Window Phone was doomed from the moment Microsoft took control over the full stack. While a cornered rat looking for survival is dangerous, a Lion that hasn’t realised that it is no longer the king is even less so. With Microsoft, Windows Phone became the latter, and by the time anyone realised that they should have been the former, it was too late.
Now that Windows Phone has failed at its original goal, many predict that Microsoft would drop it and move on. But why would they? Is anyone under the illusion that iOS and Android would not simply be Blackberry and Symbian in a few years. Paradigms change, technology evolves and believing in your own power to stay on the top is the surest way to head to the bottom. With Windows 10 Mobile Microsoft has abandoned trying to be “the current thing”, they are looking for the next big shift. If they can find and successfully make use of it, the world will shift again, possibly for the better.