Goodbye, Windows Phone

Posted on November 22nd, 2016 in Commentary by EngineerBoy
My last windows phone - Lumia 640 XL

My last windows phone – Lumia 640 XL

Well, yesterday I ordered my Google Pixel XL, meaning that for me it’s the end of the Windows Phone era, at least for the time being, and on to the Android phone. My ‘smart’ phone history has essentially gone like this: Palm Pilot ==> BlackBerry ==> Windows Phone ==> Android. You’ll notice one fruit-based name missing from that list, and there are not enough pixels on the web for me to describe how clearly I plan to never own any Apple devices.

I have no great love for any phone platform, actually, and am moving to Android by default by virtue of Google introducing the Pixel. The issue with Android, to me, is that the market is fractured and fraught with incompatibilities and divergent ‘standards’, whereas Apple suffers from an exact opposite, but even more deadly (to me) flaw, which is full compatibility that happens to be based on completely proprietary and closed ‘standards’.

There hasn’t been a ‘standard bearer’ for the Android platform, from my perspective, until now, where Google has the potential to become exactly that. That may or may not happen, but I had to make a move – the Windows Phone platform has essentially been abandoned by Microsoft and app developers and I could no longer bide my time waiting for the ‘Surface Phone’ announcement that might never come, and which might also simply be the latest in Microsoft’s long line of disappointing mobile phone initiatives.

The primary reason I’m writing this post about a stupid phone is that I truly lament how badly Microsoft screwed up their mobile offerings. The Windows phone has always been highly functional (for me), and the advances in Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile showed flashes of potential brilliance, but Microsoft couldn’t stop tripping over their own stupidity/incompetence/tone-deafness to get things right.

As just one example, the Windows Phone had a feature called “Kid’s Corner”, which was a setup you could configure with specific apps and games for your kid. Then, if you wanted to hand your phone to your kid you simply did a swipe gesture to put it into Kid’s Corner (didn’t even have to unlock the phone) and hand the phone over. Your kid (or friend or co-worker) could only see and open the approved apps with no access to any of your other data – no way to see an inappropriate pop-up notification, no way to accidentally reply-all to a work thread, no way to scroll through your potentially inappropriate picture gallery, etc.

It took about 5 seconds for Kid’s Corner to switch on when requested, and returning to normal operation was simply hitting the power off then on button and entering your phone password, which also took about 5 seconds. Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, unceremoniously dropped Kid’s Corner from Windows 10 Mobile and pointed parents to something call “App Corner”, which although it has a similar name is a completely different thing. App Corner is more like having a different user “log in” to your phone, and they have a different profile. Yes, that profile can be limited to kid-safe games and such, but the process of switching to App Corner takes 3-4 minutes, as does switching back.

It’s also hugely buggy while in use, and it also usually put my phone into an unstable state when I logged back in, necessitating a full reboot about 70% of the time, so it was essentially useless to me. Stupidly, Microsoft hasn’t fully removed Kid’s Corner yet, because every once in a while the icon pops back up on my screen and it continues to work like a charm, until their code remembers to hide it again.

As another example, Microsoft finally (FINALLY!) got to the point where if I bluetooth-paired my Windows 10 phone to my Windows 10 computer I could send/receive text messages from my computer if my phone was nearby and actively connected. It worked *great*, it was just what I needed – super convenient, super simple, worked exactly as needed. So, why am I complaining about it? Well, you guessed it, Microsoft again felt they had to remove a great feature and replace it with an unusable (to me) one.

Once they launched the text-from-computer functionality, they then immediately announced it was going to be phased out in favor of Skype-based integration, meaning that if you wanted to have text-based integration between your phone and PC you had to a) install Skype on your phone, b) configure Skype to be your text/sms client (not the native phone text app), c) install Skype on your computer, and d) login to Skype on both devices using the same Microsoft account.

Although I grated against steps a) through c), it was d) that was the killer for me. You see, my company uses Skype, so on my work computer I login to Skype using a work-only Microsoft ID. However, that is not the ID that I use (or would EVER use) on my phone. So, no integration – gone, zip, had it for a few brief weeks, then gone. It’s obvious that they are hewing to the Apple model of proprietariness, because, hey, that’s how Apple does it! They get everyone to use Apple Messenger! And all the other Apple owners have a cool icon, and all the Luddites have the dumb icon indicating they aren’t cool! We’ll do all that, but with Skype!

No, no you won’t. And more so, you *shouldn’t*. There’s a reason why even for all of their ‘success’, Apple only has ~15% of the phone market, while Android has ~85%. It’s the same with their other products, in my opinion, which is while there is definitely a market for a closed, proprietary system that’s easy to use, that market is limited. Technology, if I can anthropomorphize a bit, wants to be free and open. The market, as a whole, wants interoperability. Henry Ford was famous for saying that if he’d asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses, when what they *really* wanted were cars, they just didn’t know it yet.

At this point, I think the technology market is at the point where if you asked the people what they wanted they’d say ‘more features on my iPhone!’, where what they *really* want are universal communications and applications, regardless of platform. So, when you go to have a video call with grandma you don’t have to remember if she has an iPhone or not or if she runs a Windows computer or if she’s signed up for this service or that service, etc. One of the reasons I made the jump to the Pixel is because Google could, at least on paper, begin to lead the charge to those kinds of standards. They definitely have the financial and technological might to do that.

But so did Microsoft. However, they not only screwed it up, they seem to be actively working to bury any chances they have for a comeback. There are rumors of the upcoming ‘Surface Phone‘ in 2017, and a Universal App store, where the Modern apps you run on your Windows 10 computer also run on your phone the same way. That’s a potentially brilliant strategy, but they are taking way too long in bringing it to fruition. The app developers have abandoned the platform in droves, and trying to win them back is going to be exceedingly difficult.

Is it over for the Windows Phone? I don’t know. Microsoft could announce tomorrow that they’re shutting it all down, but that would sure be a huge waste of the acquisition of the Lumia phone stuff from Nokia. But when do you stop throwing good money after bad?

For me, it started with my Pixel XL order yesterday.


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