“While Microsoft continues to support Windows 10 Mobile, we are not focused on building new features for the system. We will continue to invest in the Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and Yammer mobile apps for iOS and Android, and also in desktop apps for Windows and Mac.”—Microsoft posted on its support page.
Windows Phone is through. Though Microsoft has made no statements explicitly stating this, there is enough evidence for us to finally say goodbye to the Windows Phone OS, almost a decade after it made its debut in the smartphone market. And what a ride it has been.
The smartphone world was split into two when Microsoft entered the mobile phone market in 2010—Apple’s iOS for the brand-conscious and Google’s Android for the practical. Blackberry was already losing ground fast.
A two-way fight between what might essentially be considered ideologies was about to turn into a three-way slugfest. How would the Windows phone appear to the consumer? Would it join iOS on its pedestal, or would it become the handy, customisable playground that Android was?
The world was about to see one of the largest technology companies make a real attempt to break into the duopoly of one of the biggest and fastest growing tech markets. What ensued may serve as a valuable case study for all time to come.
It turns out that Microsoft had been an old player in the mobile phone arena with products such as Windows Mobile released as early as 2000. But these were times when the smartphone culture hadn’t yet been born and the likes of Nokia and Motorola still ruled the roost.
When Apple launched iOS in 2007 and Google released Android in 2008, the world of mobile phones saw a rapid change. Such was the explosion that it brought the old king to its knees; by 2008, Nokia’s market share was on a catastrophic decline. Apple and hardware manufacturers, who had had the sense to team up with Android, now found themselves basking in the sun.
Microsoft realised it was late to the game and began working on a new operating system in 2008. Time was limited and the product had to be launched quickly, so the brand new Windows Phone OS cut off compatibility with its predecessors and looked only towards the future. Windows Phone 7 was launched in 2010, two years late to the scene.
Updated 7.5 versions quickly followed letting users access newer features and fixing minor bugs. But Microsoft was already working on something bigger and better. Windows 8, their most ambitious project was due to be released soon and it would sit on different hardware specifications. A final Windows Phone 7.8 was released in 2013. That’s the last we saw of it.
In 2011, Microsoft and Nokia jointly announced their partnership to a world which was finally sitting up and taking notice. It was exciting news after all—Microsoft’s software was marrying Nokia’s hardware. Talk about a power couple. The same year, they unveiled the Lumia series which ran on Windows. Nokia’s Maps and Store had been merged with their Microsoft counterparts and Bing was made the common search engine.
In October 2012, the new operating system Windows Phone 8 was released for mobile devices. This version was built on different architecture and was vastly better than its predecessors. It shared features with Windows 8 for PC and was capable of supporting larger screens with better resolutions. However, owing to its new construction, there were a lot of bugs Microsoft had to fix.
In September 2013, Microsoft bought Nokia’s mobile phone division outright and changed the brand name to a rather drab “Microsoft Mobile”. Despite the unfortunate naming, new things were in store for the rechristened brand.
The long-awaited windows Phone 8.1 was announced as the natural update in 2014. With this software, Windows had finally caught up with its competitors. Windows Phone 8.1 had updated features, device syncing options, a decent repertoire of apps, and a facelift. Microsoft also included a voice assistant to match Apple’s 'Siri' and Google’s 'Google Now'—'Cortana' had joined the game.
Windows Phone 8.1 devices sold more units than ever before, becoming Microsoft’s most widely used mobile software till date. Then, in 2015, Windows 10 Mobile was introduced. This software was highly compatible with the PC version, and was intended to give Microsoft supremacy across platforms. It didn’t have the desired effect, however.
Upping the game
Though it may have never obtained the same sort of market share, Windows Phone 8 and the subsequent versions certainly ruffled the feathers of Microsoft’s opponents.
Apple and Google both felt the heat when the Nokia merger happened. Being new to the arena, Microsoft had the opportunity to rethink the game; and rethink it did. To differentiate itself in the market, Windows Phone had a distinctive new design philosophy—the 'Metro' design language. As a design philosophy, it pushed the boundaries that its contemporaries had set; it was leaner, cleaner and decidedly avant-garde.
‘Live-tiles’ is another feature that Microsoft pioneered, the thought behind it being your phone should tell you what you need to know in a glance. The windows start screen was bright and lively with well-animated tiles. The novelty of it alone was enough to grab consumers’ attention.
With Microsoft snapping at their heels, Apple and Google had to up their game. Both Android and Apple saw cleaner and brighter updates with the focus shifting to visuals and transition-animations. Windows phone was also extremely camera-centric, which led to a sudden improvement in the quality of cameras all round.
For all its innovation and novelty, Windows Phone never really made it big. There were well publicised updates and there were advertisement campaigns, but to little avail. Perhaps if iOS and Android hadn’t pulled up their socks, we would see a lot more Windows phones around.
One of the major reasons behind this was the lack of third party involvement.
Apps have become the driving force behind the modern smartphone, and this posed a problem. Developers had to remake their apps for the Windows platform; this was tedious, expensive, and since the OS had limited users, simply not worth the time for many. The apps that were introduced often had bugs and suffered from infrequent updates. This problem plagued the Windows Phone till the very end.
Others had problems with the unfamiliar user interface and the incessant software updates that come with any new operating system.
Microsoft had managed to gain a toe-hold in the smartphone market, but it was proving to be more expensive than it was worth. In 2016, the tech giant finally accepted the fact. It cut thousands of jobs in the smartphone division and ceased advertisement. Since then, their market share has fallen to around 2 per cent. Many users switched to either Android or IOS before the platform could ever fully mature.
Microsoft had a similar experience with its software update for PCs, but through all the tumult that Windows 8 and 8.1 caused, Windows 10 has finally managed to strike the right balance and become an OS as capable, or perhaps even better than the masterpiece that was Windows 7. The differentiating factor was that Microsoft could afford this since it already held the lion’s share of the PC market.
The dream lives on
It’s over for Windows Phone 8, and Windows 10 Mobile is on its last legs. Microsoft knows this, and considering they are one of the largest companies in the business, it is foolish to assume they are out for the count.
There’s a slim chance that Windows 10 Mobile may make a comeback. Microsoft is working on a version which will run on ARM processors, which will allow mobile phones to run a full version of Windows 10. This will end the third party issue since it will allow access to desktop applications.
Microsoft has already started directing its time and resources towards its apps on the Apple and Android store, and with essentials like Microsoft Office and Skype, it maintains a strong presence there. The company is also working on projects like 'Holo Lens' the rumoured 'Surface Phone'.
It is entirely possible that Microsoft changes the very nature of the mobile phone market in the near future, but for now we say goodbye.