Long Live Windows Phone!

Despite Paul Thurrott’s gloomy prognostication—in his article “Is Time Running Out for Windows Phone?” (May 8, 2012)—I think a number of factors are working in favor of Windows Phone.

It’s important to recognize that smartphones and computers don’t share a marketplace and are driven by different purchase-and-replace decisions. Purchase cycles for smartphones, for example, are much shorter (typically 2 years) and they aren't burdened by entrenched infrastructure as are line-of-business (LOB) applications or even common applications such as Microsoft Word or Excel, which require extensive training and support. In fact, I'd argue that phones should be considered more like fashion purchases than technology and are more disposable. They're much easier to unplug and replace than, say, database applications. Overall, this market truth presents an opportunity for Microsoft, if only it can take advantage of it.

Also, Windows Phone—in particular Windows Phone 8 (from what we know of it)—has distinct technical advantages (especially when compared with Apple iOS) that make it attractive to IT departments worldwide. For example, it can support multiple identities—an especially important trait as corporations increasingly allow and even encourage their employees to use their personal devices for company work.

Another Windows ecosystem strength is its capacity to readily manage thousands of devices and the important identities inside them. If Microsoft extends this capability to Windows Phone 8, it should prove uniquely adept and highly capable of influencing corporate adoption. Even in an ordinary home environment, the inability of the iPad, for instance, to properly accommodate more than one user is a big failure. It shouldn’t be necessary to have several tablets simply because different people use them. Microsoft can exploit this situation. Security also weighs heavily on the minds of IT (and increasingly consumers, too), and in this domain Windows also bests its competitors.

Of course, we can't understand the prospects for Windows Phone without also understanding the effect that Windows 8 tablets will have. These devices will likely offer a variety of functions and perhaps form factors that are currently unavailable through iOS (although I’m not certain whether this advantage will extend to Google Android) and which will have a positive overall effect on Windows Phone adoption. In particular, iOS’s inability to properly handle styli is a big weakness: Note-takers, field workers, authors, artists, and others realize that Steve Jobs’ stance in this regard was plain wrong. A pen or a stylus captures ideas in a vastly different way than fingertips and is quite a bit faster in many circumstances. I’m not saying that one is better than the other as much as I’m saying that one is preferred over the other for certain applications. Supporting both would be ideal, and it’s an area of potential strength for Microsoft.

Many people point to the deliciously large number of iOS or Android apps available in their marketplace, and these can only be considered feathers in their respective caps. However, I personally use fewer than 10 apps, and I think this is true of most people—perhaps excluding gamers. Thus, after the main driver apps are re-created for Windows or otherwise replaced by their competitors on the Windows Marketplace, this becomes a minor issue.

Although Mr. Thurrott makes valid points about the development environment, I think bemoaning the lack of an upgrade path for Windows Phone 7 devices is a bit unfair. People don’t purchase clothes or furniture or stereo equipment expecting to be upgraded to the latest version when it comes, and that expectation doesn’t have to be part of the smartphone paradigm either. As I said, they're switched out frequently enough to make it a non-issue. Yes, I’m disappointed that my Nokia Lumia 900 won’t upgrade to Windows Phone 8, but if it hurts enough I can spend the $250 to extend the contract and get a new device.

With all this noted—and generally being a Microsoft fan—I will concede that Windows Phone has a tough road to navigate. Microsoft has proven its mettle in the past and is capable of doing so again.
—Daniel Small