According to a recent report by Gartner, worldwide smartphone sales grew by 3.9 percent in the first quarter of 2016. Despite this growth, Windows Phone sales continued to plummet from 2.5% percent around a year ago to a meager 0.7 percent leading to speculations that the unpopular OS might be on its death bed. To make things worse, Microsoft recently announced that it plans to lay off 1850 workers and also kind of hinted that they won’t be releasing another Lumia device. Detrimental! Let’s take a look at why Windows Phone might just become another abandoned project if Microsoft decides to do nothing about it.
When Android showed up a few years ago, it was something different but more importantly people had hope and big plans for it. The same can’t be said about Windows Phone. Most people including me decided to watch from the sidelines and waited for it to grow – It didn’t have a lot of support from crucial stakeholders like OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and application developers unlike Android. I believe this was and is still the biggest problem with Windows Phone.
Android has been refined over the years and while still not perfect, it has had committed stakeholders since when it was a young OS. You see, the OS developers can only do so much. The rest is up to application developers, OEMs and consumers through feedback. So in the end everyone contributes a different aspect which helps when developing the next OS version.
Apple decided to take a difficult approach. They decided to control most of the development by being the sole device manufacturer. To avoid complications they avoided disintegration which means the OS ran only on a specified set of hardware. This allowed them to make the OS very efficient since the core code lines up with the set hardware and as a result the OS flies even on minimum hardware. This is not possible to achieve on Android. Android solves this by demanding raw power and in some cases lack of software customization on top of the OS also helps.
Windows Phone tends to combine the 2 approaches. They limit the range of specified hardware like Apple but also work with different device makers like Android. In theory this is a recipe for success. This means that the resulting phones should be cheaper since low hardware specifications still bring about good software performance. In reality this was true but there was a different kind of problem. At first Microsoft were not developing the software fast enough. Basic OS functions were still missing and it was driving the few but growing user base nuts. The OEMs were also too reluctant to join the party. Hence for a long time Microsoft struggled alone. In fact, according to the recent report by Gartner, 2.3 million (around 96%) out of the 2.4 million Windows Phone which were sold were from Microsoft. This means that apart from Microsoft themselves, very few manufacturers are actually making Windows Phones.
The other big issue was application development. Because of the wait and see attitude that many people had employed, the developers waited for the OS to grow since most could not develop applications for a low user base. This may have been the biggest blow to the OS. Android and iOS users were already accustomed to the numerous applications at their disposal making the switch to Windows Phone unbearable. The few developers who had developed their applications for Windows Phone were also reluctant to update their applications while some decided to pull out altogether. When Android was growing, applications were not the rage but right now it makes it impossible for a new operating system to break through. There is a way to try and counter this. You make the platform compatible with the existing apps from the already established operating systems. Blackberry have attempted this before but it failed. Microsoft recently tried it but the project has never seen the light of day after much promise. While theoretically this initiative makes sense, in reality it is not as simple. The apps can actually work but they will never work as well as they do on their native operating systems.
Windows phone is a really good operating system. However, Microsoft may have underestimated the amount of effort it needed to put in. Is the future still bright for windows phone? The answer to this depends entirely on Microsoft. A few OEMs have joined the bandwagon churning out exciting devices. The state of applications development remains worrying but crucial applications are all available. The OS itself continues to offer a refreshing experience albeit with a few bugs that can always be ironed out. As a Windows Phone fan (winphan) I will always hope for the best and maybe that hope should extend to the people pulling the strings.
Related article: 6 interesting Windows Phone apps that you should try today