Things Microsoft needs to learn from 2013
2014 dawns and Windows Phone lives to fight again. Not that there was much doubt as to its ability to survive. Quite the contrary. It has not only survived, but grown. But let’s face it, that sounds more dramatic.
Windows Phone hasn’t exactly been burning up the charts and it remains a distant third in the mobile phone ecosystem. That’s not a bad place to be. It’s certainly enviable compared to the likes of Blackberry, Sailfish, Ubuntu, and all the other party people rocking the house tonight. There are some lessons that can be learned from Windows Phone’s 2013 performance.
Give me developers or give me death!
Windows Phone is growing. It is not yet the force that its other two competitors are, but there is growth. It’s vital that Microsoft not compromise that growth and encourage developers to create apps in demand for the platform. Thus far, much of this encouragement has been of the – ahem – financial variety or via incentive programs, but other methods of encouragement should be implemented and nurtured.
Until Windows Phone is considered a top tier platform to develop for first, it will simply fall behind. App developers have limited resources and therefore choices must be made when it comes to for whom to develop. Unfortunately, Windows Phone doesn’t have the numbers to justify the investment as a first platform. It is a “chicken or the egg” kind of problem and there is no simple solution Microsoft has discovered thus far. Mark my words though, the first platform to figure out this problem will take off at an unprecedented rate.
Beyond apps though, Windows Phone also needs to get caught up on some basic services and function that other platforms offer. This is the part where I hang the giant blinking neon signs that say “Google” and “Notification center”. Aren’t they pretty? Anyway. These two huge, giant holes in the Windows Phone experience are major non-starters for many users. Sure, you can use Bing search, and Hotmail, and your mileage may vary on Nokia maps or Bing maps, but Google has an entire social network out there that is just not present on Windows Phone. Hangouts are a critical service that Pocketnow folk in particular miss on Windows Phone. Microsoft and Google really need to kiss and make up in this area so the platform can move forward.
The good news is, on the hardware front, Nokia and Microsoft are doing quite well, keeping up with the Joneses. In one way in particular, they are surpassing the Joneses and leaving them in the dust. Of course, I’m referring to camera technology which is the very definition of “Second to none”. No one else has even come close. But it’s not enough. Windows Phone hardware could use a bit of a refresh. The colors are great and the unibody design is extremely solid. But the design is a bit on the bulky side and just a touch stale.
Would you like a tassel with that?
Of course one of the downsides of Nokia’s camera technology is that it is bulky. I guess largely surpassing the competition comes with a nipple. But this is an area in camera tech where Microsoft should strive to do better. Maybe a camera nipple is not a big deal to many users, but it’s unsightly and just generally yuck. Kill it with fire Microsoft.
On the inside though, Nokiasoft is doing a great job keeping up, and that may have something to do with Windows Phones slow-but-steady growth. Microsoft needs to continue pushing the high end specifications in their flagship offerings, even if the OS can do more with less. When you’re the third dog in the race, nothing short of excellence will give you even the slightest chance of getting even, let alone pulling ahead.
Finally, the Windows Phone UI could use a bit of a refresh. I’m not talking about getting rid of live tiles or anything. But the UI has been in use for just over three years, and it has largely remained the same. Tiles have gotten smaller, but for the most part what you saw in 2010 is what you see now. Software developers know that a critical part of the development process is ongoing updates. It’s true the Windows Phone platform has been updated a few times since 2010, but those updates were predominantly back end updates, feature add-on/upgrades. The UI itself has remained stagnant and that can start to be a problem.
So what I would recommend would be to simply finally merge RT and Windows Phone 8 into one cohesive OS. I have some thoughts on what to keep from where, but that can wait for a later editorial. Suffice it to say keep the highlights from both and make them into one UI. Suddenly two problems are solved – killing RT and refreshing Windows Phone. Winning squared.
Overall, Microsoft and Windows Phone made some good strides in 2013, but there is definitely room for improvement. A great camera is great, but not great enough. Advertising on CBS crime dramas is great, but not great enough. There is still a ton of work to be done to get Windows Phone up to that top tier. A lot of it centers around developers and making people not hate Windows 8. So, um, good luck with that.
So things are good, but not good enough. Slow and steady may win the race as the saying goes, but Daft Punk says Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, and let’s face it, who are we to argue with funky robotic voices. So we’ll give you a pass on “harder”, but Microsoft we’re counting on you to make it Better, Faster and Stronger. 2014 awaits.