Depending on where you live and who you know, you probably know a few Windows phone users. Living in the UK, one of the few bright spots for the Windows phone platform before Microsoft decided to burn it down, I knew quite a few Windows phone users. Most of them were low-end, some were mid range, and fewer still were even high-end. Slowly the number of users declined as people switched phones and upgraded to different platforms, I never really thought to ask why they switched. I figured the app gap was a good enough reason to switch for anyone, but there was one more reason rarely spoken about online. “The experience gap”.
“Windows phones are $&#£” said one user I spoke to on Saturday. She was using a Lumia 535 on Windows Phone 8.1, I didn’t bother to explain to her about Windows 10 because as her phone hit its umpteenth loading screen, I wasn’t sure Windows 10 would work as a fix. Neither is Microsoft. If they were so confident, they would have pushed out an upgrade to Windows 10 to her phone rather than make it an optional update accessible via an app in the app store.
“Why won’t my WiFi work” said a family member using a Lumia 550, later upgrading to a Lumia 650 only to run into the same issue.
“Why can’t I download any apps” asked another. His own Lumia 650 kept on requesting his Microsoft account password and later rejecting it with an error stating “something went wrong” and nothing more.
Another complained of delayed notifications, yet another complained of frequent crashing. At some point, it becomes a bit harder to blame the lack of Windows phone sales on biased tech bloggers, or reluctant salespeople, if the people who have Windows phones themselves have a self-reported bad experience from it.
The issue here seems to be that many Windows phone fans – including myself – repeatedly ignore or overlook glaring problems with Windows phone itself that normal users may not overlook.
It is not normal for your phone to reboot by itself several times a month, not even a month. Nor is it normal for your apps to crash repeatedly over and over. It isn’t normal for your music player to need to be babysat to ensure it plays music when the phone is locked, nor is it normal for your camera app to crash after a number of photos. For Windows phone users, this is just an accepted reality.
You are advised to upgrade to Insider Fast, downgrade to production, run Release Preview, install patch X or patch Y to make sure your smartphone can play music under the lockscreen. When all else fails, you’re villified for buying a Windows phone because you should have known better than to buy a developer device, a low-end device, or a previous generation flagship. There’s an out for everything.
For Windows phone fans, the benefits of using Windows phone may outweigh the costs of it, such as apps like Snapchat, Apple Music and the Google Ecosystem as a whole, for others they may just want something which works, and works well.
For a while, I had rarely ever used an Android or iOS phone, I simply used Windows phones warts and all. Late last year, I dabbled with Android, using the Moto G, Redmi Note 3, Nexus 6 and Nexus 5. As far as reliability goes, I was blown away. Not even with regards to things that aren’t possible on Windows phones, but things that are possible but don’t work reliably.
Things like opening a notification from the notification center and being taken to the app, attaching an image to send without the app crashing, opening an app without the app crashing the first time, no-random reboots, no unexplained battery drain. It all just worked like it should. It was like Windows Phone and Android had switched places in the hierarchy of things, with Windows phone being a laggy, crashy mess and Android being smooth and unoptimized.
There’s an argument to be made that on lower end devices Windows may offer a better experience than the equivalently priced Android phone, but this argument loses validity with the current crop of Android devices. The Lumia 650 competes with phones like the Xiaomi Redmi Note and Moto G, which isn’t so much a competition for the Android devices as much as it is a one-sided beat down.
On the cheaper end of the market, value for money is an increasingly relevant metric, and Windows phones don’t offer high value of money when you take the app gap or specs into consideration. The current crop of low-end devices ship with sleek metal bodies, powerful cameras and large screens. We can talk in circles all about smoothness and tiles all day, but most people would rather use a relatively slow Snapchat than not have the option at all.
Perhaps this highlights the greatest flaw in the low-end sales strategy of Windows phone. The lower end the phone, the less reliable it is, the less people recommend it, the more people actively advise against it. In other words, the higher the current number of sales, the lower the possible number of future sales.
Reports have circulated of Microsoft not being proud of the Windows 10 Mobile experience as it is on the current Lumia line, as well as work to be done on improving the platform for future devices in Redstone 2 and 3.
As Windows phone sinks to less than 1%, there’s no reason for Microsoft to heavily push Windows 10 for phones at the moment if it heavily poisons the well of future Windows phones. Microsoft has already stated that they are committed to mobile for the future, but not at the moment. In order to fix Windows phone sales, they have to fix Windows phone first, and if they can’t accomplish the latter, there’s no point in attempting the former.