The (Real) Death of Windows Phone, American-style (Part I)

Despite the recent hullabaloo about Microsoft’s new hardware offerings, including some new high-end Lumia phones, it’s time to bid farewell to Windows Phone, at least in the US consumer market. While I hate to leave the market up to a duopoly run by Alphabet/Google and Apple, that’s how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. Microsoft’s five-year Windows Phone freefall is living, or dying, proof that there are only so many second chances in tech, even for the kings of second chances, and it’s finally time to throw in the towel on another great phone OS that never lived up to its potential. (ah, Palm OS, we hardly knew ya too.)

What the end of Windows Phone means depends on who you are. It’s clear that Microsoft loses big, and not just because of the Nokia write-down. It’s possible to argue (more on that below) that businesses that were counting on a Windows 10 cross-device enterprise experience that includes smartphones might also bemoan the fate of Windows Phone. But the death throes of Windows Phone shouldn’t bother consumers in the least. They’re too busy enjoying the latest coolness from their Android and iOS phones while they take for granted an absolutely superior (to Windows Phone) user experience on apps and websites too numerous to count.

While the demise of Windows Phone has been pending for some time, I knew the die was cast when I met up last summer with a Microsoft employee, new iPhone in hand, who recounted how he had tried to replace a dying Windows Phone and found that his carrier only carried low-end, starter Windows Phones, but no “flagships.” He waved his new iPhone 6 at me and said the obvious – why would I want to downgrade to stay on Windows Phone?

Which was my experience three weeks ago. Verizon recently changed its pricing plan, and the new regime meant that I was paying $40 per month for a two-year old Windows Phone with a slowly dying battery. Time for an upgrade, and the two year contract time was up. My choices were pretty stark – basically I could downgrade to an inferior Windows Phone and pay a little less than $40, or pay $43 per month and get a iPhone 6S. Guess which way I went?

(I have to say that there are a few things on my Windows phone that I miss, including the overall UX and text to voice, but in general the move to iPhone was a huge upgrade in many important ways. Apps, apps, and more apps, a better Bluetooth experience, improved browsing on a lot of key websites, and so far Siri works better for me than Cortana.)

In case the new phone disincentive wasn’t disincenting enough, the chances that Verizon would be quick on the uptake in supporting Windows Phone 10 is basically nil, considering their pitiful response to the advent of Windows 8.1 and Cortana, which frankly was the move that made Windows Phone truly competitive from a UX standpoint. Considering, from Verizon’s standpoint, the prospects for a strong US market for Windows Phone has only gotten worse since last year’s painfully delayed release of Windows Phone 8.1 on the Verizon network, I basically expect Verizon will do nothing about putting Windows 10 on its existing Window Phones for as long as possible. Which made getting the 6s even more of a no-brainer.

My experience, and the experience of other Microsoft employees I have spoken to since last summer who also were forced to move to an iPhone, is part of a pattern of neglect on the part of US carriers that has been going on for some time. This neglect is what will finally kill Windows Phone for good, if it hasn’t already. A quick look at the top four (Verizon, ATT, T-mobile and Sprint) shows that the march to oblivion is not slated to change any time soon, even at AT&T, which boasts the largest contingent of Windows phones, most likely due to the fact that it owns the Microsoft corporate account.

The neglect of Windows Phone has been pretty much across the board in the US:

Verizon as of this writing offers three Windows Phones, as many as it does Blackberrys (along with six iPhones and 24 Android phones). Only one of these phones comes from Microsoft (Lumia 735). The rest are from HTC and LG, which I would imagine aren’t going to be pushing hard to develop leading edge Windows phones any time soon, what with the OS owner being a direct competitor and the aforementioned dead US market. (There’s always the rest-of-world market, a theoretical opportunity for Windows Phone which I will partially debunk shortly.)

AT&T, the chosen Microsoft carrier, has three Windows Phones, all from Microsoft, but the highest-end one, the Lumia 835, is only available as a refurbished phone (Certified Like-New!) Are they kidding? Where did they get even these rejects? How much more down market can a carrier go than to offer a refurbish as its flagship phone? Meanwhile, AT&T has two Blackberrys for those in love with another lost cause.  It has made some motions about carrying one of the new Lumia’s, but as of this writing no sign of it on their website.

Sprint has one Windows Phone, a Lumia 635, and T-mobile has one Blackberry, which is one more than the total of Windows Phones it offers. The rest of the market is all iPhones and Androids.

And even if anyone had the crazy idea to try to use the latest, albeit largely unavailable to US users, Lumia flagships, the fact is that the newest ones don’t even begin to blow-out the iPhone 6S. And, let’s be honest, there is simply no way that any reasonably sentient app developer would bother to develop for a moribund market like Windows Phone, which means the app gap will never ever improve. And, similarly, the humiliation of being invited to a conference and not being able to download the conference app, makes whatever Microsoft does with Lumia an on-going compromise for many business users. More humiliations: you can’t watch Amazon Prime movies on Windows Phone, nor can you watch anything on Southwest Airline’s inflight entertainment system, nor can you…. You get the point.

To Be Continued: Wherein I question the enterprise market and non-US market opportunities for Windows Phone……..

 

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