It’s safe to say that it has been a pretty good year for Microsoft. Last year’s success of the Surface Pro 3 continued seamlessly this year after the reveal of the new Surface Pro 4 alongside the all new Surface Book laptop. The Windows 10 operating system ended years of groaning about Windows 8 and how awful it was. The only thing left to do is turn things around for the mobile side of Microsoft, which will hopefully start happening next month.
I’ve had a lot of optimism about Windows 10 Mobile, and I’m not the only one: my fellow editor Evan Selleck is also stoked about the changes from Microsoft, and so are many others in the tech community. However, as most of us know, when it comes to smartphone success it ends up being more about how well you can reach the community outside of the tech community rather than within. It’s all about gaining a reputation so grand that a new customer might buy your phone just for the brand name.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, their smartphones already have a reputation to consumers, and it’s not a very good one.
Windows Mobile (not to be confused with Windows 10 Mobile; we’re talking Microsoft’s earlier foray into PDAs and smartphones) was pretty popular, but was quickly overtaken by iOS and Android once they came onto the scene. This sparked Microsoft to revamp into Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 never really took off like Microsoft had hoped. As a personal anecdote, I had been working for Sprint around the time that Windows Phone 7 was coming out, and it was an operating system that consultants avoided like the plague when customers asked about it because they were almost always returned. I had only ever sold a handful of them, and as predicted, most of them came back.
Just two years later, in 2012, Microsoft would upgrade Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8, which addressed some of the issues that users had with Windows Phone 7. Still, Windows Phone 8 managed to miss the mark on one of the platform’s biggest issues: its infamous app gap.
That was 3 years ago, and that same app gap still exists. Windows 10 Mobile is set to eradicate the app gap through Microsoft’s unification of the Windows 10 platform – which enhances on the same unification idea that Microsoft envisioned for Windows 8, which had unified the platform in a fragmented way. The apps across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 might have looked the same, but weren’t. There were different applications available for Windows 8 on the PC, and Windows Phone 8. With Windows 10, the idea is for all apps in the app store to be able to run on any Windows 10 device, and the app would merely resize automatically to fit the screen it was being used on.
It’s a grand idea, and one that I hope to see succeed. But the more I think about it, and the more I talk to people about it, it would almost seem as if the years of Windows Phone being viewed in a negative light is a hard feeling to shake off. Not only that, but during the years that Windows Phone was struggling to compete, smartphone users were busy getting themselves invested in the other platform’s ecosystems. For people heavily invested in another ecosystem, it can be hard to convince them to switch when those platforms are still doing as well as they are – especially if it’s to switch to a platform that has had so much trouble really taking off.
Windows 10 Mobile seems like it’s taking a big step in the right direction. I hope that this step is big enough to make a truly positive impact, as I would love to have a third truly viable platform available on the market. I’ve always liked Microsoft’s design with Windows Phones; but much like many others, I have had issues with that app gap. I just hope that it isn’t too late for the platform if the app gap truly is fixed this time around.