Why does Windows Phone 8.1 feel like a catch-up once again?
You may not remember this, but more than a decade ago, Microsoft embarked on the first move that wiped the Palm Pilot’s presence from existence. It may sound funny or odd to you today, but believe it or not, what Microsoft did was launch the first PDA with a color display. Today this is a standard, but when you walked into a store in the year 2000, choosing between a Palm Pilot with a black-and-white display and a plastic casing, compared to a Compaq iPAQ made of aluminum and a color display was a no-brainer, even if the iPAQ was twice as expensive.
So, did Microsoft innovate and leapfrog competition, or did it launch another PDA with a monochrome display? There were Pocket PCs at the time with black-and-white displays, don’t get me wrong, but this single push to improve the product marked a turning point for the industry, and it tilted positively toward Microsoft.
I miss this Microsoft, and I miss it a lot. Back when nobody believed in tablets, Microsoft did, and launched a ton of them. Back when nobody believed in productivity in your pocket, Microsoft did with the Pocket PC in ways we still miss today. Yes, I know the company didn’t succeed in these markets like other companies have, but it’s that level of aggressiveness that is honestly hard to find in Microsoft’s products today.
Windows Phone is one of the biggest examples of a new Microsoft philosophy that’s proving to be more deterring than positive. I commend the company for doing what was necessary to make this platform appealing to consumers, but the last thing it has lately is just that, consumers. The change between Windows Mobile 6.5 and Windows Phone 7 was so dramatic, and the amount of capabilities that the platform lost in this transition were too significant to even keep Windows Mobile loyalists like myself as customers.
Today’s review of Windows Phone 8.1 has left me with a lot of “yes, finally” celebrations, and a good amount of “where did this go?” questions to be answered. Microsoft has definitely addressed a ton of the caveats that we’ve been pointing about the platform over the years, but it seems that the root causes of the problem are being overlooked, and these continue to be the main reasons why many of us have moved-on, or why many people are ignoring the platform, so let’s go through them.
It’s a catch-up once again
Surely Windows Phone 8.1 is a mere .1 upgrade to the previous version, but not even Windows Phone 8 felt like a significant departure from Windows Phone 7. The platform finally allows us to select a wallpaper over the live tiles, and we can now get voice assistance from Cortana, and yes, we can even find cooler ways to share our content with other apps, but would you really consider this an innovation when compared to competing platforms?
I sadly can’t consider this innovation at all. I chuckle every time a Microsoft executive points out that it took Apple four versions of iOS to figure-out Multi-tasking, and Microsoft figured it out a year later, since Apple still figured this out a full calendar year before Microsoft did. It doesn’t matter how long it took Apple to reach 100,000 apps, or how long it took Android to bring us Google Now, since all these services are already old news. I’ll give you an example: If you knew how cumbersome it was to multi-task on iOS before the year 2010, would it be compelling for you to buy a Windows Phone that couldn’t multi-task that same year that Apple fixed the problem?
Cortana, Wallpapers, and everything else you can think of are just solutions to help Windows Phone compete, but not really features that will allow it to standout from competition, at a time when this is extremely necessary for the platform to continue growing.
There is still too much compromise
As we dig deeper into Windows Phone, we have to acknowledge that even though the app gap has been fixed for the most part, that doesn’t mean that the gap doesn’t continue growing. See, even though we finally have a version of Instagram and Spotify running on the platform, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t take ages for these developers to pay attention to Windows Phone. If the amount of user interest doesn’t grow, the next killer app that gets launched on iOS and Android will again take years to arrive on Microsoft’s mobile platform.
Add to that the fact that Microsoft is the only company that launches upgrades, and also kills certain features in the process, and you’d wonder if the company really understands what it launches before it does. Stripping even more functionality from future updates makes the platform feel unreliable, regardless of how small the feature.
No matter how you see it, this is bad publicity for the brand all together. Unless Microsoft can figure out other ways to gain faster and better support for its ecosystem, we see it very unlikely that customers won’t feel like if they’re losing a leg when trying to switch to a Windows Phone.
The bottom line
What was first, the chicken or the egg? Without apps, the platform won’t gain more customers, and without more customers, the platform won’t gain more apps. If Microsoft continues to play this downward spiral of factors it can’t control, the platform will die at some point. Instead of depending on others to gain more popularity, I feel that it’s time for Microsoft to try not to catch-up to competition in its next launch.
Unless Microsoft can create a wow factor that can’t be found today in just “the beautiful live tiles”, it will continue catching-up and disappointing.
What about you? Do you love Windows Phone 8.1, or do you feel it’s too little, too late? Leave us a comment.