Papa's Perspective

Windows Phone Challenges for Microsoft

When it comes to Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is making headway. But it still has a ways to go, especially in the area of apps.

I have a huge family. All of my relatives who have smartphones -- including my nieces, nephews, sisters and even my father -- sport a Google Android-based device or an Apple iPhone. Me, I have a Windows Phone.

I'm a developer and it's often hard to separate from that position and put myself in the role of an end user. But lately I've been trying to do just that with my phone. It seems that outside of the development world the Windows Phone just hasn't picked up steam. This is simply what I've observed on my own, it's not a scientific analysis. I love the UI of my Windows Phone, I truly do. I actually enjoy using it much more than my previous iPhones. So why don't I see Windows Phones in the wild as much as the other devices, and what would it take to change that?

Other platforms had a head start, but that's no excuse now; it's been a year since Windows Phone debuted. So is it the marketing? Is it the carriers? I think it comes down to three things: what's cool, which phone has the most enjoyable experience and which platform has the best apps.

Coolness Factor
Don't underestimate the coolness factor of a smartphone. My nieces and nephews probably wouldn't go out in public without an Android smartphone or an iPhone. Once my family hits their cell phone eligibility age, they seem to clamor for these status symbols. Windows Phone isn't even on their list. There are a variety of reasons, but however you slice it, most students from junior high school all the way through college simply don't want a Windows Phone.

This cool factor isn't just limited to kids, either. Most adults think of a phone as a status symbol, too. So why isn't Windows Phone cool? I'm not sure, but the addition of devices like Nokia Lumia should make Windows Phone part of the conversation when it comes to cool smartphones.

Excellent Experience
The user experience is an area where I think Windows Phone really stands out from the crowd. I personally love the user experience, and I'm not alone. Other people who use it rave about the screen, the UI, its performance, the animations, live tiles, pinning, background tasks, notifications, call quality and almost everything when it comes to how it works. I enjoy using my Windows Phone and that's the big reason I keep it. But the user experience, although superior in my opinion, is not enough of a catalyst on its own to make Windows Phone the No. 1 smartphone. The iPhone and Android phones also offer excellent user experiences (albeit different ones) and that's part of the problem.

App Gap
The third aspect is the apps. Here is where Windows Phone falls behind the competition. The app stores for all three phones are on par with each other in terms of the high percentage of apps you likely will never want nor use. But when it comes to finding the apps you really want, Windows Phone is still hit or miss. I use a lot of very cool apps in the store daily, but gaps clearly exist.

Try to find a big bank app for your Windows Phone. Some are available in the Windows Phone Marketplace, but many mobile banking apps from major financial institutions are not. Most banks, however, consider it necessary to have an app for the iPhone or Android-based device. This is just one example, but it seems to happen a lot when I go to look for an app that I know exists for the iPhone. Over the past year, the app gap has shrunk, but it's still a concern. The folks at Microsoft are doing a great job of trying to get key apps into the Windows Phone Marketplace and they are making headway, but it's definitely not there yet.

In the meantime, the development community has done a good job of helping to fill some of the void while we wait for the official apps.

These aren't easy problems to solve, but the Windows Phone team has done a lot to try to address them and has made progress. Some of these issues stem from the chicken-and-egg scenario: you can't get companies to create apps until you get users; you can't get users without the apps. Others, such as coolness factor, are much harder to combat. The good news is that the Windows Phone has a fantastic UI, a great team behind the phone in both marketing and engineering, and some compelling reasons to think the future might be bright (Nokia for one). But for now, when I go visit with my nieces and nephews, all I see are fruits and robots. And that is Papa's Perspective.

About the Author

John Papa is a Microsoft Regional Director and former Microsoft technical evangelist. Author of 100-plus articles and 10 books, he specializes in professional application development with Windows, HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, C#, .NET and SQL Server. Check out his online training with Pluralsight; find him at johnpapa.net and on Twitter at twitter.com/john_papa.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, May 9, 2012 Thomas New York

To give a little additional information concerning my previous post. My wife and I are Windows Phone owners since 2 months after launch. If switching phones early wasn't so punitive with AT&T, we would be using other phones already due to the apps situation, not due to the phone. We both love the phones.

Wed, May 9, 2012 Thomas New York

The coolness factor relates to the app store. My wife wants an iPhone because the apps her and her friends use (anything by Zynga, Draw Something, etc...) don't exist on Windows Phone. The apps that have crossed over game wise are neutered (Angry Birds, Bug Village, etc...) that do not have the same functionality as on Android or iPhone. Or other games that have moved over to Windows Phone are old on other platforms (Let's Golf 2, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit, etc...). Where is Real Racing, Let's Golf 3, all of the Angry Birds levels, all of the Bug Village areas? This platform needs parity with regards to games and HOT current apps! THIS IS WHAT IS HOLDING WINDOWS PHONE BACK! And it will continue to do so since those in charge don't see this as a hindrance. Nokia highlighted their great working relationship with EA. Why is the EA app coverage on Windows Phone such crap?

Thu, Jan 26, 2012

I've owned a WinPhone since it came out, an HTC, and I find it almost useless. The UI is usable but not great; Metro only really works well for the "desktop" home screen, not within apps, and even that becomes almost unusable if you load very many apps. You can't sync it with anything on your Windows PC or laptop - not even Outlook - and can't transfer files via USB. Everything has to go through the security-hole-in-the-sky Skydrive, and you have to load crapware on your PC (Zune) to communicate with it (which isn't allowed by most IT departments, including those in AT&T and Best Buy stores among others). It's useless in most business environments. There is no file browser, so you can't manage your own storage. You can't even delete files without being connected to Microsoft's cloud. It's impossible to configure an actually secure WiFi connection. The "back" button use is inconsistent even among MS apps. The OS still has lots of little glitches - such as the phone "going to sleep" in the middle of saving a large file, corrupting your data. The layout of buttons on the HTC phones means you can't pick it up without unintentionally turning it on, or off, or taking a picture. I could go on and on. With a market share of less than 2%, why waste time and money writing apps for it? Especially when MS throws up roadblocks to make writing them harder than needbe, and makes your investment in development for the thing questionable. These are among the very valid reasons why people are turned off by WinPhone and why it's never recommended by stores. It's a PITA.

Mon, Jan 9, 2012 issieman London

Am an iPhone user that moved not by design to windows phone 7.5, I bought the HTC Titan and am happy with it. As a newbie developer am hoping to build some apps for the platform. The iPhone app store is over crowded now and as a developer your app will be one of many with even possibly that some apps will be better than yours. At least my app can be unique in the Windows market place. Sales guys in shops get a commission on every iPhone/android phone sold. Microsoft will be going in this direction for 2012.. (getting dity)

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 TheDude

It's because MS's trashing of .NET/SL and it's developers. Thanks to MS tho, without .NET/SL Dramathon... We will never experience ECLIPSE(JDK+Android SDK) and ADOBE EDGE as an additional tools in our development.

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 mtiede

I can think of at least one marketing opportunity that has been missed. I've been watching Hawaii 5-O. The have Windows Phones and use them with Surface and it is cool stuff. But I suspect a lot of people think what they are watching is something futuristic, not something that exists. That should make ads on there like, "Use the same phones you see used in the show: Windows Phone 7!" And then show some detail about how they actually work. I have also bumped into BestBuy not knowing anything about WP7. I went there when I was looking to buy mine. I asked them if they had any and then had to point out to the salesperson where they had one (I spotted the UI showing). They recommended and Android, I think. No particular interest. They thought it ran Windows 7.

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 Mark Burnie Guildford

I think the real problem is that most people (non techie) don't even know that they exist. I was recently in a national mobile phone shop with my wife to get a new phone. There was an entire wall given over to IPhones and IPads (there were actually only a couple of devices available - but they had a good 20 square foot of wall space given over to it). There was a slightly larger display on another wall for Android phones (about 30-40 of them), at the bottom right hand corner of the android display was a single solitary Windows Phone 7 device. No marketing material, no information, nothing. Not only that but it was one of the more expensive devices in the display. If I hadn't been looking specifically for a Windows phone I would have completely missed it. The sales staff were happy to show and talk about the Androids, the IPhones, even the Blackberry's but didn't really seem to know much or care about the Windows Phone. The shop is part of one of the largest independent national chains here in the UK and it doesn't even appear on their radar.My wife ended up opting for a Blackberry. From a developers perspective MS's treatment of Silverlight has poured cold water over any interest I have in developing for the phone, I have more important targets from a career perspective. It's a shame really as I actually really like the phones.

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 IAN

IMO you have forgoten about the most important factor. WP7 phones are just boring ... they look the same, they behave the same, they are not deeply customizable (in terms of an UI). And the UI itself is ... well, not everybody likes it. Really !

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 Frank

Add the fact that MS desbanded Silverlight and its team. I'm a developer and just in time when i would create a ton of games and apps, there was the Silverlight drama. I dropped off and passed to other technologies = no more WP apps from me and others. Well done, some people at MS should be fired.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 Mike

They really should have called it XPhone. This would have had immediate coolness factor with the kids, although a little bit too similar to iPhone. I think they wanted to build upon the good reputation of Win7 (after the Vista-Desaster).

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 Philipp

This one baffles me: still no Skype app for WP7 even though MSFT has been owning Skype for 4 months now.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 Steve Hiner

I'm also a dev, I've written a couple Windows Phone apps, I'm the only person I know with a Windows Phone and I totally agree. Monika brings up the other MAJOR issue. In some unscientific "testing" some Win Phone devs asked phone store employees for recommendations. The vast majority of store employees didn't even mention Win Phone as an option unless specifically asked about it. In one case one of them was asked to recommend a phone that works really well with Office apps they recommended their Android phone. It was only when asked about a phone that works well with Xbox that they finally admitted that they sell Windows Phones. Until Microsoft cracks that issue it's hopeless. I agree with ELABS that they should offer an incentive to the sales people. They need to get enough phones out there that people will know about them and see how great they are.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 elabs

MS has a lot of brands and Windows is one of the less "cool" ones. (Perhaps Office is even less cool.) However, some of them are pretty cool, XBox and Silverlight being the coolest. I always wished they would have branded the phone with one of those technologies instead of with Windows. They should have called it the XPhone and stamped XBox logos all over it. If they had done that it would have been selling like hotcakes with teenage boys.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 elabs

This is my exact experience as well. I'm the only guy in the family with a Windows Phone. Even my cousin who works for MS in marketing has an iPhone. I recently went into BestBuy and saw 46 phones on display. Only one of them was a WP7; it was a Samsung Focus Flash. I asked the sales lady about it and all she said was it didn't have as many apps as the other platforms. That was the only thing she knew about it. I think it's time for MS to go nuclear and start offering comissions directly to salespeople, i.e. you get $25 for every phone you sell.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 Monika

Add carriers to the list as well. I'm trying to get my hands on a Nokia Lumia 800 with WP7 since it came out but in Romania it's not even available! No one even knows if/when it will be. Out of 45 phones offered by this particular carrier, only 2 are with Windows. Very sad! :-(

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