Where do we go from here?
“Where do you want to go today?” was Microsoft’s edict in 1995. In 2013, everyone is asking where does Windows Phone go from here?
2013 has been full of changes in the technology space. Personally, it was the year I began moving away from iOS, to Android, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8. Industry wide, it was the year of thinking new for Apple, Google and Microsoft. On Tuesday, September 3rd, Microsoft assumed control of the Nokia Devices & Services division, the Lumia brand, Stephen Elop and a boatload of patents.
The merger means many things for Microsoft. But no platform will be more impacted than that of Windows Phone. I started using Windows Phone 8 as my daily driver only a few months ago. Although mainly a positive experience, it can baffle many, including myself, how much is missing from the OS and the applications we love. Recently, I had come to believe Nokia would fill in the holes left by Microsoft in designing the Windows Phone experience. Nokia has already brought many great applications, settings controls and features to millions of Lumia owners. Heck, some of their innovations have even been made available to the competitors. What will happen now?
Hands off the hardware
I hope they don’t change anything. Really. The issues many had with the 920 were size and weight. There are now a multitude of Lumia devices from 3.7” to 4.7” with probably a 6-inch class model soon enough. The 925 and 1020 can take over for the 920, and offer reduced size and weight, along with increased design aesthetics and feature sets. These devices can take us into 2014. It is the software that is quickly falling behind.
Software, software, software
Nokia Music+ and HERE Drive+ are two examples many point to when discussing what Nokia can bring to the table. I point to the recent (and still coming soon for some) Amber update, and the settings and options found on Lumia devices. Accessories, Access Point, Call+SMS Filter, Display+Touch (with Nokia Glance) and Storage Check are items Microsoft never got around to including in their OS. Nokia had to do it for them. I hope the Nokia team, sorry the Devices & Services team, continues that tradition. Software is where the changes are needed. A strong OS and app team needs to work together in producing best of class features, applications and services.
Besides first-party changes, the new team needs to help developers. Forget waiting for “triple-A” applications, support third party developers, and they’ll come through faster and maybe even better. MetroTube and 6tag blow away any official applications the service owners will ever provide for the platform. Those two apps, and many others, not only rival but also exceed similar offerings on the iOS and Android platforms. Windows Phone apps should be different, and leverage the unique look and feel of the OS along with the enhanced hardware features found on the platform. Lumia devices have arguably the best cameras and some of the best display technology out there. The developers know that, and should be assisted by the new team in making the hardware shine.
Services for everyone, and everything
Microsoft has almost everything it needs. Luckily Nokia will keep doing their navigation development outside of Microsoft, and they will only get better that way. Outside of that, partner internally and externally to make sure Bing, SkyDrive, Outlook.com, etc… are integrated deeply into the OS, first-party and third-party applications. I should never need to sign into SkyDrive within an app. It should just work. Also, work with Google and Apple the best you can. Make concessions and be willing to give up some control, even if just in the short term. Make sure anything that can help switchers feel more comfortable about coming over is present on the platform. Third-party developers can do wonders here as well.
Communicate the vision
Microsoft has nothing to lose. Let the community know that new innovations will likely take time. Also share what you can, as soon as you can. Give us a peak into the 12-18 month roadmap. Layout the strategic vision for 2015 and beyond. Tie Windows Phone into Windows RT/Windows 8 in real ways. Make Google and Apple jealous of what only Microsoft can offer. Keep offering Lumia devices from anywhere between $50-500 off contract. Change the naming conventions. Let us know what you get and don’t get at the different price points. Make it clearer for yourselves, for your current community, and those yet to venture in to our world. Don’t give up. Most important of all… make sure everyone knows you won’t.
P.s. for the Devices & Services division
Dump the enterprise, or at least thoughts of the enterprise. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.