I've been a Microsoft supporter (dare I say fan boy) since... well... as long as I can remember, and an equally strong critic of Apple for just as long, but last week I did something I never thought I would. I ordered an iPhone.
Why a fruit phone? Don't you hate Apple?
Hate is a strong word, but I have been extremely vocal and critical of Apple over the years. Apple hardware is simply beautiful, it's stable, and for the most part, everything just works (right?). What I dislike about Apple is the culture - something that has been rooted in every business decision they've made in the last 20 years... the idea that people will flock to buy something just because it's brand new and it has a fruit logo on it. I can't tell you how many people I've met that have every version of the iPad. This is completely unnecessary... nobody needs 5 iPads; you're gullible. I refuse to be proxy to that culture. I bought an iPhone 6 out of need, and any future purchases will also be based on need... will I run to the nearest Apple store to get the next phone as soon as it comes out? No.
The other frustration that I suppose I'll learn to deal with is the abundance of proprietary everything. What do you mean I have to carry around a proprietary charging cable to charge something that everyone else in the industry uses a Micro-USB for? What do you mean every licensed accessory is overpriced because of the Apple royalty? But that said, at the end of the day the big selling point of the iPhone is the ecosystem - and it's this ecosystem that helps me look beyond cultural and hardware inconveniences.
Why not Windows Phone? Wasn't it Amazing?
Before I say anything bad, let me say that I've given Windows Phone 4 years to become what it could be. I've proudly recruited family, friends and peers to the Windows Phone platform. The operating system is beautiful. It's simple to use, it's clean, in short it works. The integration with OneDrive is great, and I've long said that any of the critical apps I need to get through the day are available on Windows Phone. What took me a long time to realize is that all those things that I just praised... are all available on other platforms as well.
Need banking and travel apps? For the most part they're all available on Windows Phone. Want to be part of anything new and exciting? You're out of luck; it really is quite that simple.
As anyone that follows me knows that I'm a huge supporter of Kickstarter. I love what it represents and the innovation that's derived from empowering people to try something new. Sadly, not a single one of my backed projects has plans for Windows Phone, and virtually every new product develops for Apple first, Android second, and Windows Phone third (if at all). This dilemma isn't limited to startups though.
Major companies develop for Windows Phone last. United Airlines as an example, released updated iOS and Android apps earlier this year, while the Windows Phone app still hasn't had the matching refresh launched. I can't fault them for that... if the user pool is so small that they would be better off spending their money elsewhere then that makes complete business sense. I've personally encountered dozens of "apps" that are just basically the company's mobile website packaged in an iFrame and tossed into the store... just to say they support Windows Phone. For the longest time, the Redbox app was like this. It took Fitbit ages to finally support Windows Phone... citing a lack of support for Bluetooth 4, which many (if not all) of the Nokia/Lumia phones support... and those are just three examples of hundreds and hundreds of companies that have placed little to no emphasis on the Windows Phone platform.
In my opinion, this is where Microsoft has failed. Microsoft has provided zero incentive to develop apps for their platform. It has taken us almost 4 years to get to the point where every day apps we need to survive are largely available. I fear it'll take another 10 years to get to the maturity of iOS or Android. Thinking back to my original Windows Phone purchase, I practically had to argue with the salesman in my local wireless carrier's store to get him to sell me a Windows Phone. That story is largely the same today... go to your wireless carrier and they'll likely recommend you an iPhone or an Android phone way before a Windows Phone. If you don't specifically ask about Windows Phone, or be pulled that way due to a sale or promotion, chances are you're going to leave with an iPhone or Android phone.
So now we're stuck in this chicken vs. the egg dilemma. Windows Phone can't build and retain market share without a mature ecosystem, and that mature ecosystem won't happen as long as the market share is too small for developers to invest in it.
I spent a lot of time pondering creating apps for Windows. There's such a gap in the ecosystem that there must be a good business opportunity there, right? I'm not so sure. With such a small slice of market share, any sort of niche app is going to have too small of a user pool to make it worth my time to develop.
Everyone knows the name Microsoft. Anyone who had been using a cell phone since the mid-90s knew the name Nokia. I've had numerous Nokia phones over the years, and they were some of the best built handsets I've ever owned. When Microsoft announced the acquisition of the Nokia devices group I was thrilled. This was our chance to get out there, connect with customers, build great hardware, and steal market share. Sadly, this hasn't happened.
Microsoft and Nokia created some great phones together. My Nokia Lumia 1020 is fabulous. But now it has been announced that the Nokia name is being dropped and Microsoft's mobile devices will be branded with just the Lumia name. Well that's great if you're a Microsoft fan boy that knows the story, and knows where Lumia came from, but if you're a layman... what the hell is "Lumia"? The few sales people that were actually pushing Microsoft and Nokia phones in the past had the benefit of brand recognition... now they're trying to sell something nobody has ever heard of.
This leads me to my ultimate dilemma. Microsoft has been my life for years, privately and professionally, but I also consider myself an innovative individual that wants to be on the cusp of new technology. Waiting months or potentially years, for a hardware or service to create a Windows Phone app just isn't for me.
Microsoft is going to have to spend oodles of money on brand recognition, educating users on the Lumia name, if they're going to have any chance at building the brand. I think it's too late for that. I feel like we're at a now or never crossroads for Windows Phone. The sad thing is that the Operating System is fabulous. It doesn't crash and hang constantly like my previous Android phones did (the primary reason Android was off the table this time around). It's clean, and simple to use. The live tiles make complete sense, and when properly used by an app are incredibly powerful. In short, it's a great platform that has been completely misguided and poorly released to the market.
If things change, then I'll certainly be back. But for now, it's off to greener pastures... and all sorts of cool home automation and hardware projects on Kickstarter.