You know what Windows Phone and Civil American Political Discourse now have in common? Well two things. Obviously, they’re both dead and they pretty much got worse as time went along. Long time windows shepherd, Joe Belfiore took to twitter to torment the three people who still have windows phones on Sunday, letting me, Jimski, and my fiancé (It’s my fault: We met the day I sold her a windows phone) know that, like the possibility of bipartisan legislation, our hopes for new developments are no longer well placed. So with that news let’s take a walk down the road of Windows Phone yore, at what made it different and, until something radically new emerges, the most efficient smart phone anyone made.
The year was 2010. Microsoft’s previous smartphone iterations were as awful and disjointed as the company itself had grown. The lumbering behemoth of too many years at the top of the electronics chain, was being entirely undone by a company they had recently saved from the trash (Apple) and the future malevolent “do no evil” rulers of us all (Google). With the iPhone basically creating a consumer desire for smartphones that didn’t do work, but made fart noises and had a capacitive screen that could be fingered and thumbed by the simplest of human brains. No longer was the smartphone a smart thing, but it was given the mass market that no one knew anyone wanted. Google, quick to notice anything trendy as they locked up the world’s web search market share under shady business practices, were right on their heels’ as they presented what was supposed to become an open source smartphone operating system. Instead, Google worked to, over time, coopt the basic foundation security and functionality that was developed by many companies and even volunteers into a closed and proprietary system that required licensing fees. Then came Windows Phone 7.
This was the first Smartphone that was designed with the user in mind. With more than a single needed step back from the creation of a truly user-based smartphone system, Microsoft had to invent drawing boards that would fit their ultimate phone creation. The idea of a static row of icons just sitting there, doing absolutely nothing useful for the consumers, so desperate for the flood of information that these new devices could give us was a travesty that Microsoft and crew could not abide. Live tiles were born. A shameless embrace of digital iconography in a world that still uses white backgrounds for either word processing or forcing headaches onto people who are doing word processing. It wallowed in the crisp digital display of information with its “Metro” design language. It wasn’t simply its image that was a complete game changer either.
With the iPhone and Android the new name of the game was apps. I feel this is where Microsoft and the world truly parted ways for smartphones. Try to find a picture on an iPhone. The first step is going to be remembering what App it’s currently stored inside of, whether that be Instagram, facebook, snapchat, your camera roll, your online back-up camera roll, your google drive, your time machine, or your super-secret app that doesn’t look like an app at all but stores all those… personal pictures. That is a ridiculous thing to have to remember in a world of multiple devices and ready to use API’s across every internet or mobile service of the time. Microsoft saw this and devised a system that would aggregate content from EVERY service provider into a single location for the user. This was, and is increasingly, revolutionary. In 2010 when the “internet of things” was emerging from our lexicon, there weren’t five dozen photo app services. There was basically facebook and twitter, both of which Microsoft was able to strip just the wanted information from and bring straight to the user without the need of an app or even a web browser. This was OS level functionality. You just went to photos and they were all there. No facebook ads, no twitter announcements, just the raw usable data we wanted without interference from the content deliverer. Much the same way the best ideas for the people are often buried under special interest, so was the greatest smartphone platform ever devised.
Content providers were livid. Users weren’t going to their site. They weren’t seeing their ads. They weren’t getting blasted with the Facebook brand over the Twitter brand or vice versa. So instead of be a part of a system that empowered users, that gave them the time and freedom to access their content on their terms, these companies pushed back and refused to make apps for this new revolution. In fact as time went on and API’s for this sort of delivery could have improved, most companies removed this functionality in a uprising of apps that saw the writing before it hit the wall; If this type of digital interaction takes off why would anyone need them? And, we didn’t. Since owning a Windows Phone, the only apps I’ve installed were to replace functionality that was taken in an “upgrade” to the platform.
Every operating system needs updates. Users expect improvements in every level of operation these days. Not only speed, reliability, battery life, screen size, functionality, even though many of these expectations are often contradictory. Windows Phone 7 was no different. However, with these content delivery companies refusing to make apps, removing API functionality, or sometimes both Microsoft had to address them to improve their marketshare in the face of these challenges to their design. In the end, Microsoft burned through piles of money courting app developers and hardware designers that could have easily paid off most of the student debt in the USA. None of this could stop the bleeding. As they gave up inch after foot, foot after yard, and yard after mile, the original ideas and concepts of user data unity and ease of access without apps were burned as not convictions of a better life for users interacting with their devices on their terms, but as tokens of compromise that were never intended reciprocation.
Which brings us to the creation of Windows Phone’s tombstone. Windows Mobile 10… Windows Phone 10… let’s face it, these guys were so fucking done at this point they didn’t even bother to give it a name. When the world of bloggers and twatters out there began to wonder what the hell to call this new iteration so much that multiple articles were written with widely varying names assigned, someone at Microsoft PR finally found something to do, other than put out fires about Windows 10 upgrades. They finally named the death of their platform, and it was such a half assed attempt I don’t even care to remember it. Completely gone of almost everything that made their phone different, Microsoft (in their best attempts to pretend it was still alive, presumably after several viewings of weekend at Bernie’s) released Windows Phone/Mobile 10. With two devices and nothing in the pipe from ANYONE else, only the most stubborn disbelievers (yeah, me and Jim, the fiancé by extension) didn’t need to wait in line, but did traverse an entire metro area to our only Microsoft stores to buy an unlocked and $650 electronic coffin for another of Microsoft’s ideas that was far beyond its time. I’ve enjoyed my 920. I will probably continue using it for as long as it remains viable. Hopefully by then the next wave of whatever it will be, I’m guessing some sort of augmented reality, in the vain of google glass or a far less enormous Hololens.
What are your fondest memories of Windows Phones failed experiment?