Bah Humbug: Microsoft's affordable smartphone strategy dashes hopes for a real flagship
Microsoft has yet to launch a single flagship model across all major US wireless carriers in the history of Windows Phone. Their focus on the low- to mid-range market may be part of why Windows Phone market share remains low.
I've been using Microsoft-powered smartphones since 2000, including using Windows Phone since it launched in 2010. Like many who visit this site, the high-end smartphones appeal to me for their cutting-edge specifications and capabilities that provide value for months or years.
Flagship smartphone buyers also serve as advocates for platforms and help generate enthusiasm and improvements in the platform. Unlike the successful iOS or Android platforms, there has never been a single Windows Phone model launched across all major US wireless carriers.
There is also no flagship currently available to match the latest iPhone 6 or Android models. The last high-end Windows Phone device was the Nokia Lumia Icon, available only on Verizon and powered by a 2013 processor. It was released in February 2014 while AT&T's exclusive Lumia 1520 was released in October 2013.
ZDNet's Ed Bott questioned whether it was too late for Windows Phone back in September and even though I have been an advocate for the platform for years, I am extremely disappointed that Microsoft continues to ignore the high-end smartphone buyer with a focus on the affordable phone market. Those just concerned about pricing are not vocal advocates for the platform and if Microsoft ever wants to gain more than 3 percent of the smartphone market they need to throw a bone to the smartphone enthusiast.
I own a SIM-unlocked Nokia Lumia 1520 — AT&T neutered their version — and I think it is still one of the best smartphones in my collection. HTC released their One M8 for Windows in August and it continues to roll out across carriers. This will actually be the first Windows Phone to launch across the four major carriers, but it is a phone first released running Android back in April 2014. The specs are good, but don't match what buyers can get with an iPhone or Android device.
Fans of Windows Phone have been asking for a successor to the Lumia 1020, 1520, and 930 that has specifications to match what is offered by other platforms. I honestly thought Microsoft was going to launch such a beast when the Nokia name was retired, but instead we have the mid-range Lumia 830 (exclusive to AT&T) running a Snapdragon 400 processor, 720p display, 1GB RAM, and 2200 mAh battery. Not a lot there to generate excitement among the smartphone enthusiast.
So back to Ed's question of whether it is too late for Windows Phone. Microsoft will state that something great is coming in 2015 with the next version of Windows Phone. That always seems to be the answer and as you look back, you won't see a single cutting edge flagship Windows Phone launch across all major carriers in the US. I have my doubts that it will ever happen.
I will keep using my Nokia Lumia 1520 since I like Cortana, Action Center, and more packed in Windows Phone 8.1. However, there is no flagship I would recommend over the latest iPhone 6 or Android from Samsung, Sony, or Motorola and that's the real problem I have with Microsoft's mobile phone strategy.