So Microsoft has finally admitted that the Windows Phone (or more precisely, the Windows Mobile operating system) is frozen. And as befitting the times where formal policy statements are apparently no longer issued via press announcements, the news was delivered via a series of tweets from Joe Belfiore.
This may not be quite the same as saying that it’s dead – but that is how the news has been greeted by the technical press and the market. It may not be dead, but it’s certainly on life support, and Microsoft will finally switch it off in the not too distant future. There will be no new Windows Phone hardware, and Microsoft stopped manufacture of its last phones (the Lumia 950 and the Lumia 950XL) back in mid-2016.
The sad and sorry saga of Windows Phone and all the attempts at trying to craft the software and hardware are well covered by Peter Bright in his Ars Technica article.
I’ve been using a Windows Phone since December 2011, and I continue to love it. The user interface is still a joy in comparison with iOS or Android. However, it is undeniable that the market does not love Windows Mobile, and frankly, many of us continue to harbour the suspicion that neither did Microsoft. As Peter points out in his article, there have been fumbles and missteps made.
Up until now I’ve not been bothered by the limited number of apps available for the phone – I’ve always found an app to do what I want.
However, this month my bank has dropped its banking app from Windows 10 Mobile, and I now have to use the web browser to access the internet banking service. I personally find that this is not as good an experience as with the old app. I also am not impressed by the way the bank casually rubs salt into the wound by displaying the “update” button. If you click it, it doesn’t actually deliver an update. Basically, it’s more of a “tough shit” button.
I’ve also noticed a trend that for many new networked devices, they are increasingly reliant on being set up via a smartphone app, rather than via a web browser. And naturally, the app is only available for iOS and Android. Similarly for new services delivered via the internet – if there’s an app, there won’t be a version for Windows 10 Mobile.
So I fully expect that at some point in the (near?) future, there will be a device or service that I need that will force me to acquire an iPhone or Android phone to use it.
I really don’t look forward to that day. My current phone is a Lumia 950, and despite it being no longer manufactured, it still has advantages (to me) over the current range of Apple and Android phones. The camera, in particular, is still outstanding. And I have a spare battery waiting in the drawer for when my current battery runs out of puff. Replaceable batteries in smartphones are a rarity in these days of throwaway consumer goods.
As Peter Bright says in his article:
For now, all we can do is mourn: the best mobile platform isn’t under active development any more, and the prospects of new hardware to run it on are slim to non-existent.
As for me, I switched to an iPhone more than a year ago. Every day, I’m struck at how the main user interface is basically that of Windows 3.1’s Program Manager, and iOS 11 has been fantastically unstable for me. I don’t enjoy iOS in the way I enjoyed Windows Phone. But it’s actively developed, and third-party developers love it, and, ultimately, those factors both win out over Windows Mobile’s good looks and comfortable developer platform.
I get the distinct impression that Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, is much more focused on the business world and cloud services than on consumer devices. Windows Phone has just joined Zune, Microsoft Band, the KIN phone, Windows RT, the Surface Mini, and Windows Home Server on the scrapheap.
Addendum: Peter Bright has followed up with an article titled: With the end of Windows on phones, how does Microsoft avoid being the next IBM?
It’s a damn good question. IBM is totally irrelevant these days as far as consumers are concerned. Microsoft seems hell-bent on heading the same way. In ten years time, will people be asking: Windows? What is Windows?