What it is: Windows Phone was Microsoft’s answer to the iPhone. Despite all the money spent on marketing, Windows Phone barely has 1% of the smartphone market.
The biggest problem with Microsoft is that they never lead. Instead, they wait until a leader emerges and then Microsoft tries to copy the leader. This strategy has led to failure after failure, yet the company keeps pursuing this strategy anyway. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results.
The biggest problems with copying the leader is that when outside market conditions change and kill the leader, it also kills any copycats following in their wake. Back in the old days before the Internet, online services were popular with names like CompuServe and America Online. Microsoft decided to copy America Online by offering their own online service called the Microsoft Network. That online service arrived just in time for the Internet to wipe out all online services including America Online.
When the Internet became popular, one of the most popular plug-ins for creating animation on web pages was Adobe Flash. Microsoft tried to copy Flash by offering their own plug-in called Silverlight, which was actually slightly superior to Flash. However, the bottom dropped out of the plug-in market when mobile computing in the form of smartphones and tablets took over.
Back in the days of desktops and laptops that had plenty of power, Flash worked just fine. When peoples tarted using mobile devices with much more limited battery power, Flash and other plug-ins simply proved too cumbersome to work properly. By its nature, Flash required constant processing power, essentially draining power just to display animation. With a computer plugged into the wall, Flash’s energy requirements could be overlooked, but with mobile devices, Flash proved an energy hog, consuming far too much power in return for generating animation.
Even worse, early Flash versions couldn’t work with touch screen interfaces. That’s why Steve jobs famously banned Flash from the iPhone because Flash simply wouldn’t work with touch screens or mobile devices. Android manufacturers tried to promote their devices as superior to the iPhone and iPad by claiming it could run Flash. Unfortunately, it never could run Flash properly, which was like a car salesman knowingly selling you a defective car. Eventually even Adobe realized the impossible task of getting Flash to run properly on mobile devices and halted further development of Flash.
When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it caught the world by surprise. Microsoft quickly shelved their mobile phone operating system called Windows CE and opted to created a new operating system from scratch called Windows Phone. Windows Phone was actually a decent operating system, but it didn’t do anything better than the iPhone. Since Windows Phone appeared several years after the iPhone, it failed to capture much attention since it was just another me-too product with few compelling features to make people want to buy one.
Even worse, Microsoft stumbled by encouraging developers to use Silverlight (their Adobe Flash clone) as the main development tool for creating Windows Phone apps. While the iPhone had thousands of apps available, Windows Phone had close to zero when Microsoft initially pitted Windows Phone against the iPhone. When Flash and the browser plug-in market died, it killed both Flash and Silverlight at the same time.
Microsoft quickly released Windows Phone 8, and improvement over the original Windows Phone 7. Unfortunately, Windows Phone 8 looked like Windows Phone 7 but was essentially a completely new operating system. That meant that developers who had learned to use Silverlight to create Windows Phone 7 apps had to learn an entirely new software framework to develop Windows Phone 8 apps.
When Apple introduced the iPad, Microsoft realized they had only designed Windows Phone for smartphones and didn’t have an answer for tablets. That’s when Microsoft made the disastrous decision to turn Windows 8 into a tablet operating system (alienating their core base of Windows PC users). Not content to upset their core customer base, Microsoft also decided to create yet another operating system for tablets called Windows RT, which was entirely incompatible with Windows Phone apps.
In the Apple world, people could run iPhone apps on an iPad. In the Microsoft World, Windows Phone apps were completely incompatible with Windows RT, so you would essentially have to buy two different versions of the same app if you anted to run it on both a Windows Phone smartphone and a Windows RT tablet like the original Surface tablet.
For developers, they not only couldn’t port their Windows Phone 7 apps to Windows 8, but they now had to learn two completely different ways to create Windows Phone 8 apps and Windows RT apps. In comparison, Apple made it easy for developers to create both iPhone and iPad apps from the same code base, making it easy for developers to create apps for the iPhone and iPad.
When netter Windows RT nor Windows Phone 8 captured the public’s attention, Microsoft did yet another shift to confuse both customers and developers alike. That’s when Microsoft killed Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 in favor of Windows 10.
So any developers who had spent time creating Windows Phone 8 apps and even more time learning a completely different ways to create Windows RT apps, suddenly found that neither of their skills would easily translate into creating Windows 10 apps for smartphones. That made developers abandon their Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, and Windows RT code to learn yet another way to create Windows 10 apps for smartphones.
By constantly changing operating systems but slapping on the same meaningless Windows moniker to give the appearance that it’s the same operating system, Microsoft essentially killed Windows Phone each time it threatened to attract developers and users. With so many constant changes wrecking the plans of both developers and consumers alike, is it any wonder that so many people shy away from Microsoft’s smartphone plans?
Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, Windows RT, and Windows 8/8.1 are dead. That leaves Windows 10 running on smartphones with the promise that you can run Windows 10 apps on both a desktop/laptop PC and a smartphone. The big question is how many people want to do that?
If you’re using AutoCAD on a desktop PC, how often will you create CAD drawings on a much smaller smartphone screen? Beyond the technical difficulties of getting Windows 10 apps to run equally well on a PC as on a smartphone, the real question is what problem does this solve that people need?
Imagine if a buggy whip manufacturer came out with an iPhone app to help you determine how to use a whip to control your horse and carriage? Technically this may be possible, but would anyone use it? That’s the same dilemma Microsoft faces in getting Windows 10 apps to work flawlessly on PCs and tinier smartphone devices. If they can solve the technical problems, they still need to solve the real problem which is why anyone would get excited about this and want this feature in the first place. That’s like getting the ancient MS-DOS operating system to run on an Apple Watch. Technically it’s possible. Realistically it solves zero problems and appeals to absolutely no one beyond someone who just wants it for fun.
Microsoft spent billions buying Nokia’s smartphone business and they essentially flushed it all down the drain because they never had a clear, cohesive strategy for making their smartphone operating system appealing to consumers. Technically every version of Windows Phone has been decent, but without a clear reason to use it, Windows Phone has no future and this is what Microsoft must finally face once and for all.