With Windows Phone 8.1, what does Microsoft need next?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| February 21, 2014

In April, it's said that Microsoft is going to unveil their newest additions to the Windows Phone platform. At their BUILD conference, we'll get to see the first official look at what's being called Widows Phone 8.1, and all of the new things they've put into the software. It's been a long time since they've released a major update (2012, with Windows Phone 8), so you can imagine how excited some people might be for what's to be unveiled in a couple of months.

It's par for the course, but since we're so close to the unveiling, we're starting to see quite a bit of the new software find its way onto the 'net, long before Microsoft officially announces anything. The Washington state-based company has chosen to "shut up and ship," when it comes to Windows Phone, so it has been all quiet on the Western front as they dig in and create, update, and tweak their mobile platform.

I'm excited to see what Microsoft has in store for us. Even before all the leaks started showing up, I knew that Microsoft had taken the time between major updates to really alleviate user's complaints about the platform. No notification center? Fixed. Quick access to certain settings? Done. You want a digital assistant, like Siri or Google Now? Covered. All of these things, and more, have long been needed by Microsoft's mobile operating system, and with Windows Phone 8.1 we're finally getting them. It took some time, yes, but that's just how Microsoft works. They get around to it. Eventually.

The question is, will it matter?

We can't say for sure right now, can we? We know that Microsoft's platform has indeed picked up steam recently, especially with their cheaper devices in markets around the world. Nokia has obviously been one of, if not the biggest proponent of the platform, creating devices that people want. But, with key departments of Nokia being acquired by Microsoft this year (probably), one can't help but wonder what's next.

HTC and Samsung have both been quiet about their future Windows Phone plans, and that's not all that surprising. With Microsoft changing their gears to become a hardware company in the mobile market (meaning, they'll be making smartphones . . . eventually, just like they make their own tablets now), I wouldn't be surprised if HTC and Samsung just kind of let Microsoft run with Windows Phone all by itself. They can focus on Android, and Samsung even has Tizen to bolster the ranks.

So what's next? If Windows Phone is indeed "finally" catching up to Google's Android and Apple's iOS with these must-have features, what do they need next to actually start making a dent in the mobile industry? The platform has already filled the "third OS" rank, so now it's about getting better, climbing the ranks, and giving Android and iOS a real run for their money. How can Windows Phone do that? Is it even possible?

If one of the biggest complaints about Windows Phone is missing features, key features that people can find on other platforms, then the easiest argument here is that Microsoft just needs worthy hardware. There is reportedly two Nokia-branded devices on their way this year, but that's unconfirmed at this moment. And while a Surface phone from Microsoft would probably sell some units later this year, there's no word on whether or not anything like that is going to happen in 2014.

Not to poke the sleeping monster here, but Microsoft also needs to put focus on apps, and not just getting them anymore. Windows Phone needs to be the platform that isn't hindered by apps with limited features. When you look at the applications available on Android and iOS, you should find the same apps with the same functionality on Windows Phone. Until that happens, unfortunately, I think a lot of people are going to stick with the platforms that just offer more in that regard. Even if Microsoft has hardware that's worth owning.

But, what say you? With features in Windows Phone 8.1 and services like Cortana, what else does Windows Phone need to succeed? Or will that be enough, if it's coupled with hardware that's truly high-end and worth showing off to friends and family? Let me know what you think.

image via The Verge