Windows Phone needs a remake before it becomes ignored

Windows Phone needs a remake before it becomes ignored

Summary: With each passing day, Windows Phone is becoming more irrelevant as developers steer clear of the mobile operating system.


Three years have passed since Windows Phone made its public arrival, and this year, the mobile operating system earned the coveted third place that Microsoft wanted for it — but wearing the bronze medal matters for naught when one is operating in a market that is solidifying a duopoly.

Windows Phone currently finds itself in somewhat of a purple patch: The platform's market share is increasing, with some forecasts pegging it to reach double figures in 2017, and Microsoft has taken the ecosystem by the scruff of the neck with its proposed purchase of the devices arm of Nokia for $7.2 billion.

The good news kept coming last week, as Nokia announced that it sold 8.8 million Lumia smartphones over the third quarter of this year.

Donning rose-coloured glasses and looking into the future, one could easily extrapolate a future where Microsoft and Windows Phone is a competitive third player in the mobile world.

The problem with extrapolation is that it is a cheap argument to make, and one that is often wrong.

While Nokia moved 40 percent more Lumias this year compared to last year's numbers, 8.8 million devices are a mere drop in the ocean of mobile sales, or, as Apple would put it, an opening weekend for the iPhone 5s and 5c. On the Android side of the equation, Samsung is able to sell 10 million of its S4 devices in a month.

It shows the scale of what Windows Phone is up against. Compared to its own previous poor performance, Windows Phone is starting to turn itself around, but when looked at from the perspective of the entire industry, it remains dwarfed by its rivals and lulls far behind the big two operating systems, with market share figures that have yet to crack the 5 percent mark.

As it currently stands, less than one in 25 smartphones that are purchased around the world use Windows Phone. That's hardly the awakening of a sleeping giant, and more reflective of a platform stalled at the starting block.

Time is running out for Windows Phone to get the easy wins left in the smartphone market, and fewer chances exist at the moment to earn customers upgrading from feature phones. There are signs that the developed world is approaching smartphone saturation, meaning that most of the customers that Windows Phone needs to nab on its way to a double-digit penetration in the smartphone market will have to be won away from Android and iOS.

That will be no mean feat for a platform that is trailing and being neglected in one of the core considerations of a consumer smartphone purchase: The app ecosystem.

At the time of writing, the highly popular Instagram, Vine, and Flipboard apps are still slated as arriving on the platform shortly.

When apps produced by companies the size of Facebook and Twitter decide to ignore your app platform, it is generally not a case of the platform being unlucky; there's more often a reason why the app is not on the platform. If Facebook or Twitter saw a pressing need to be on Windows Phone, they would have moved heaven and Earth to be there at the earliest possible juncture.

In the case of Instagram, the app itself is over three years old, and arrived on Android just after it had gained over half of the US smartphone market in April 2012.

The trend of neglecting Windows Phone development has been reflected locally in Australia as well. In the space of a month, two of the country's four largest banks released new banking apps. For CBA's CommBank app, Windows Phone did not implement the killer feature of the app update, NFC payments. This happened despite Windows Phone handsets possessing an NFC element, and failing that, being technically capable of working with MasterCard's Pay Tag technology if needed to. In the case of NAB's Flik app, Windows Phone was ignored altogether.

It's not a good place for the up-and-coming platform to find itself: Stranded in third against two competitors that receive development resources long before it does.

For the enterprise, the omens are better for Microsoft — Redmond is able to boast of headline deployments such as Oslo ordering 3,000 Windows Phones and Delta rolling out 19,000 Windows Phone devices for flight attendants. But under the surface, away from the headlines, other businesses are taking another route and removing Nokia from mobile device programs.

The Achilles' heel of Windows Phone may turn out to be the existence of Microsoft's other platforms compressing it from above.

For the CXO looking to make a decision on a preferred mobility platform, they have the same trio of choices that have existed for a number of years: Android powers the vast majority of devices and is creeping its way onto more form factors all the time; iOS comes with the assurance of Apple control and the longevity that comes with being the platform that defined both the smartphone and tablet revolutions; and then there is the Windows Phone/Windows RT/Windows 8 hodgepodge.

Were the CXO to choose either Android or iOS, then the applications that are created for those devices will work across both smartphone and tablet form factors. For Windows Phone, although it has more in common nowadays with its Windows desktop cousin than ever, it remains a separate operating system, and an app must have some amount of porting performed on it to work with Windows RT and Windows 8. Therefore, the proposition that Microsoft is offering the CXO who wants a phone and tablet solution is to write one application for Windows Phone, and write another, very similar application for Windows RT or the Windows 8 desktop.

If the CXO is lucky enough to have the core business app already rewritten in the WinRT framework, then getting the app onto mobile devices should be painless enough. But if the CXO has a long-maintained and well-working legacy application, then the prospect of writing two new applications to have phone and tablet support across Windows devices looks far more involved than a single new Android or iOS app, which will achieve the same result and be installable on many employee devices as well.

For organisations that have legacy desktop applications that have been lovingly maintained for years, the existence of Windows 8 desktops on tablets gives an opportunity to have a tablet app for minimal fuss. It's an opportunity that cuts Windows Phone out of the equation altogether.

Windows Phone 8 arrives bearing the same kernel as its Windows RT and Windows 8 brethren; however, in app development terms, it is annoyingly similar, but in no way compatible enough to spare developers from the need to port their work.

What Microsoft is sorely lacking is one grand, unifying framework for application development.

The company needs to offer a truly single ecosystem to developers that takes full advantage of the first-class tooling that the company possesses. An actual platform that has no compromises, not a series of compromises built into other compromises that currently leaves Windows Phone as an incompatible subset of the standard Windows environment.

Windows Phone 8 started the journey, but didn't go far enough.

Microsoft needs something to offer app users and developers, something that they cannot find on competing platforms, and the ability to have one Microsoft-supported app framework for phone, tablet, and desktop implementations would be quite compelling.

Microsoft needs something drastic to happen to draw developers' attention away from the Android/iOS duopoly, and giving mobile developers the option to be desktop developers in the same app creation process could be the circuit breaker that Redmond needs.

Failure to do so will see Android and iOS continue to dominate the mobile space for the foreseeable future.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 9:00am in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm ET on Sunday in the US, 11:00pm Sunday in London, and 6:00am Monday in Singapore. It is written by one of ZDNet's lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States.

Previous editions of ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener

Topics: Mobility, Windows Phone


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • You're flat wrong...

    Windows Phone is growing its market share in a very competitive market. A market so competitive that Apple is losing market share every quarter... in spite of selling 9 million in one weekend. Personally, I'd rather hitch my wagon to the OS that is growing by 200%+ per quarter than the one that is shrinking.
    • Growth for WP is slowing down

      In the last quarter they barely gained share, increase device sales were just a bit over global market growth.
      Other problem for WP is that they are winning share because of cheap devices, lumia 520 share is massive. The problem is big enough that Nokia selling almost 20% more phones had more losses in the smartphone division.
      • Huh?

        I don't think you know what you're talking about. Windows Phone is growing by leaps & bounds (see link).
        • Microsoft = rotten company, don't give them a penny

          please don’t support such a rotten company like Microsoft, don’t give them a penny and the world becomes better ;)

          • Dont forget the other guys

            So why is it that Microsoft is rotten and evil but Apple, RIM and the other companies that make up rockstar are not? Why is google not evil for stealing other companies property and giving it away for free so they can make more money off of advertising?
          • don't lie

            The article is about Microsoft, have you noticed? :)
            You just lie, what have Google stolen? Open source? ;)
            Be specific don't spread general lies
          • What has Google Stolen??

            Except for all your personal data you mean?
          • Just like everyone else?

            Microsoft has bee harvesting data for as long as I care to remember. Apple is no saint either, but I trust both Apple, and Google, more than Microsoft.
            I hate trolls also
          • Why do you trust Apple more

            what does apple do to deserve your trust?
          • you lie

            all my personal data? I gave it to them, you didnt confirm the condition? how did you manage that?
            youre nicely d*mb :)
          • wow really

            Your identity is that tied to Google. Seriously you need to get out and get some perspective on life.
          • I agreed like everyone to have free services from Google.

            yes, I agreed like everyone to have free services from Google....Microsoft doesnt ask if he can corrupt....Microsoft just corrupts
          • Because Microsoft pays trolls

            To point the finger at the competition, while hoping they ignore Microsoft's OS has the same problems. It's one thing to have a problem, but it's a wholly different thing to point out someone else's problem, while you have that same problem.
            I hate trolls also
          • Really?

            Really? Even with the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives to charities around the world for education, medicine, vaccines, libraries, etc?
          • Microsoft = rotten company

            Seriously, you have got some issues brother. If you can't make a factual case against Microsoft with some bullet points, then please don't post. What you are doing is childish.
          • Microsoft = rotten company

            microsoft blakmails, intimidates almost every open source ;)
            just read the facts
            bit [dot] ly/RYzOPP

            "Microsoft's dirty game - rough harassment of the independent journalist trying to uncover the real Windows world!"

            "Do you know how does Microsoft earn money? Through a bribery in Slovakia, Czech republic, Hungary, ..... How much money does Microsoft have in governments' contracts all around the world??
            Microsoft bribery probe enters Russia, Pakistan.
            And some another corruption and bribing.
            Again another bribing in Italy, Romania, China."

            "Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes without Windows!"

            wake up, these are facts.....Google is saint in compare to Microsoft ;)
          • who defends Microsoft is 1) paid by Microsoft or 2) st*pid- facts are facts

            "Supposedly Penn has been going around Washington trying to recruit consultants, telling them that Microsoft has armed him with a $50 million budget to go after Google."

            "Greedy Microsoft - Because of the trust Apple+Microsoft+Adobe you have to pay more for IT in Australia!!"

            "Microsoft earns probably more money from Android with blackmailing Android producers through ridiculous patents than from his mobile operating system Windows Phone.

            Microsoft bribes Best Buy staff to slam Mac and Linux."

            Microsoft = evil = just facts, nothing more

            who defends Microsoft is 1) paid by Microsoft or 2) just st*pid
          • Google the new Evil

            Microsoft - a decade ago - argument against Microsoft - Microsoft forced their partners, OEMS, to keep Linux off PCs

            Google -- today- forcing their partners to keep competitor's products off smartphones.

            Google's Dan Morrill said it best, "it's obvious to the OEMs that we are using compatibility as a club to make them do what we want."
          • The dumbest thing i have ever heard

            Do you have proof that Microsoft bribes these companies to slam mac? Are you going to tell me that because I am defending Microsoft I am being paid by them? I do not work for Microsoft. You sound ignorant for saying that people you defend Microsoft are paid by them. Me personally I don't like Macs. I think they are overpriced for absolutely no reason. You like em more power to you. But don't say that because someone is defending a Company or product they are being paid. That's ignorance right there
          • which rotten company then?

            Show me a company without guilt so i can throw my mony t them. MS has its issues, but google and spples profits are hardly pristine either. Arguing about a corrupt company in support of another is as hypocritical as arguing about corrupt politicians or lawyers, or bias news corporations.
            Fctwo Willie