Monday, May 30, 2016

An open letter to Microsoft - Part 1: The app-gap is not the reason behind the decline in Windows Phone share, this is

Dear Microsoft,
I recently read your article on the change in your mobile strategy. Ever since I have been ardently following Windows and Windows Phone, this is not the first, surely not the second and definitely not the third time I have read such news of the strategy being reset.

Change is good, and is the order of the universe. But change should be with a purpose and be well thought out. Unfortunately, many times and for many reasons I have always found that missing at Microsoft.

When Microsoft first came on the scene with Windows Phone OS called Mango, better known as Windows 7 I was mighty impressed. The OS didn't have the same capabilities as a handheld or a palmtop OS like Windows CE, but from a design perspective it brought a breath of fresh air into a world of mobile OS which only knew icons on a home screen. Live tiles truly and literally exemplified the concept of Windows, giving us a glance into many things at the same time. The tight integration with Facebook and Twitter gave it a unique flavour, which I believe people took a liking for. The OS had some wonderful features but it also had its share of limitations. Windows Phone 7 saw the concept of Zune, probably based on the lines of iTunes, and no bluetooth. We haven't even spoken of the app gap, which like a hitman has been behind Windows Phone ever since. 

To overcome the limitations of Windows 7 Windows 8 was released, and then Windows 8.1. Finally the phone could be used as a storage device bypassing Zune, the phone was blessed with Bluetooth and many other wanted features made its appearance. But all this was only for those who were aboard the Windows Phone 8 ship. The ones who had believed in the dream of a Microsoft Mobile experience and had purchased Windows 7 phones were given the elbow. Too sad! A set of loyalists shown the door. A chunk of the user base was lost.

Like me, everyone wondered where was Microsoft heading with its mobile strategy? Me being a very passionate Microsoft fan read every article possible to learn more. And the more I read the more I was bewildered. My Lumia 920 gave me unmatched pics to an extent that it rekindled my interest in photography and compelled me to create a blog Lumia Phone Clicks to show the world what a Windows Phone was capable of doing. I even signed up to the Developer/Insider programs on my sole Windows device to taste the goodness of what Microsoft was working on. Windows 10 was promised for the Lumia 920, but that too proved to be empty. Another set of loyalists shown the door. Another chunk of the user base was lost.

What Microsoft Why? I understand you'll are creating the next BIG Windows, but at the cost of perfection you'll are killing the good. As a result you'll are creating windows of opportunities for people to slip through. The thought behind Windows 8 PC was great, It was a futuristic idea, much before it's time. But by living in the future you'll forgot about the present and the countless people who use mouse and keyboard. Luckily the 90% desktop OS share proved to be a buffer or another chunk of users would have been lost. Windows mobile doesn't have that luxury. Here every slip is a big one.  

I know the buzz word in Microsoft currently is Windows 10, UWP, Cortana and Continuum. These have gained some traction and will be closely watched but, I fear, these are not going to go all the way, at least with the current approach. Because there is an issue that eclipses all this. And that issue is not the app-gap, but the lack of TRUST.  

It is this lack of trust that forces every person buying a Microsoft product to think twice before buying it. It is this lack of trust that caused people to wait till Surface 3 to start picking it off the shelves. It is this lack of trust which is missing at Apple or Google causing people to take to it like a fish to water. It is this lack of trust why the common impression is that only alternate editions of Windows are worth switching to. And it is this lack of trust that is causing everyone to wait for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update so existing bugs can be rooted out before making the switch. 
  
When I bought my Windows Phone in June 2013 I believed in the product and proudly flaunted it. People tried to convince me out of it, but being a fan I was stubborn. Before buying my Lumia 920 I waited to be sure that Windows 8 would have a decent future. I am lucky it did. Not having many apps available for my phone was utterly disappointing but seeing an app available, made and still makes me, count my blessings. I could live with not having an app but I couldn't and still can't live with a half-baked app. It is frustrating to say the least. More so as even Microsoft apps aren't an exception. If this was MasterChef Australia a half baked dish would warrant a direct eviction. But not in the case of the Windows Store. 

If half-baked apps aren't enough there is the curious case of the missing settings or apps, in my case the Touch setting and Glance setting. I have hard-resetted my phone a couple of times and soft-resetted it more times than that, yet the Touch setting doesn't show. What's the consequence? My phone screen switches on at every double-tap, intentional or unintentional. The Lumia Help team on Twitter is baffled too. Our Twitter conversation has been going on for more than a month, and there is no ETR or sign of resolution. 

So Microsoft, please work on first building the trust factor. Opening up Windows as a Service, taking feedback from Insiders before releasing public builds is a step in the right direction. This gives you a larger and wider testing base. Use that to your advantage. Test things thoroughly, communicate often. Hats off to Gabriel Aul and his team for holding that fort with panache.  Lastly keep innovating, but not at the cost of alienating existing users. 

In my next part I shall talk about UWP and how the app-gap can be addressed.
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