All About The Apps (Not the OS): Saying Farewell to Windows Phone

Audiovox SMT5600 (2004), Samsung Blackjack (2007), HTC HD2 (2010), Samsung Focus (2011), Nokia Lumia 920 (2012), Nokia Lumia 1020 (2014), Apple iPhone 6s (?)

In which I simultaneously field responses of the forms, “Et tu, Brute?” and “What took you so long?”

TL;DR – I’m tired of waiting for the apps I want to come to Windows Phone. My next phone will be my first iPhone.

I like my Windows Phone. I like the hardware. I like its multitasking support. I like its tight integration with services that I use every day, notably OneDrive — photo auto-upload and OneNote in particular — and Zune Xbox Groove Music. I really like its customizable home screen layout and the live tiles. And I still believe in Microsoft’s ability to out-innovate the competition in client software. But when it comes time to replace my current phone, I plan to get my first iPhone.

I’ve been using Windows Phones (and Windows Mobile phones before that) since I got my first smartphone over a decade ago. [The above image represents my personal smartphone history.] For most of that time, my need to test devices that interacted with the Microsoft services I was helping to build, as well as my innate loyalty as a Microsoft employee, made the choice to buy the best available Windows smartphone an easy one. There were some painful moments — the HTC HD2 with Windows Mobile 6.5  was a dud from day one — but mostly I was sufficiently pleased with the devices and the platform that I did not have iPhone envy.

So what has changed? To paraphrase Meghan Trainor, it’s all about the apps. Increasingly the apps I want to use are not available for Windows Phone or are inferior. I’m tired of feeling like a second-class citizen, app-wise.

To determine how personally significant this problem is, I’ve been compiling what I call the “App Pain List.” I’m constantly learning of apps that are available for iOS and Android but not for Windows Phone; they don’t automatically go on this list. I add an app only when I find myself thinking, “I would download this app to my phone right now if there were a version in the Windows Store.”

The App Pain List contains the following categories:

  • Apps that used to exist on WP but have been decommissioned. Ex: The app that let me deposit paper checks in my bank account.
  • Apps available on WP but not at parity with iOS/Android versions. Ex: Waze, Instagram.
  • Apps I would use regularly. Ex: TiVo, various video service apps, various bank and credit card companies’ apps.
  • Apps associated with a product or service that I’d like to use. Ex: Ring, Sonos, CarPlay, Snapchat.
  • Apps I would use occasionally. Ex: KCLS, KUOW, NHLSouthwest Airlines, various magazines.

For all of the apps that I’ve put on the App Pain List, there’s only one so far that I’ve been able to remove: NPR One. If can be generous and add Fitbit and Uber, as both of these came along for Windows Phone after I started using the associated products but before I starting officially keeping the list.

What’s sad is that the virtuous circle of “apps drive (platform) usage, usage drives apps” has been known to Microsoft since its earliest days in the OS business. Even in its prime, no application developer thought MS-DOS was the most technically advanced operating system or the easiest one to build apps for. Developers built apps for MS-DOS because it was the OS that had the highest adoption. And in turn the volume of apps made it an increasingly popular choice for users. I don’t believe that that Microsoft ever forgot this; they just fumbled the transition to mobile as the high volume app platform. (Blah blah Innovator’s Dilemma blah blah.)

My friends who have built smartphone apps consistently tell me that iOS users — as purchasers of premium products — are the most engaged and lucrative consumers of their apps. Android users are less so, but their sheer numbers make the platform a worthwhile investment. Windows Phone users, especially in the U.S., are barely visible.

I’d been patient with Windows Phone for a while because I’d been hoping that the momentum would shift when Windows 10 becomes available on smartphones. But my understanding of the current plan — providing developers a toolkit that will make it easy for them to rebuild Android apps as Windows 10 apps — doesn’t inspire confidence. Even in the best case, if producing a such a Windows app were a simple as a one-button rebuild, they’d still have to separately test it, publish it on the store, and support it. That’s a lot of effort for an additional 2-3% of the market; if I were an app developer, I’d rather put that effort into improving the version of the app that the other 95+% of my customers use. If you include the potential installed base of Windows 10 PCs and tablets, the numbers look better, but it remains to be seen whether app developers will consider those devices a compelling target.

Ironically, Microsoft’s recent embrace of iOS and Android as targets for its mobile apps makes the move to an iPhone easier, since I won’t have to sacrifice the Microsoft apps and services that I use today on my Windows Phone.

I remind myself, guiltily, that this is a reversible decision. Windows will continue to be my desktop and tablet OS of choice. I can buy an iPhone 6s and if Windows 10 causes a sea change of app availability, I can switch back in a year or two. But I won’t be holding my breath.

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One response to “All About The Apps (Not the OS): Saying Farewell to Windows Phone

  1. Pingback: iPhone: The First 72 Hours | Danny Glasser

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