The on-set of 2020s brought in a wide array of new handhelds, from the absurd Mi Mix Alpha to the affordable Galaxy Note 10 Lite. We came a long way from 2010 and how computing evolved from the Bugged down CRT monitors and PDAs to the almost pitch-perfect 98% screen-to-body ratio displays. Walking out that door, along with our PSPs and MP3 players was yet another genius: The Windows Phone. I think it’s high time we address this dead elephant in the room. Call it borderline OCD, but the way the Metro UI lined its tiles with perfect pixel padding, with its energy-efficient Live Tiles, seamless integration of the all-black User Interface and a music player that appeared to be the perfect Port of the Zune all atop a clear-black display, Windows Phone was truly a sight to behold.
Stepping away from Android’s and iPhone’s game of a conventional home screen/App Drawer, Windows Phone tried something new. And to quote Steve Jobs, Microsoft was a Misfit, a rebel, the one who saw things differently. Of all the things that made it stand out, maybe it was the UI, maybe the professional look, maybe the Zune. Whatever the pull factor, it sure was brilliant. Of course, I’m talking about the first Windows Phones, the WP7/WP8. No one talks about the anomaly that is the Windows 10 Mobile.
So, HMD and then later Microsoft seem to have had a perfect idea. And a ridiculously huge following. I mean, the NYPD bought 36,000 of these bad boys. That surely counts for something. There, with the players in place, and the pieces all set, there was no way the Windows Phone could be beaten. So, what exactly went wrong? Where did the two tech giants fall short? What led WP down the slippery slope? Let’s dig in.
THE UPSIDES: Windows Phone 7 to 8.1
Since this is more of a tribute to the Windows Phone OS, I figured I’d start with the Pros of the sleek piece of tech that is the Windows Phone.
The User Interface
There’s no denying that the WP7 and then WP8 was gorgeous. Coming from a pretty clunky predecessor, the Windows mobile 6.1 evolved to a slick Pitch black UI with the first set of Windows phones that were released on October 2010. Throw in the Clear black or AMOLED displays most of these bad boys shipped with, and you’ve got some serious business. Behind the WP7 revision Mango, the devices packed a serious punch. This just kept getting better and better with WP8 and WP8.1. Let’s just leave it at that and pretend Microsoft stopped right there. But, nothing ever goes exactly how we want them to, right?
Cortana is to Windows Phones what Oracle and Jarvis are to the billionaire superheroes who fight crime and save the day. With WP8.1, Cortana achieved feats Siri and then non-existent Google Assistant could never have imagined back in the day. Even giants like Samsung with its S-Voice fell short of Cortana’s capabilities. From continued conversations to always being there, Cortana was more reliable than AT&T’s cell service (shots fired).
Windows Phone with its dedicated Music+Video player packed some serious firepower under the hood. Launch the app and it’s literally like you own a 250$ Zune. Yes, the Zune wasn’t as massive a hit as the iPod back in the day, but it certainly held its ground with the way it looked. It was a feast for the eyes, the ears and never a hassle to find where your media went. It’s always right there.
No, I’m not talking about mediocre Camera App Microsoft developed for Windows Phones that took exactly as much time as one would to wash the film out and develop the negatives in a dark room. But, the hardware behind it. Most Windows Phones had some impressive cameras with Carl Zeiss optics and an incredible resolving camera. What the Windows Phone lacked in Software flexibility, it excelled in Hardware prowess.
The Form Factor
This might be a shot in the dark but I personally really enjoyed the way every Windows Phone looked. Even though a plastic frame is subpar by today’s standards, the Windows Phones looked seriously amazing in their design. It blended perfectly with the Metro UI and the blocky OS. Not even Microsoft never wandered too far from the original Nokia Lumia 800, AKA, the Nokia N9’s Windows Phone twin.
Aside from these few, there were several other things about the Windows Phone that stood out, the Microsoft app integration, Photosynth among several others. But enough of the ghosts of the past. Let’s bring in the shortcomings. And by those, there were plenty. We better focus on the important ones for now.
THE DOWNSIDES : Windows 10 Mobile (For the most part.)
While the Windows Phone did everything differently, it was nowhere near perfect. The users were riddled with bugs and crashes and performance issues which Microsoft eventually fixed until the next big version rolls out when it was Christmas all over again.
Too short a stick: The App Store
The App Store. A dreamer’s paradise. The Windows store was supposed to be a hub for productivity, gaming, accessories, you say it. Though Microsoft talked a big game, what the users ended up with was a tiny flea market with nothing but a handful of applications and developers too tired to even port or maintain ported mainstream apps. Windows Phone had come in late for the party, by which point, almost all devices ran Android or iOS and developers made apps for the same. This required devs to port their apps to the newcomer. While this presented itself as a hard-to-tackle challenge, the trouble of developing WP-based applications and code complexity certainly piled up for the worst.
The Beehive: Too many choices
It is well established that too many a cook spoils the broth. It certainly did hold up for the Windows Phone too. Too many devices to choose from. To develop for, each with their processors, not to mention the device-specific bugs. While it sure was fun messing with Algebra using a Phone model numbering system, a wide barrage of Lumia devices from the 430 to the 1320, each with their quirks and perks, often confused developers and customers alike. This quickly went from good range of devices to choose from, to a child pressing out random numbers that produced a brand new phone named exactly like SnapDragon with their processors, only, not much would’ve changed.
So slow, slugger: A little late
It was quite bold of the Windows Phone to come to a market which Android and iOS made duopolistic. I say bold as in outright courage and not at all hinting it was a smart or wise decision. Hey, I was really rooting for this. But, let’s be real for a second. How else did they think this was gonna go? Had they overtaken the sales by storm, this article would’ve been titled entirely differently. But, by mid-2010s, Windows Phones along with other OSes like UBTouch, Firefox OS, only held about 2.5% of the total sales. This is where they probably realized they messed up big time.
The Apocalypse: Windows 10 Mobile
Ah! The dreaded upgrade that brought the ship down wrecking. I remember how a super smooth and beautiful Lumia 640 turned into this ugly clunky mess that ran an excuse of an operating system that is Windows 10 Mobile. Performance issues everywhere. Almost all the Blacks were now grey. Zune (Xbox Music) was now Groove Music. And there was the dreaded Edge Browser everywhere you looked. Honestly, Windows 10 Mobile sucked all the beauty the tiny imperfect black gaps between tiles the WP8 had into a translucent mess that QiHang Dev Team had perfected as soon as Launcher 8 was released. The low-end devices’ performance was abysmal, had one managed to upgrade forcefully. The mid-range struggled to keep up and the high-end devices had their problems to worry about, like the super slow camera and the Bluetooth reconnection. And not to mention, the wretched lag-hole that is Continuum.
Well, you had a good run, Windows Phone. You came, you saw, and you just stood there awe-struck while someone else conquered. That is certainly a 10/10 for trying. You took a shot at the impossible and went down swinging. And for that brilliant effort, you will be missed. But for the time being, we’re holding on to our daily drivers. Up until 2 years ago, Project Andromeda was around the corner. Maybe this is the big breakthrough. Like Project Photon which later became the Modern Windows Phone. Maybe. We’ll be waiting with our material or translucent themed Mobile OSes until you show up. Adios Windows Phone! You did well.