Windows Phone 8.1: Nice update but hurdles remain the same

Windows Phone 8.1: Nice update but hurdles remain the same

Summary: The developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1 checks off a lot of boxes, but it unclear whether any of the changes---including the new Cortana voice assistant---will move the adoption needle.

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Microsoft has released its Windows Phone developer preview and there's a fair amount of gushing going on. But the challenges for Windows Phone remain the same.

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Ars Technica's Peter Bright calls the latest Windows Phone magnificent. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley noted that Windows Phone 8.1 is a "huge step up" for business users as Microsoft added enterprise VPN and SSL VPN gateways built in. Cortana, Microsoft's version of Apple's Siri, also works well. CNET's Jessica Dolcourt said "Cortana mostly keeps pace with its rivals, and introduces one or two minor innovations that Apple and Google can learn from."

Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview screenshot gallery

In many respects, Windows Phone 8.1 checks off a lot of boxes in comparisons to Android and Apple's iOS. The song for Windows Phone, however, remains the same: The OS is a solid No. 3, but has some major hurdles to garner more adoption. Perhaps No. 3 is good enough---for the mobile ecosystem a third place player is critical---but Microsoft likely wants more.

A look at the hurdles, which go beyond core software and hardware, in many respects.

  • Retail. Seeing a Windows Phone device or Nokia Lumia in the field with random people is still a rare event. Microsoft and Nokia need a broader presence with carriers and distribution. Stores seem to push the iPhone and Samsung devices first and Microsoft and Nokia have thrown money at the issue with little payoff.
  • Uncertainty about Nokia after Microsoft's purchase. Microsoft is about to acquire Nokia and the overall strategy is a bit unclear going forward. Will Nokia really follow through on its Android low end device? How about support? Microsoft is likely to integrate Nokia well, but any uncertainty is bad for an underdog.
  • Apps. Windows Phone is working toward fixing its app deficit and Microsoft's move to offer universal apps is an important one for developers. The catch is that Windows 8 hasn't been a juggernaut either. Exhibit A on the Windows Phone app conundrum for me: SiriusXM still ignores the platform. I need Howard Stern in the morning and the lack of a Windows Phone app makes Windows Phone a non-starter. Period. And frankly I don't have the time to assign blame to either side. Wake me up when the app is there.
  • Adoption. It would be a lot easier to hop on the Windows Phone bandwagon with more mass appeal. Just last week, I saw a person with a big yellow Nokia Lumia and the office quips all revolved around whether that guy worked for Microsoft. Not that all consumers are sheep, but most are. There's network effect that Windows Phone lacks relative to iOS and Android. More adoption could make Windows Phone more of a bring your own device play and attract developers.

Unfortunately, Cortana could jump out of the Windows Phone, fetch your coffee and perhaps do a cartwheel as an avatar and those aforementioned challenges will remain. Microsoft is making strides, just not enough to alter the inertia equation.

Topics: Mobility, Mobile OS, Windows Phone

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58 comments
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  • CO

    Ok, one needs Howard Stern. Its brave to come out.
    64old
    • It's not about Howard Stern

      His post really isn't about Howard Stern. It's about those less common apps that are never written for Windows phone. It is really a chicken egg problem. Are those apps not there because the phone isn't popular enough or is the phone not popular enough because the apps aren't there.
      apoteke
      • Right

        The real value of a smartphone isn't that it has 1M+ apps. Rather, it's that it has the right app at the right time. There's a big advantage to some apps, less to others. I want apps for all my banks, because they enable features, like check deposit, I can't get online. If I travel to a trade show, I want the app for that show, because WiFi and Cellular are virtually impossible at a major trade show, even if there's a good online show map. If I'm at a music festival, I want that festival app... cellular coverage is sketchy at best, even in Delaware (going to Firefly in June). If I'm in a city, I want the app that'll correctly guide me to sites, eateries, cheap parking, etc. I like the app I use to track the serial numbers of all my very expensive camera gear, and I really do want that at my fingertips -- if something is stolen, I need to report it a second after I find it missing.

        And I could go on for hours.. these situational apps are what really sets a functional mobile OS apart from just a mobilized desktop. You'd never in a million years run most of this stuff on Windows, because you're not walking around a city looking at your desktop or even laptop screen.

        It may eventually be the case that much of this stuff gets done in HTML5, to serve the long tail of platforms that aren't #1 or #2. Maybe Microsoft gets enough traction to be an interesting #3... but that's never really happened in past personal computing markets. Most application providers want 80-90% coverage, and probably won't find the expense of hitting beyond that more worthwhile than launching the next app for the larger platforms.
        Hazydave
  • yeah

    Isn't the update to solve those problems, universal apps-windows, xbox, tablet, phone. Free wp os for device >9". Do not be so dense.
    revben
    • Not really

      The update tackles some of the causes of the problems Larry mentioned. Universal apps won't allow more apps to work, but it will increase the rate at which new apps are built. Lower OS cost won't benefit it in retail.

      Larry's list of problems is easier to solve after the update than before, but the update itself doesn't solve any of them.
      Sacr
      • Actually

        You are incorrect. Lower (or in this case, No) OS cost will definitely be beneficial as more manufacturers will make WP at lower price points which will ultimately be available to consumers at those price points. With regards to apps, its a vicious circle really. Developers want more market share, consumers want more apps and manufacturers want more consumer demand. I have been using WP since the Lumia 920 was released and it has been a pleasure dealing with a fast, fluid OS that does what it is supposed to do and it does it extremely well.
        kunalnanda
        • And...

          On top of that, MS don't have to pay out a huge wedge of their costs to other people for licensed patents. Many Android handset makers have to pay MS a fee for each handset because they use MS patents. It means the actual cost to market of Windows Phone Handsets will be very competitive.
          Personally, I've used windows Phone since its release, from the HTC HD7 to my Current Lumia 920. I think the OS outstrips the equivalent versions of Android and iOS. This is still version 2 of WP OS in actuality. It's not like it's resting on its laurels. MS are really pushing the OS every time they update it. I would imagine if they keep it up at this rate, version 4 is going to look pretty damn amazing.
          Drobilliard
  • This is the %1 reason.

    "Not that all consumers are sheep, but most are."

    I have yet to meet a person that has used the phone and doesn't like it. We rolled it out here to thousands of users and most of them use it now instead of their personal Androids or iPhones when given the chance. I don't blame devs for focusing on the big 2 due to market share, but our devs prefer writing for WP over Android (headaches galore) and iOS (different headaches, but not as much). It's such an outstanding platform that isn't getting a fair shake from retail workers who make just above minimum wage and don't know any better.
    Turismo
    • People Try Windows Phone Like This

      This is hard to use
      This is so easy to use and does so many cool things!

      The tiles, for every single person I have talked to, have been off-putting AT FIRST. The issue is how to make a certain type of person give the phone a little more of a chance. That Samsung guy in my example is doing something very important that Microsoft isn't - they are walking a customer through something they aren't familiar with, removing the huge 'this is hard to use' hurdle.

      Plus it's always easier to see all the cool features when someone tells you about them. Microsoft doesn't have dedicated reps in phone stores the same way Samsung or Apple does, so it leaves a false perception among consumers that have already written off the brand that it isn't as capable as its competitors.
      luke mayson
      • Oops

        My comment originally had the first two lines assigned so someone 'looking at a lumia for 10 seconds' and 'someone 'spending 45 minutes being talked up by a samsung rep'
        luke mayson
        • Ah

          Now I get it. :-)
          vincewansink
      • I know what you mean.

        Ive been showing my Windows phone around the office and already I have 2 different Android users telling me "how user friendly" my phone is and how easy it seems to get exactly what you want up and running with ease.

        To many bean brains working at the carriers stores and at the big box stores who seem to have some vendetta out against the Windows phone, even Windows products in general. It feels ridiculous. I practically had to convince the sales rep at my carriers store to "show me the damn WP8 Samsung ATIV".

        Who do these sales people think they are?

        I see almost zero parity between their efforts to sell iPhones and Android phones as compared to Windows phones. And now that I have a WP8 for several months, all I can say is it is a real shame because my WP8 is a way better fit for me than the iPhone 5 I was considering, and I had an iPhone before and I like them, I think they are a great device.

        I just like the WP8 much better.
        Cayble
  • Challenges to becoming #1 or #2...

    But not from being a great OS. WP 8.1 is already there.
    waqqas31
    • Agreed

      MS is firmly behind it so as long as I enjoy it and know the company will continue to stand behind it I really don't care if 20 people I know use it or no one I know does.

      I went to a Note 3 and regret it almost daily. Even with the memory and CPU power it still feels sluggish compared to my Lumia 928. I want the Icon and will switch back as soon as I can save up the money to switch, hopefully in the next month or so.
      LiquidLearner
  • Howard Stern

    Are you kidding? This is a breaker - it would be for me, the opposite direction...
    TurtleJ
    • Hmmm. Howard Stern dosnt look worried.

      The audacious Mr. Stern is hardly everyones cup of tea, but he draws a large enough crowd I don't see him doing anything other than helping to sell your product if hes on side.

      Unless of course you do the ads in some "very wrong" way. As in most cases, there is a right and a wrong way.
      Cayble
  • Sales people are the problem

    I went with my brother to get him a Nokia 1520. The sales men tried to talk him out of it. I also saw another lady ask about windows phone and the sales guy said "It's a great OS but you really want apps" He never let her pick up the Windows Phone and lead her to the Android Phones. Salesmen, let people decide for themselves!!
    MiddleTommy
    • @MiddleTommy

      I agree. In Regina, Saskatchewan I only have an option to get the Nokia 1020 and 625 and the HTC 8X at Rogers and at SaskTel (my preferred provider) absolutely no Windows phones are available. I managed to get the Samsung ATIV S just before they dropped it from their catalogue in Nov last year and I had to ask for it.
      bvonr@...
      • Familiar story

        I had to order the Ativ S online for my wife since her provider (Virgin) doesn't carry it. Availability is by far the biggest problem for windows phone.
        vincewansink
    • The salesman sounds correct to me.

      The number one thing holding Windows Phone back is the extreme lack of applications. Any OS is useless by itself. By steering the woman toward a device that actually has apps available, that salesman probably saved himself processing a return a week later when the woman found out she couldn't run all the apps her friends, relatives, and neighbors have been showing her. The vast majority of regular people don't care what OS is running on their phones. They just want to run the same apps they see others using.

      Apps = functionality. There is nothing sheep-like about choosing the device with the most functionality. That's the one that can run the same apps your friends are running plus hundreds of thousands that you might discover later. You can try to blame myriad other factors, but people are avoiding Windows Phone because they want to run apps that simply don't exist on Windows Phone.

      Encouraging the development of tens of thousands of universal apps is the single best thing Microsoft can do for the entire Windows ecosystem.
      BillDem