Microsoft has listed July 2014 for when it will end support for Windows Phone 8. Already? It’s been five months since Windows Phone 8 – the second generation of Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS was officially lauched. Has it saved Microsoft from its downward plunge in the mobile sector? Not quite, going by sales data.
Even though it is a thing of the past now, Windows Phone 7 was lacking features so basic, it was hard to imagine a company like Microsoft, combined with years of a head-start in the smartphone OS market, could have missed them. For phones running Windows Phone 7, the Wi-Fi would automatically switch to sleep mode whenever the handset was locked – there was simply no way to have Wi-Fi running while the phone was idle. An even bigger shock – there was no Call Log. You simply couldn’t see how long any of your calls lasted. Aside from that, there was no Bluetooth file transfer support, no screen orientation lock, and a lot of other features that come standard in all phones.
Microsoft made efforts to fix these issues in WP8, but has only succeeded partially. In fact, a fresh set of problems were discovered in WP8. There have been many users reporting storage space loss over time – with only a factory reset being a viable solution to this so far. There were also cases of random reboots and freezes across a range of devices – Microsoft pushed an update to fix this, but the problems persisted. Android or iOS have never reported problems on this big a scale.
Abysmal Market Share
The lack of apps was obvious in Windows Phone 7 – and there hasn’t been any progress in WP8. Google recently declared that it would NOT be developing apps for the Windows Phone platform as it did not see any consumer demand. Google Apps product management director Clay Bavor said Google has “no plans to build out Windows apps”, adding that they are “very careful about where we invest and will go where the users are but they are not on Windows Phone or Windows 8.” So there, without Google Apps – and that includes Gmail, Maps etc, WP8 start is crippled already. You can’t come up with an alternative to that. iOS has Google Apps, Android has Google Apps. But WP8 doesn’t. It’s doomed.
The biggest reason things don’t look too bright for Windows Phone is because 2 ecosystems may be enough for the market. Steve Ballmer says Microsoft is selling 4 times the number of Windows Phone 8 devices as compared to the last generation. Despite that, WP8 devices hold a meager 3% market share in the world right now. Windows Phone 8 hasn’t worked the way Microsoft had hoped it would.
A study conducted by Bernstein Research concluded that consumers simply don’t want Windows Phones. The research cited:
The lack of consumer interest for Windows-based phones has been very consistent in marketing surveys we have carried out across the globe over the last several years. The situation of Windows in mobile phones is now very unlikely to revert.
With iOS and Android controlling almost 91% of the smartphone OS market between them, getting consumers to switch will be very tough.
Microsoft is trying not to be Android – that is apparent by its efforts to maintain quality by maintaining restrictions and standards. Although iOS has all its restrictions in the software category only, Microsoft has gone on to list strict hardware requirements for manufacturers. The result: apart from minor variations in performance, design and color, there’s nothing unique about any WP8 device. Windows Phone 8, while offering nothing ‘unique’, is still aiming to pull users from iOS to itself. And it’s hard enough pulling iOS users to Android anyway.
Android, due to its open nature, has been adopted by most manufacturers in the world. Although this does raise concerns about quality consistency across devices, it still helps sell the platform as entry-level devices would run only this OS. For consumers who cannot afford an iPhone, this is their best choice. Windows Phone 8 devices do not come cheap – if a consumer is going to purchase a Windows Phone 8 handset (which cost as much as solid mid-range Android devices) – there is no reason not to go for established handsets like the HTC One S, or even the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The only solution that Microsoft might have in the near-future is to drop prices. As long as Windows Phone devices continue to sell at par with other premium devices, consumers will choose the latter. A reduced price seems to be the only incentive that might work. Otherwise, sooner or later, Microsoft will have to give up on Windows Phone 8. There is simply no room for a third OS. HP’s WebOS was a well-made one, but did not succeed. The market cannot have 3 ecosystems at the same time.
CFO Peter Klein has said that Microsoft has no alternate plan should its current mobile strategy fail. With July 2014 being the end-date for official support for Windows Phone 8, we might not see a Windows Phone 9 at all.