Giving Windows Phone A Chance

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If you take a look at Techmeme right now, you’ll notice that the top conversation in the tech blogosphere is about Windows Phone, and more specifically why it has failed to catch on compared to Android smartphones in particular (according to Charlie Kindel, former GM of the product division). I’ve read people’s different views on this with great interest, but I feel like something’s missing: the opinion of an actual Windows Phone owner and user with no real skin in this game. Enter, well, me.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to stop using my HTC Sensation (Android 2.3) and iPhone 3GS (iOS 5) in parallel and made the switch to Nokia’s Lumia 800 (Windows Phone 7.5). As you can tell, I’m not exactly married to any company or product – it’s just not in my nature. I switched to Windows Phone mainly to see if it can hold its ground when used intensively.

So far, it’s been a surprisingly pleasant ride, so I haven’t entirely dismissed WP7 as others appear to have done (even if most of them haven’t even used a decent Windows Phone yet).

As most who’ve experienced the Windows Phone platform will attest, Microsoft offers something truly unique in terms of OS design and on-screen interaction, and I’m extremely glad to see the company not adopt a copy-paste innovation strategy as they’ve done more than a few times in the past. Say what you will, but Windows Phone offers a superb user experience, indeed far superior to most if not all the Android smartphones I’ve used in the past. You can call me a fan of the Metro UI.

I already wrote up why I absolutely love the Nokia N9 (which sports nearly the same hardware as the Lumia 800 but with a different OS, namely Meego) but that no one will buy it mainly because the platform has no future, and there aren’t enough decent apps to even begin comparing the handset to an Android or iOS phone. I mean, I don’t see developers rushing to build Meego apps anytime soon.

There are more WP7 apps, but that doesn’t mean the platform isn’t struggling on this front, too.

While Windows Phone Marketplace appears to be steadily growing, most of the third-party WP7 applications I’ve tested genuinely suck. Of course, this is true for Android and iOS too (it’s a law of large numbers if you know what I mean) and at least the ‘essential’ applications – People, Messaging, Xbox Live, Mail and also Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – behave really well.

The reason Windows Marketplace frustrates me is that even the ‘good’ applications that I use regularly (Rdio, Foursquare, Kindle, Pulse, and more) have weird quirks, or are downright unusable – I sense a lack of attention given to those apps by their own developers. Getting cash in exchange for making a Windows Phone app is one thing, but you should be proud of what you do – better not to build an app for the platform than to deliver a crappy one that will make you look amateurish.

But all in all, a really amazing phone and platform with lots to offer, and I have no doubt that improvements will come quickly, and aplenty. That doesn’t necessarily mean customers will be lining up to buy Windows Phone handsets en masse, but there’s no reason they couldn’t grab more marketshare (and mindshare) in the future if Microsoft is willing to go the distance. Everything I’ve seen so far indicates that the company realizes that there’s not really an option – they have to matter in the mobile space.

If Kindel is wondering why Windows Phones haven’t exactly been selling like hotcakes, I doubt you’ll find all the answers by looking at the business models and goals of the many industry players. Alignments can change. Kindel does nail the problems with Android and its absurd fragmentation issue, but I get the feeling he’s making excuses for Windows Phone far too soon in the game.

Microsoft did enter this market extremely late, and, as I mentioned, there’s still a major app problem. Those are very big barriers to successful entry, but they can surely be overcome by a company the size of Microsoft, and as far as I’m concerned they still have a fighting chance.

In fact, I’m hoping Microsoft manages to put enough time, money and effort into Windows Phone to turn it into a viable competitor to iOS and Android. At the end of the day, this will be decided by users and app developers foremost, not carriers, manufacturers and retail salespeople, but one can hope.

What it will require is a lot more great phones, ‘big and bold’ marketing, UI consistency, far better apps and yes, more time. That’s no guarantee for success, but let’s give Windows Phone a chance.

The reason I’m hoping Microsoft succeeds in ‘getting there’ is because I happen to think more choice will bring more progress and more technological advancement, rather than more fragmentation, feature-chasing and patent warfare. I’m not rooting for Microsoft, per se, but I don’t see anyone within striking distance of becoming this ‘third major player’ and we shouldn’t discount the talent of Microsoft’s vast army of engineers and developers, and the mountain of cash the company sits on, and notably continues to generate quarter after quarter after quarter.

It’s still early days, and if the past few years have taught us anything it’s that industries can transform quite rapidly, and that it’s never a zero-sum game. No one knows what the future holds, but I can guarantee you the world will look be different – again – at the end of next year.

Sent from my Windows Phone, gladly.