In the fight for relevance, Windows Phone needs a champion device
We've kept our eyes on Windows Phone since we first heard about it in mid 2010, not only because it showed promise, but also because it was a completely fresh start from Microsoft. And it has proven to be a much-needed direction change in the smartphone game.
Android and iOS are always cat fighting and bickering back and forth over who copied who. When it comes down to it, both Android and iOS really aren't all that different from one another, and with each update they are only growing more alike (notifications, home screen folders, etc.). Windows Phone, on the other hand, looks nor acts anything like the other two and promises to "save us from our phones." A nice change of pace, if you will.
A few months back, however, I wrote on how I feel Windows Phone may need saving from itself. It has been 13 months since Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 in the United States. The latest comScore report reveals that Windows Phone US smartphone market share sat at a mere 5.2 percent after 12 long months – down from 5.7 percent in August. When you compare this number to the 46.9 percent and 28.7 percent Android and iOS hold, respectively, it's apparent that despite the promise Windows Phone shows at such an early stage, it still has a long way to go to be considered a viable contender. To be fair, Android and iOS have clearly been around for much longer, but I think we all know Microsoft expected a bigger bang than what they've experienced so far.
To date, Windows Phone has made a pretty good name for itself. Not everyone will love it, similar to how some people despise Android or iOS regardless of what they have to offer. But several of my friends and colleagues that have had a go with the platform have nothing but good things to say about it. The interface is a bit drab, but beyond that, every device performs one the same level, irrespective of hardware.
Microsoft has fairly strict control over compatible hardware, which has proven to be both good and bad. The experience between every Windows Phone, in terms of performance, is almost identical: fast, fluid and rarely do you experience lag or a hang up. The negative side to this is stagnant hardware. Every Windows Phone on the market has almost identical specs, differing mostly in display size, hardware features (i.e.: physical keyboard) and camera optics.
What's more important than the lack of differentiation between multiple devices, though, is how "underpowered" they appear in terms of competing devices, such as the iPhone 4S or a number of Android handsets which tout dual-core processors. Even a lack of 4G LTE connectivity and higher resolution displays can be considered a drawback of taking the Windows Phone route.
Anyone who has had time to play around with Windows Phone knows that performance is not an issue, even with a 1GHz Snapdragon single-core processor. However, when you compare the specifications of the Radar to, say, the Amaze 4G, this doesn't matter. A 1GHz Snapdragon, 3.8-inch WVGA display 5-megapixel camera, 512MB RAM and 14.4Mbps HSPA+ just isn't as lust-worthy as a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon, 4.3-inch qHD display, 1GB RAM and 42Mbps HSPA+. And many sales reps and average consumers alike will naturally opt for the more "powerful" device, regardless of the actual level of performance each offer.
In the video review of the HTC Radar 4G on T-Mobile, Aaron said, "I feel like I keep saying it's not going to 'come near' a lot, but it's really a good mid-range device." And that's the point. To end users making their way to a carrier store, they're generally focusing on what looks better on paper. To someone who hasn't tried it for themselves, it's hard to conceive how a single-core processor powering a Windows Phone device can offer the same level of performance that a multi-core processor can for Android. Multiple cores and faster clock speeds will win that war all day, every day. The fact that the Radar is even considered a mid-range device instead of high-end should be a testament to that, considering its performance easily competes with any other Windows Phone or Android device on the market.
My point? Windows Phone doesn't need better specifications for better performance like some other platforms do. But they're fighting tooth and nail to snag a solid spot in the smartphone race. Their foot in the door is to play up specifications like everyone else. It's beyond performance for Microsoft at this point, and now that they have a fantastic manufacturer in their pocket that can and will make great hardware for them (maybe even flexible phones), they need to exploit it. Microsoft needs a showstopper, a flagship, a champion device with comparable specifications to other platforms' flagships to put them on the map. The Lumia 800 is a great start for Nokia, but we all know they can do better. Here's to hoping they will once Microsoft ups the hardware compatibilities and minimum requirements in approaching updates.
The good news is that Microsoft has plans for something like this in the future. A roadmap for Windows Phone was leaked yesterday, which revealed "superphones" in Q4 2012, alongside the Apollo update. But if these so-called superphones are pushed back to Q4 of the coming year, they, like RIM, could find themselves constantly being a day late and a dollar short.
What say you, folks? Does Microsoft need a champion device to truly catapult them into the smartphone race? Or do you think they can compete as they currently stand, with underpowered devices that still perform at a high level? Would you buy a Windows Superphone over an Android phone or iPhone?