Windows Phone needs to grow much faster. Here’s how.


Back when Windows Phone 7.5 Mango was released we thought Microsoft had kicked Windows Phone into high gear with all the hundreds of great new features we had seen over the hastily developed Windows Phone 7 operating system.  Then Microsoft rebuilt Windows Phone with the NT kernel as Windows Phone 8 Apollo.  Sure, that brought some huge potential with the standardization of building upon the full Windows operating system… up to 64 processor cores and huge amounts of RAM are now possible… but that put a bit of a set-back on building out breakthrough features and innovations.  How can Microsoft get their phone operating system back in high gear?

Buy Nokia

Certainly this year, Nokia was by far the most innovative contributor to the Windows Phone operating system.  Microsoft hasn’t even released a headline-worthy update to the OS.  Sure, there was GDR2 which brought what… bug fixes to the “Other storage” problem and a setting for the default camera lens?  Nokia, on the other hand, has built some very amazing apps for the platform along with some incredible hardware.  The Lumia 1020 is truly unmatched among smartphones these days, and that Lumia 520 has been very popular due to its tiny price tag yet still powerful features.  Microsoft needs to let the geniuses they just hired through the Nokia deal to take a front seat in plugging more innovation and creativity into Windows Phone… like a lot more.

Nokia and Microsoft spent lots of time discussing new features and trying to decide who should implement them and in what way.  By bringing the teams together (hopefully under one roof), decisions can theoretically be made more quickly and things can move forward.  Furthermore, this should make for a much more integrated experience.

Distribute Updates via the Windows Store

One of the issues that everyone is frustrated with regarding Windows Phone is the infrequency of system updates as well as the ability for carriers to slow the distribution of said updates.  AT&T Windows Phones still have not received the latest round of bug fixes in Windows Phone GDR2.  How could Microsoft circumvent this problem?

How about the same way that full Windows 8 gets updated?  Many of the new components of Windows 8 are actually just apps that can be installed from the Windows Store.  If the Windows Phone operating system was built as a bare bones system that could be extended significantly with installers, then those extensions could be upgraded much more frequently and bypass the carrier testing phases.  Some core functions like the phone, the start screen, the app listing, hardware settings, and the Windows store would probably have to be part of the system updates that carrier testing has to approve, but you would think everything else could be implemented as separate installations (many of which should be bundled by default of course).

Some of Microsoft’s components are already distributed this way.  Skype is pretty well integrated with Windows Phone, but it exists as its own installer that can be updated as needed.  Microsoft also recently released a number of Bing apps that are separate from the integrated Bing search and can be updated through the store as desired.

Nokia actually does their own custom settings updates this way as well.  We see Nokia hardware driver related tweaks and bug fixes distributed via the Windows Phone Store all the time.  The whole operating system should get updates this way.

Leapfrog other platforms

Stop trying to catch up with Apple and Android in the “number of apps” department.  The original iPhone had zero apps.  It wasn’t even a smartphone.  But people were still very excited about it because it was aiming in a completely different direction from what most smartphones were doing at the time. Windows Phone 7 was completely different from a UI design perspective and that was very refreshing, but a lot of people don’t get it… and now a lot of those UI design innovations are either being dropped (Examples: Facebook, Twitter apps) or they’re being copied by Apple and Android (Metro UI style designs).  How about something even crazier than the new UI design?

For each “catch-up” feature added (such as 1080 HD screen support, multi-core CPU support, notifications center, etc.), add something else that has never been done before on any other platform.

Make the marketing message abundantly clear

Speaking of “not getting it” in terms of the UI design innovations or the other advantages that Windows Phone may have over other platforms, wouldn’t it be nice if someone would explain it to us consumers?  A huge aspect of Apple’s success is their commercials that actually illustrate and explain the advantages of their products.  There haven’t been any Windows Phone commercials that give viewers a compelling and understandable reason to buy the product… that is until this recent commercial for the Lumia 1020 (and it’s working).   That’s what you need more of, Microsoft.

Make it extremely easy for developers to hop on

A lot of this Microsoft has already done.  The Windows Phone App studio looks extremely easy and Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone is a free download, but according to the commenters on many tech sites, Windows Phone still doesn’t have enough apps.  One thing that sets Windows Phone apart from Android and iOS is its balanced approach to 3rd party app integration.  On Android, basically anything goes.  On iOS, 3rd party apps really aren’t allowed to integrate with the OS very well.  Windows Phone is kind of in the middle.  There are some compelling ways for 3rd party developers to integrate with the lock screen, notifications, the global speech UI, camera lenses, camera UI replacements, VoIP apps, auto-upload cloud apps, media player apps, and of course live tiles.  Still there’s a lot more that can be done.

Get the rest of your ecosystem on the same page.

Can you believe that movies and TV shows you may have bought from Xbox Video on Windows 8 or Xbox cannot be played on Windows Phone 8?  They work with Windows Phone 7.x when copied over via Zune, but Windows Phone 8 removed the ability to play any kind of DRM video purchased through Microsoft’s video store.  That’s pretty embarrassing.  Microsoft’s popular Exchange Server brought special mobile versions of Outlook Web Access with its 2013 version, but guess what… those nice new mobile versions don’t work with Windows Phone’s web browser.  Microsoft’s Sync in-car computer operating system doesn’t work very well with Windows Phone either.  All of the other development teams inside Microsoft still don’t seem to communicate with each other very well.  That has to change.

Stay passionate.

A big reason why Apple is so successful is because their users and their employees really believe in the company.  They want to be part of something bigger with a clear morally right objective.  Allowing your fans and your employees to become disillusioned is probably the worst thing that can happen.  Don’t let corporate politics destroy the passion that Nokians have for building phones.


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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!