When we look at the current smartphone market, it is notable that Android and IOS not only dominate, but are the only systems avaiable (99% of the market). However, a few years ago we had a third name that tried to get on the list, the Windows Phone. At a time when the world of smartphones was still building its bases, Microsoft had already an enormous power in the PC’s world to start, which seemed te be an advantage over Google and Apple for many people. The system had everything to succeed, but in 2017 it was announced by Microsoft that the system had been officially discontinued. What led to such a situation? How could they lose all this potential? Unlike some companies that collapse after reaching their peak, Windows Phone have actually never worked.
In 2010 Microsoft officially launched Windows Phone 7, the first system in the Windows Phone line. Microsoft’s idea was that users could have a real Windows experience on their mobile devices, through the best design possible. Microsoft wanted to convince its audience that this was a genuine “computer on your cell phone”.
Before the Windows Phone, the company had already tried something similar with another system called Windows Mobile, in a “pre-smartphone” age, when phones like the Nokia N95 dominated the market. Windows Mobile was not officially discontinued, but in 2012 downloads of the system were removed from its official site, so Microsoft just continued working with Windows Phone instead. At a time when the smartphone market was still in its infancy, cell phones were not yet a very complete environment when it comes to productivity, and in an attempt to be the first to change it bringing a real mobile PC experience, the Windows Phone 7 had an enormous potential.
But in late 2012 Windows Phone 8 was released, and this update was definitely not good for the future of the system. The system itself was not a major update, it focused on bringing small changes that could improve the user experience, but the big problem is that old Windows Phone 7 devices were not able to be updated, which left Windows Phone 7 users outdated in just two years of use. This created a huge problem because even though Windows 8 was not a major update, most of the apps were available only in for it, and users of the old version had a very limited app library with very few apps. This would be resolved with a simple software update, but there was no official way for users to do this.
Looking at the system itself, the system’s proposal to approach and integrate with computers at least seemed to be working. The system had a purchasing system in which, when making purchases on certain services, the licenses would apply to PC as well. This integration is common in many services today, but at the time it wasn’t, and Microsoft seemed to be doing it well. The system also had good camera functions, but that still did not fix the fact that the update was not available for Windows Phone 7 users. It doesn’t matter how much effort the company put into the system, users of Windows Phone 7 still made a large part of the public and had no access to any of these things. And even for those who used the updated version, the experience was still not the best.
The app store was extremely limited, and many famous apps at the time weren’t officially ported to the system. Snapchat, a very famous app at the time, never existed for Windows Phones devices. There were many similar versions of popular social medias and other apps that made the experience less incomplete, but that itself isn’t a good thing, since a system that gives space for unofficial services loses the credibility of developers.
Furthermore, there was a competition between Google and Microsoft, which ended up with Google apps not existing on the platform. When Microsoft was only in the PC market, Windows and Google didn’t seem to be in a competitive situation. Google provided web services that made the PC user experience better, and Microsoft provided the operating system used on PC to make all of this possible, so much of one company’s success was linked to that of another . But since both Microsoft (with Windows Phone), and Google (with Android), started to compete in the same market, Google apps weren’t ported to Microsoft mobile system due to the market competition.
In 2015, Windows 10 mobile was launched, with new promises of greater compatibility and more features, but again, the system could only be updated on some Windows Phone 8 devices. This creates a huge fragmentation of the platform, where people used Windows 10 mobile, Windows Phone 8 and 7 at the same time. Android also suffered and still suffers from it, but Google generally deals better with it.
Whenever Google releases a new version of Android, many people continue to use the old versions, but even a user of an old version of Android generally has access to the vast majority of apps available in Play Store. This wasn’t the case with Windows Phone; for Windows Phone users to be in a previous version resulted in a much bigger issue.
Another reason was the low RAM memory provided by most cell phones that carried the system. Both Android and Windows Phone suffer from it, because unlike IOS, neither of them produce smartphones that run their own software, they only produce the software and leave the hardware in the hands of third party companies. But whenever a company plans to put an operating system on its device, the company generally has to follow certain minimum hardware requirements for such an experience to happen, and unlike Android, Microsoft was not concerned with that at the time. Also, what differentiates Android from Windows Phone in this case is that the range of smartphones from Android is very varied, so there are many models that use the system, from entry-level to flagship models. At this moment, if you don’t have much money to spend in a smartphone, you can buy a Motorola Moto E 2020 (a current entry phone) and have a good experience but which can eventually bring some performance issues, since it’s a entry model; but at the same time you can buy a Samsung Galaxy S21 (flagship phone of the moment) and have a real falgship experience enjoying the best of Android. With Windows Phone, reaching this maximum experience was more difficult.
Nokia produced most of the models that used the system, and some devices were only 521 megabytes, which made the user experience very bad. It created a perception that it was a weak phone, not necessarily because of the software but also because of the hardware.
In October 2017, Microsoft announced the end of Windows Phone. Since then we have become accustomed to having only Android and IOS in the phone market, but Microsoft is not totally out of that market. The company recently launched the Surface Duo, which belongs to the Surface line. This line was created by Microsoft initially with the proposal to make their own devices with their own software, just like Apple always did, and some Google devices also do (models like Google Pixel or Pixelbook).
Surface Duo is not a conventional cell phone. The device has two screens connected by a foldable structure, and is not focused on being something for the general public. The device is more focused on people who need this kind of thing for productivity and work. Different form the past, Microsoft decided to put Android on it. The line has a great potential especially for those who like innovations and devices with different proposals, and also for those who need a more mature environment for mobile work. Surface line has already been successful with its hybrid laptop and tablet models, and now we have to wait to see how it will be with these new phones.