What it is: Windows Phone is Microsoft’s smartphone operating system that succeeded Windows Mobile.
At one time, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system had captured nearly 20% of the smartphone market. Palm Computing even adopted Windows Mobile for their own smartphones when their own PalmOS operating system had begun to falter. With such a large lead in the smartphone market, how did Microsoft lose so much of their marketshare so quickly?
The answer is simple. Back in 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, which effectively made Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Mobile smartphones obsolete. Rather than update Windows Mobile, Microsoft decided they could only compete by offering a completely new phone operating system dubbed Windows Phone 7, which Microsoft finally released in 2010, three years after the introduction of the iPhone.
By then, Google had already released Android as an iOS clone, so both iOS and Android quickly dominated the smartphone market while former leaders like Nokia, Blackberry, and Microsoft watched their marketshare constantly shrink. Nokia never responded to the iPhone but Blackberry tried offering their own touch screen smartphone called the Blackberry Storm, which was simply awful. Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 as an alternative to the iPhone.
Technically, Windows Phone 7 wasn’t a bad smartphone operating system. It just offered nothing new or better beyond a tile interface that was different, but nothing innovative enough to make people want to switch from Android or iOS. While iOS and Android (since it copied iOS’s design) were massive improvements over Nokia, blackberry, and Windows Mobile phones, Windows Phone 7 was not a massive improvement over Android or iOS, so nobody had a reason to switch. Since Android and iOS had already captured the attention of developers, both Android and iOS had plenty of popular apps. Meanwhile, Windows Phone 7 had none.
Early adopters of Windows Phone 7 quickly got burned when Microsoft essentially rebooted their mobile operating system called Windows Phone 8, which needed new hardware to run. That meant all those early Windows Phone 7 adopters had to throw away their current smartphones and buy new ones if they wanted Windows Phone 8 smartphones. Some did, but most simple defected to Android or iOS.
Windows Phone 8 was no better or worse than Windows Phone 7, but what caused headaches for developers was that they essentially had to rewrite all their Windows Phone 7 apps to run on Windows Phone 8. Many did, but some did not because the market was too small to justify the cost.
When Apple introduced the iPad running iOS, the iPad immediately had thousands of iPhone apps it could run. While Apple had designed iOS from the start to run on tablets and smartphones, Microsoft made the serious mistake of limiting Windows Phone 8 solely to smartphones. Rather than redesign Windows Phone 8 for tablets, Microsoft chose to develop a completely different and incompatible tablet operating system called Windows RT. That meant that Windows Phone 8 apps couldn’t run on Windows RT tablets.
If you were a developer, you had to write completely different apps for both Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT. Some developed did this, but most did not because both the Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT market was still so small with no signs of growing quickly any time soon.
Just as Windows Phone 8 started to gain a little traction in the market, Microsoft rebooted it again and came out with Windows 10 Mobile, which essentially was a completely different operating system. Both developers and users had to dump their current devices if they wanted to upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile. Once again, Windows 10 Mobile offered few compelling advantages over Android or iOS, which meant that few people had a reason to switch to Windows 10 Mobile smartphones.
By constantly rebooting their mobile operating systems (Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, Windows RT, and Windows 10 Mobile), Microsoft essentially kept starting from scratch while Android and iOS kept increasing their lead. Imagine running a marathon where two runners keep getting closer to the finish line while a third runner keeps going back to the starting line to begin the race all over again, and you can easily see why Microsoft lost the smartphone market.
The latest appeal of Windows 10 Mobile is that it’s essentially a PC in your pocket that you can plug into a monitor, mouse, and keyboard and use it like a regular PC. That also means like a PC, you have to run anti-virus software on your Windows 10 Mobile smartphone and deal with Windows registry errors. In other words, you get all the headaches of a PC to go along with a smartphone. Given a choice between a smartphone that you can just use (Android or iOS) or a smartphone that requires constant maintenance like a PC, it’s easy to see why Windows 10 Mobile won’t threaten Android or iOS any time soon.
Microsoft’s smartphone strategy depends more on Android and iOS than it does on Windows 10 Mobile. After Microsoft’s disastrous billion dollar acquisition of Nokia’s smartphone business that hasn’t returned any profit, it’s time for Microsoft to simply define a long-term strategy and stick with it. Constantly changing strategies is a recipe for failure. Choosing a strategy carefully and pursuing it is how Apple created iOS. Choosing a strategy and recognizing a better one is how Google created Android. First Google created Android as a Blackberry clone, but when they saw the iPhone, they realized that was the future so they switched Android to an iOS clone.
Microsoft needs to simply focus on what’s best for customers, and that’s giving them software that gives people features they never had before. The iPhone did that. Android copied the iPhone and gave you more choices. Windows Phone 7/8/Windows 10 Mobile simply gives you more confusion with no sense of long-term strategy or direction whatsoever beyond a tile interface that isn’t universally accepted as an improvement over iOS or Android.
If Microsoft wants to compete against Android and iOS, they need a better product. It’s that simple, and Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, and Windows 10 Mobile isn’t it.