It's clear by now that despite the positive reviews and the excitement among many developers, Windows Phone 7 is a failure. Just like the well respected webOS, it failed in the one and only parameter that really counts and that's sales.
Market share is constantly decreasing and soon Microsoft will disappear form the mobile charts. Mango is just around the corner, and even Windows Phone 8 rumors have started (expected in 2012) – but will they be enough to put Microsoft back in race?
I doubt it.
I've been using Windows Phone 7 for almost a year now, and for most of the time I've been an excited fan of the innovative Metro UI, and the strong productivity side of the OS.
Recently, however, I went back to using my old iPhone.
Why, you ask? I got bored with Windows Phone 7. I Couldn't enjoy the "apps experience" and I missed the fan experience of browsing through endless high quality apps. Windows Phone 7 ceased to excite me. I'm hoping the Mango update (AKA WP 7.5) will change that.
Regardless to Mango, it seems that in order to really become competitive with Android and iOS Microsoft must change the game a little bit. Do something drastic, shake things up.
I gave it some thoughts and came up with a few suggestions of my own.
Here are 5 things Microsoft should do that can make Windows Phone really awesome and ready to fight Android and iOS:1. Make Windows Phone more like Android:
When Microsoft just released WP7 it was presented as a closed and perfectly designed environment: UI is strict but feels "consistent", stability is critical, no custom shells are allowed.
Windows Phone 7 gives very little "customization" points available for the device manufacturers to add their flavor to the OS. The result is beautiful and consistent on one hand, but on the other hand, it is somewhat boring, and you simply cannot spice things up by personalizing the look & feel (or even sounds).
Microsoft was determined to avoid the messy crap that used to be part of the Windows Mobile ecosystem, it also didn't want to get into the fragmentation challenges Android has.
Now it's time to loosen this approach a bit.
Smartphones users love playing around with their phones, customizing it, personalizing it. In WP7 you just cannot do this. There are few pre-defined colors, a very limited number of live tiles and that's it.
Microsoft must improve that part in the OS. More colors, more tiles options, with different sizes (wider, longer), tiles layout should include headers and sections, maybe even a few pages of it, definitely additional apps pages, background images, etc. Skins and themes are also important (see WP7 skin example), and so is the ability to customize the sounds: ringtones, SMS sounds for each contact and more (some of it is going to be available in the Mango release).
Windows Mobile and Android are both jungles because of too many tweaks and customized themes, but Windows Phone is completely in the opposite side. It's becoming boring. With a fairly little investment, users will be able to spice up their phones and hardware manufacturers will be able to put some of their own taste in the operating system.
2. Make Exchange integration great. And I mean: really magically great:
Microsoft strengthened the integration to exchange and Office with release of Windows Phone 7, but it's not enough to differentiate WP7 from other leading systems. Blackberry, iOS, Android, all have integration to emails and calendars, they all have support for office documents in some way or another. BlackBerry also has some nice Tasks integration built in.
What Microsoft needs to do now is move to the next level: add built in support for Outlook Tasks, Notes, improve the OneNote integration over the cloud so it will become trivial to do it without long setups, add more options to turn emails into tasks or calendar invites, make it easy to set "Out Of The Office Reply" directly from WP7, and many other features that will really make it great. not just nice.
Then, Microsoft should think about the next step: combining the powerful UI of WP7 with the productivity of Outlook and Exchange: add options to create tiles from outlook notes (multiple notes in your home screen), have a way to create another tiles page which will be all about tasks and notes, consider having expandable tiles with real content inside, or anything that can embed the productivity side inside the main user experience. After all – if Microsoft wants to gain some market share, the easiest part belongs to RIM, and for that, WP7 must be superior in terms of productivity.
There are so many tasks and notes apps for iPhone, there are so many tasks or notes widgets for Android, users want this kind of functionality to be part of their smartphones. MS can make it better than the others. It can become a differentiator.
3. Do something about that awful Marketplace:
Too little apps, too many low quality apps, too many cloned apps, too many paid apps, a store that makes it really hard to find apps, and seriously, the store is so minimalistic, it's not even fun to browse through the different apps. There are a bunch of great games, and that's mostly it. Too many poor-looking applications next to some great looking ones, and songs… too may songs, while searching for apps…
All of those make the Marketplace shopping experience really poor, and turn WP7 into a sad "Appless" OS.
Sure, there are some high quality games, but there are too little of them. Most of the apps are simply bad ones.
Microsoft should find a way to encourage "casual games", the kind of games you can play for 5 minutes or 20 minutes in-between your daily activities: while on the move, during boring meetings, while you're in the toilets (yep, me too), while waiting for a train. iPhone is packed with mid-level games which are very simple but looks great, and can act as "casual games", many of them are available for free by the way. WP7 has very little of those.
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4. Do something with Skype, and do it fast:
Free calls, free messaging, voice-based SMS, location based walkie talkie, 3D video calls with special effects, I don't care. Just do something that will shock the world, and make all of those Skype users out there consider getting a Windows Phone 8 device.
Skype integration should kick ass, but it also should include new features and integration with the productivity tools and apps. If Microsoft can only come up with a winning combination with a unified approach – people will look differently at Windows Phone.
UPDATE: I've been reading about some Skype integration coming to Mango. I sure hope that's something that will happen in the near future.
5. Add more freaking awesome UI concepts to the Metro Design:
Metro is huge. I absolutely love it.
The problem with Metro is that some apps look like this:
While other applications look like that:
You have to admit the second one doesn't really invites you to pay good money for it, even if the functionality is great.
Microsoft created a few fundamental principals for creating Metro-based applications, they are all available for developers to use (embedded in the development IDE), but they are not be enough.
That's it. My personal view of course. As usual comments are more than welcome.