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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