Whatever Happened to Windows Phone?

There was a time, not that long ago, when I was obsessed with getting one of Microsoft’s new Windows Phones. But smartphones are expensive, and so I ended up getting an iPod Touch instead. I found that I loved it even more than I thought I would, so I’ve never had a second thought about turning my back on Windows Phone. But it turns out that not jumping on the Windows Phone bandwagon was an even better idea than I thought. The way Microsoft has handled this OS post-launch has been less than satisfactory, and I’m pretty sure I’d be less than satisfied if I was paying $55 or more a month for a Windows Phone right now.

First of all, there was the mysterious data leak bug (scroll down to the bottom to find the relevant info). A couple of months ago, it became apparent that Windows Phones were using a lot more data than they should have been using, and they were using 3G data when they could have been using Wi-Fi. This was a big deal, because 3G data is expensive, and generally not unlimited (i.e., the more you use, the more it costs). Microsoft stayed silent about this issue for as long as they could, which obviously didn’t make many Windows Phone users happy. Eventually, they were forced to spill the beans. I have no idea if this issue has been fixed yet. But even if it has, as a relatively poor person, this situation made me glad that I didn’t pony up for a Windows Phone. Although I don’t get 3G coverage where I live, so maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

The real kicker is the fact that Windows Phone 7 hasn’t really been updated yet. At the end of January, Microsoft expert Paul Thurrott wrote about how in the first three months after Apple released the iPhone in 2007, they released 4 updates for it, one of which was a fairly major update. Microsoft, on the other hand, did not release a single update for Windows Phone in the first three months after it’s release. And now it’s been over four months since Windows Phone 7 came out, and the first update is just starting to appear. There’s two problems with it, however.

First of all, this update doesn’t really do anything. All it does is fix a problem with the update mechanism so that future updates can happen without any problems. Important, for sure, but not all that exciting. But the second, and bigger, problem is that this update has actually been bricking some phones. As Paul Thurrott mentioned last Friday, this is a BAD THING. And it must be mentioned that Paul Thurrott is just about the biggest Windows Phone fan there is. I mean, he wrote the book for crying out loud. So if Paul Thurrott says something about Windows Phone is bad, it must be pretty bad.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Microsoft. I’ve been a fan of the Xbox platform since before the original XBox came out in 2001. I was one of the four (or so) people in the world who bought a Zune, and not only that, I bought FIVE Zunes. I didn’t just like the Zune, I LOVED the Zune. I just bought a Windows laptop instead of an iPad, partially because I’m enamored with Windows 7. I saw a screenshot of Windows 95 the other day on Wikipedia and got warm fuzzies. I am about as close to being a card-carrying Microsoft fanboy as I can be (and please ignore the fact that I own an iPod Touch and a Playstation 3). The point is, I am not trying to bash Microsoft just for the sake of bashing Microsoft.

It just fascinates me how something can start off with such promise and then end up turning into something of a disaster. I mean, Windows Phone 7 is still a great mobile OS, but the fact that it has these problems and the fact that Microsoft is being so opaque about them doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Especially when there are very compelling alternatives out there, i.e., iOS and Android.

That really is the crux of the problem. Microsoft isn’t used to having competition. If Microsoft makes a major blunder with Windows, people might grumble and complain about it, but what are they actually going to do? Switch to a Mac? (Which is actually a pretty compelling option now, but that’s a recent development.) But if an average consumer hears about all the problems that Microsoft is having with Windows Phone, why would he or she buy one? Especially when everybody that person knows probably has an iPhone or an Android phone already?

Microsoft needs to wake up and step up their game. People just don’t necessarily think good things when they hear the name Microsoft. Their core product, Windows, has a reputation as being slow, bloated and buggy, and that doesn’t translate to success in other markets. They also seem to think that because Windows is successful and makes a lot of money, that it’s also something that is popular and well-liked. So they have a tendency to slap the Windows name on everything, even things that really have nothing to do with Windows, such as Windows Phone. Unfortunately, people don’t use Windows because they like it, they use it because they have to, or they’re just used to it.

Now, I’m not saying that I agree with that assessment. I don’t think that Windows, especially Windows 7, is particularly slow, or bloated, or buggy. But perception is definitely important. And unfortunately for Microsoft, that is the popular perception.

As usual, I don’t have any answers. And I’m not sure that it would matter all that much if I did. It just would be nice to see a company with so much potential figure out how to get itself out of the doldrums. But it probably doesn’t really matter all that much in the end. It’s not like I own Microsoft stock or anything. I’ll just buy what I like, and that will be that.

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