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The outlook for Windows Phone in 2015

Windows Phone - App Store

Windows Phone is entering a critical stage once more in 2015. Last year, Microsoft acquired Nokia’s hardware division and launched a preview of the next version of Windows. So as we anticipate Windows 10 and new Lumia devices in the near future, can Microsoft grow its market share and attract more customers to its smartphones and tablets?

Windows Phone not receiving the traction it deserves

There have been various reports in recent months by some very well respected tech writers (such as Ed Bott from ZDNET and The Verge’s Tom Warren) about why they have switched from Windows Phone as their device of choice. Why?

Ed Bott blamed the mobile networks for the lack of carrier firmware support for his device, which made him switch to iOS until the situation improves, as well as a dearth of some of the most popular and key apps on the platform. The kind of apps that are popular on Android and iOS such as Snapchat, Tinder, and many more.

In Tom Warren’s case, he explained why he switched as follows:

I’m the resident Microsoft expert here at The Verge, and for years I’ve switched between Android, iOS, and Windows Phone to check out new apps and how each platform is progressing, but it’s now clear Windows Phone is being left behind…while Windows Phone fans will argue that the platform now has more than 500,000 apps, most of the top iOS and Android apps have Windows Phone equivalents that are severely lacking – Tom Warren, The Verge (December 2014)

Anecdotally, various people I encountered last year who were Windows Phone fans even switched to iPhones or Google devices, to mitigate some of the complaints and issues they found with their Windows Phone experiences. One of those annoying things was the issue with notifications, which now appear in Action Center, but you can’t take action on the notifications without tapping on them to open the app. In Android and iOS for example, actionable notifications already work rather well.

Windows Phone Market Share
Windows Phone market share is still trailing way behind.

 

Another “problem” with Windows Phone is that users consistently have to wait for successive versions to get features on a par with iOS and Android, while those two systems seem to continuously implement new features that push the boundaries for Windows Phone. Apple was criticised in a blog post (since removed) this week by Instapaper founder Marco Arment for what he saw as problems with yearly release cycles and a drop in software quality (“the marketing priority of having major new releases every year is clearly impossible for the engineering teams to keep up with while maintaining quality”). However on the flip side  it’s no good being made to wait forever…

Also, app developers aren’t exactly falling over themselves to develop Windows Phone apps, at least in the U.S. where many of the high profile and important apps are developed – here, Windows Phone has a relatively small share of less than 5%. Even supporting iOS and Android is hard enough without a third less profitable platform to develop for.

Windows Phone - Development
Creating Windows Phone apps is a fairly straightforward process.

 

Despite all these hurdles, there are certainly some great things to look forward to in 2015 from Microsoft and Windows Phone, not least a single, unified operating system called Windows 10.

Windows 10

Windows Phone - Windows 10
One operating system to rule them all? Windows 10 will work on every device.

 

When Microsoft announced Windows 10 late last year, there was a lot of head scratching going on due to the skipping of Windows 9. There’s a lot of hope resting on the ARM version of Windows 10 (as it must run on ARM chipsets), being the merger of Windows RT and Windows Phone. There is a question over how apps that were designed for Windows Phone will work on Windows 10.

There will also be lots of new features which should encourage developers (and consumers) to get on board in greater numbers. Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri, has been very well received (even though it hasn’t perhaps generated any additional device sales), but Cortana will be baked into Windows 10 and finally Windows Phone users will be able to make use of the same voice recognition engine no matter which device they’re on.

The key thing to consider for Windows 10 is what else it can do that Android and iOS currently cannot. Microsoft is already doubtless adding features that it considers missing or underdeveloped on iOS and Android, so Windows 10 might just help to turn the tide in Microsoft’s favour.

Not enough Flagship phones

Windows Phone - Lumia 1520
One of the best Lumia smartphones available – the Lumia 1520.

 

Most people consider a flagship smartphone to be the one that represents the best of the brand and hardware on offer. But Microsoft has tended to focus more on the lower end devices, not helped by the fact that Nokia’s main business is in the low and mid tiers. Microsoft has focused on low-cost devices at the expense of a flagship Windows Phone, with the canceled “McLaren” device (expected to be an iPhone killer) even more evidence of that.

RELATED: when to buy a flagship smartphone.

Microsoft has in fact sold the more budget-focused phones in developing markets to large numbers, shifting the definition of flagship slightly to mean mid-range devices that have a few high end specifications and features. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would be great to see more truly high end luxury smartphones from Microsoft in 2015 that appeal to developed markets.

One of the best smartphones from Microsoft is the Lumia 1020, and there is no real successor yet that ticks all the right boxes. The Lumia 1520 is a superb phone, but they need to create a smaller version that will appeal to a much larger customer base rather than a phablet.

However, Microsoft looks like it’s already on the right track and the noises it’s been making sound very positive. Hopefully at Mobile World Congress this year we’ll see some truly groundbreaking new hardware that will blow our collective socks off and teach Apple and Google a thing or two…

Operating system updates

One of the issues that has plagued Windows Phone owners is the timely receipt of firmware updates. All developers can obtain updates directly from Microsoft, and since anyone can sign up to be a developer it’s possible to get the very latest OS versions that way. But all too often critical firmware that fixes issues is still delivered by the OEM companies via the mobile operators, and they don’t seem to have any sense of urgency in testing and delivering updates to Windows Phone devices…

Microsoft ought to be delivering firmware in a more direct manner to consumers. Windows PCs all get their updates automatically, and it should be no different for Windows 10. Many consumer might not care if they have the latest version or not, but it can make all the difference between a smartphone that occasionally falls over or crashes, and one that just works all the time. If Microsoft gets its act together, we can hopefully look forward to more direct and frequent updates…

Consumer interest and mind share

Windows Phone - Lumia 535
The Lumia 535 – the first of many Lumia phones to bear the Microsoft logo.

 

Microsoft has always had a problem in attracting consumers to its mobile operating systems, not helped by the bad publicity that desktop versions of Windows have had – Vista and 8 are the two examples which spring to mind.

It’s perhaps true that the tech press and blogs seem to prefer Apple and Google, often ignoring or criticising Microsoft. To convince those people that Windows Phone / Windows 10 is worthwhile is a huge challenge, but not an impossible one. As far as developers and enterprise goes however, Microsoft has made a lot of good moves with its Azure cloud based services and excellent developer support in Visual Studio (which is used to create apps). Microsoft just needs to find more ways to convince consumers .

On the whole, there’s a lot to be optimistic about in terms of new Lumia devices and Windows 10. There will be just one operating system for phones and tablets, and some of the existing Windows Phone apps may even be converted to “universal” binaries that also run on tablets.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft plans to make Windows 10 work as a single, unified OS that works across all phones, tablets and PCs. There are lots of benefits of a single OS on every device (although that’s not the route Apple has taken with iOS on mobile devices and OS X on Macs), and it will be great to see how universal apps work on different form factors, adapting their user interface and style to meet the needs of those particular users.

Microsoft’s next Lumia devices also need more pizazz and reasons to buy one. Just this week, the Lumia 535 was released and is the first Lumia smartphone to bear the Microsoft logo. For just £110, it’s a decent effort but has already been criticised for a lack of 4G LTE connectivity and a rather uninspiring CPU (a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon). Still, for that price you can’t really complain.

The next Lumia device expected to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress (have you booked your travel yet?) is the Lumia 1330 phablet – let’s hope that’s just one in a long line of excellent new devices. So to echo the sentiments of the introduction, this year could prove to be a critical make-or-break year for Windows Phone, but there’s still lots to look forward to…

RELATED: Microsoft ditches the Nokia brand

Let us know in the comments below what you think the outlook will be for Microsoft and Windows Phone this year.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

4 replies on “The outlook for Windows Phone in 2015”

Love my icon. But it feels like a brick next to my wife’s G3. Wish I had her hardware in some respects. Lighter feel, 5.5″ screen that still fits in my hand comfortably. AND THE ABILITY TO ATTACH DOCUMENTS TO EMAILS AS EASILY. It’s more important to have functionality at work than at play to me. I left Android because I like the streamlined experience of WP. I missed my blackberry, and this seemed like the next best thing. But the way WP is lagging behind WHEN RUNNING WINDOWS APPS is ridiculous. How sad for such a slick OS.

To heavy for me to tote around! I love to see a shrunken down 1520 at 4.7″! I with the same specs inside or better as the new 1520 replacement! Microsoft should take a clue from the iPhone 6 4.7″ size for it next flagship phone. It accounts for over 70% of sales! Most Android thought that 5.2″ was the right size but it not sell well!

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