In early July 2010, I received a Windows Phone 7 prototype phone so I could write my latest book, Windows Phone Secrets. Since that day, a Windows Phone has been my primary phone, really my only phone, and I've never once considered switching over to an iPhone or Android device, both of which I own as well. Indeed, from the moment Microsoft announced this product, in February 2010, I was in love: here it was, a company that so clearly and completely screwed up its mobile strategy with Windows Mobile, finally being innovative and creating a superior platform and user experience. It was breathtaking to watch, and my commentary from March of last year, I Love Windows Phone, sums up my feelings nicely:
"Windows Phone is a game changer, and that's something that we can't say all that often about Microsoft products," I wrote. "I can't shake the feeling of excitement, and while I keep waiting for some unfortunate bit of reality to come crashing down and ruin this vibe, it's lasted far longer than seems reasonable. It's been a long time, it really has. I love Windows Phone."
Over six months later, I still love Windows Phone. It is the superior platform for users and developers. It provides a superior user experience that doesn't force you to work the way it works (cough, iPhone) or smother you in the stupidity of fragmentation and device-of-the-week mania (Android.) Its hubs and live tiles are truly innovative, and its hardware is compelling and powerful. Windows Phone isn't perfect. But it is superior.
In the real world, however, phones (like other products) aren't judged on such merits alone. In the real world, there are other concerns. And while it would be nice to live in a vacuous state where I could survive simply on sheer enthusiasm, I have something very sad to admit: Microsoft has done everything it can to not just dampen but utterly destroy my support for this product.
The problem is, Microsoft isn't so much a company as it is a sprawling empire of often-warring fiefdoms that rarely talk to each other let alone collaborate in any useful way. It is full of intelligent, driven, and wonderful people who are driven to change the world for the better through technology. Sadly, because of the company's size and the sheer weight of its corporate hierarchy, Microsoft is also a company that can't get anything done quickly. It moves like the proverbial ocean liner, and must communicate its desires to change course well in advance.
Recent slow-moving responses to market changers like iPods (Zune), smartphones (Windows Phone, more than three years after iPhone), the iPad (still nothing), and the Wii (Kinect, more than four years later) all make the point. Microsoft, once a leader, is now a follower. And sometimes it can't even do that effectively. Sure, it still generates tons of cash from legacy products such as Windows and Office. But so does IBM. Profitable and huge, yes. But boring.
Windows Phone was, and sort of still is, a sign a life at the moribund company. It's a sign that some of those well-meaning people had finally broken through the multiple layers of corporate hierarchy, each pushing only its own interests, and were making a difference. And they did, really. As I noted before, in a very short period of time—for Microsoft, anyway—this small team created a legitimately innovative product that wasn't just different for the sake of being different. It was superior. Better. This is so rare.
On the flipside, Windows Phone is also incomplete. Those devices that consumers snapped up late last year arrived with a version of the OS that lacks such infamous features as copy and paste and multitasking, sure. But it also has a host of bugs and other missing features. For example, the camera can be configured in very intricate ways, but when you move on to another app and then come back, all the changes you made are forgotten. Marketplace search is almost completely useless and can't filter by content type. You can't download or update podcasts over the air. The Calendar app doesn't support multiple calendars from a single source. There are no custom ringtones. There's no integrated inbox. MicroSD expansion isn't just broken—it's actually dangerous. On and on it goes. On my Windows Phone Secrets blog, readers have documented hundreds of problems.
I accepted the need to ship an unfinished product because Microsoft had to get to market quickly in order to stem the flood of momentum that the iPhone and Android were (and still are) experiencing. And the company promised that it would update the phone regularly, and that the wireless carriers—infamous for blocking such things in the past—weren't going to have a say in this.
None of it was true. Microsoft is going to ship updates for Windows Phone, eventually, but it will not be fixing individual issues, ever. Instead, it will aggregate fixes into massive updates that are akin to service packs in desktop versions of Windows. These updates will be widely spaced and delivered over time. And yes, carriers will be able to block these updates, for "one update cycle." In fact, my sources at the software giant tell me that some wireless carriers are actually behind the delay in getting the first mammoth Windows Phone update out to customers. So much for these companies working together as promised and delighting users.
Three months after launching Windows Phone, Microsoft has yet to issue a single fix or feature update for the platform. For a comparison to how Apple reacted in the same time frame when it released its then-unfinished first iPhone, you can refer to another damning Windows Phone Secrets post, Software updates: Windows Phone vs. iPhone. Put simply, it's embarrassing to Microsoft.
But it's not just that. After readers on my blog uncovered a data leak bug in Windows Phone—a bug the company actually acknowledged—the company later claimed it found the problem in a third-party "solution," but declined to tell anyone which solution it might be. Meanwhile, customers on tiered data plans are racking up spurious data charges and paying for Microsoft's mistake. The icing on the cake: I believe that the data leak is caused by a number of issues in Windows Phone, including but not limited to Wi-Fi being silently disabled when the screen dims and a nearly-hidden auto-feedback option that is on by default. Is Microsoft liable for customers' extra data charges? I think they are.
And then there is the real Achilles' heel for Windows Phone: While Microsoft offers a ton of interesting and useful services to Windows Phone users—the app marketplace, Zune Pass, TV and movie rentals and purchases, various Bing features, and so on—these services are only universally available in the US, with the rest of the world being a patchwork quilt of missing features. I wondered openly on a recent podcast what such a table would look like, in which the countries that Windows Phone is available are matched up with the supposed services we can all enjoy, and one listener, Andrew Birch, took me up on it. His resulting feature matrix tables betray the problem: In virtually all locales in which Windows Phone is offered, the majority of services Microsoft makes for the platform are not. This is unforgiveable.
And lest you think I've forgotten about Microsoft's business customers, fear not: Microsoft is ignoring you too. Windows Phone currently ships with support for only a subset of the available Exchange ActiveSync policies, which is not coincidentally a subset of the list of policies the obsolete Windows Mobile 6.x system supports. So Microsoft will keep WM in the market until that situation changes, which according to the current schedule could be ... well, never. Who can say? Microsoft isn't being transparent about its plans for updating Windows Phone either. (Windows Phone also lacks a number of other features that would be useful to businesses, including support for Exchange tasks.)
So yes, I still love Windows Phone. But today, Windows Phone is more like a child that is failing in school than the star pupil it should be. I see the potential. I understand the underlying superiority. But I cannot and will not turn a blind eye to the very real problems that this platform faces. And Microsoft, from what I can see, is simply not moving quickly enough to fix the problems, right the ship, and set Windows Phone up for the success it deserves.
This is the superior mobile platform. Please, Microsoft. Treat it as such.