Windows Phone

Worth-reading refection on the stagnation of Windows Phone and its app ecosystem from The Verge:

I’ve always been slightly frustrated at the lack of Windows Phone apps, but as the gaps have been gradually filled, a new frustration has emerged: dead apps. Developers might be creating more and more Windows Phone apps, but the top ones are often left untouched with few updates or new features. That’s a big problem for apps like Twitter that are regularly updated on iOS and Android with features that never make it to Windows Phone. My frustration boiled over during the World Cup this year, as Twitter lit up with people talking about the matches. I felt left out using the official Windows Phone Twitter app because it didn’t have a special World Cup section that curated great and entertaining tweets, or country flags for hashtags.

It’s a real shame. I’ve always liked Windows Phone and felt it deserved wildly more success than it got. I’ve never owned one but always really wanted to; there’s a crispness and an elegance to the OS, and a terrific balance both between control and customisability, and between productivity and playfulness, that I flat-out adore.

Although for many people checking off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype and WhatsApp is likely all the third party app diversity they need, I’d reach for the same examples as Tom Warren does when complaining about the moribund ecosystem – Dark Sky and Citymapper. (I’d throw in Tweetbot too, of course.) These are astonishingly good apps, apps that take highly chaotic and complex systems and present them in a clear, directly actionable way.

It always struck me – from a position of ignorance, on the sidelines – that Microsoft could have, in the early days, just simply bought success for Windows Phone. Huge bounties for developers, free licensing of the OS, massive campaigns, breaks and incentives for carriers and retailers – it’s done some of these, but never, it seems, with enough commitment or at sufficient scale. It’s like the company didn’t think the mobile market was a prize worth fighting for.

Success, of course, can be defined in many ways – Apple, for example, seems perfectly happy to count revenue share in the smartphone market rather than market share, and that’s understandable – but it’s hard to imagine Microsoft, especially Microsoft, defining Windows Phone’s situation now as a success. And the time when it could have just bought success is probably past for this round.

Update: When I posted this to Facebook, my old editor Ian Betteridge made a typically astute comment: “The thing to remember is that Microsoft had also been clobbered by the DoJ and EU for things like tying, bundling, etc. Windows Phone is basically what you get when a company which got used to being able to throw its weight around suddenly can no longer do so.” I wonder how explicitly that’s true or whether it just permeated the culture at such a fundamental level that it coloured everyone’s attitude to growth and opportunities without them even realising it?