Monday, November 12, 2012

Windows Phone 8: A Dire Prediction

Windows Phone 8 just isn't going to be enough.  Paul Thurrott is starting to see it and so am I.  In a recent article, Paul said he had a "nagging feeling" that Window Phone OS was just not going to take off.  He's right about that and I'll explain why.

First, let me explain that while this is just my opinion, I think it is a very well informed opinion.  I am a geek, nerd, and self-proclaimed mobile-phone enthusiast.  Over the past 3 years I've carried a Samsung Focus, IPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S2 (with about a dozen roms installed) and recently a Lumia 920.  I've benchmarked them, tested them, setup use cases for them, and written about them.  I read dozens of mobile blogs.  I'm not a fan boy of any single platform although I do want WP8 to succeed just for competitions sake.

I realized that WP8 was in trouble yesterday when I went to my local Best Buy store.  I strolled through the mobile phone center where there were dozens of people looking at phones, standing in line, and upgrading their lines.  I heard several people utter the words "GS3"  or "iphone".  I then went by the AT&T cabinet only to find that the Lumia 920 was not on display at all.  They had some in the drawer but the 900 was on display.  No Windows Phone signage at all.  None.  There were big displays advertising the GS3 that was released over 6 months ago but not a single sign for the 920 released just the day before.

I showed my wife the 920 and she liked the look and how photos were well integrated.  Overall she was impressed and I seemed to be well on the way to making her a convert.  Then I mentioned the lack of apps. No instagram, no pinterest, no bingo bash, no redbox, no mint, no pandora (yet).  Her response was swift.  Oh, that will never work.  So it looks like she might be getting a GS3 on black friday.  And I might be with her.

Windows Phone is a very creative attempt at a new OS so Microsoft deserves credit for that but Microsoft is fighting a battle I don't think it can win.  Phone sales are made in only two ways: by brand or by price/availability.  Apple has the brand people sewed up.  That leaves the price/availability crowd and Android has a strangle hold on them.  Walk into a Walmart, Best Buy, or Radio Shack and check it out.  All Android.  There will be a single IPhone display (they don't need any more than that) and may be a single Windows phone display or Blackberry display but the rest will be Android.  And many of those devices will be free or $1 or $.01.  These are the phones that people buy because they are cheap and because they come in all shapes and sizes: physical keyboards, small screens, large screens, on screen buttons, hardware buttons, etc.  The only way to get a large group of these buyers is to be on the shelves.

The only way for Microsoft to get significant shelf space is to (1) make it more expensive for OEMs to use Android and (2) give OEMs the ability to really customize WP8 at the software level.  They are working on number 1 with their patents.  Some Android makers already pay Microsoft a royalty on every device sold.  But I'm not sure about number 2.

Microsoft, in their attempt to control the experience and preserve battery life, has so limited what is possible on their handset that I can't see OEMs being interested long term. This would have been ok several years ago when our expectations were lower but we've seen the other side and we don't want to go back.

Just look at some of the customizations that Samsung was able to create for the Galaxy S3.  Voice control of camera, music app, and more all without some special keyword.  Just say  louder and the music app gets louder.  Just say snooze and the alarm will snooze.  I don't think that's even possible on WP8 today.  What about a geo-reminder service?  Not possible in all cases as WP8 only allows a single location tracking app at a time.  What about turning the phone over to mute it?  Possible?  I doubt it.  What about scheduling an app to run at a specific time?  Don't think it's possible either.  This is not to praise the GS3 or Android.  I am just pointing out that for Microsoft to succeed they need to target Android and to do that successfully they really needed to open up WP8 and make it possible to develop very cool experiences.  Sadly, they haven't done that.

They will get some big time apps ported to WP8. I suspect Microsoft is paying for much of this in the same way that Nokia is paying for free versions of Words with Friends and Draw Something.  Meanwhile Android continues to improve its UI, Google Now is already better than Siri in many ways and getting better with every iteration, and as more and more apps moves to GCM, the battery life story on Android will get better and better.

It's a real shame because I like Windows Phone 8 and want it to succeed but on it's current trajectory, I just don't see that happening.