Five Years

Today I read an interesting retrospective by Paul Thurrott on Windows Phone. It was part of a series of articles he writes on past Microsoft technologies with occasional comparisons to current events.

The article on Windows Phone was interesting because it talk about the fact that with Windows 10 Microsoft was closing the door on Windows Phone and on what made it special. It is an interesting read but it left me wondering if Microsoft was really closing the door on Windows Phone as it was and if that wasn’t entirely a bad thing.

Five years ago Microsoft made a break from it’s then mobile OS Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7 Series. They shifted their thinking away from delivering software that Phone makers would re-skin and put on various hardware to a consistent interface and underlying hardware platform aimed at consumers and not enterprise. The move brought design into focus for Microsoft in ways it never had and brought kudos and awards.

But it hasn’t been the success Redmond was hoping for.

Five years later the vision put out for Windows Phone has had to exist in a less than friendly market. It’s innovative thinking around applications and notifications were love by critics but not widely adapted by app makers. The designers had to move quickly to make the platform work in a market where it was a distant third player and thus some things were tossed. Add to that Windows Phone’s merger into the larger Windows ecosystem (beginning with the move to the NT kernel in Windows Phone 8) brought more changes.

Some of the changes were sad. The need to keep partners and increase traction meant hardware requirements became optional. The next billion users meant an increase in affordable phones and less flagship devices. The dearth of app developer support meant things like Hubs and other initiatives went largely untouched.  And user expectation has meant the strong Metro design language has had to concede to things like hamburger menus.

And to be honest with Windows 10 what Thurrott describes as backing away is true; many of the elements that marked Metro and Windows Phone are gone to one degree or another. the Panorama and Pivot controls which define the typical app no longer is the representative design.

And yet we are talking about Windows Phone at year 5. And after five years it is time in my opinion to move on. As much as I liked Windows Phone and Metro I always thought they were a step toward something else. And while I would’ve loved to see user generated Hubs and an anti-app model I also wanted to see a Metro that allowed for a UI developers could stretch and brand their own way. I also think Windows Phone wasn’t perfect if the goal was to create something that could run on tablets as well as phones.

For me after four or five years an interface can and should be re-examined. What was fine in the beginning may no longer work. Unlike iOS and Android Windows Phone couldn’t bend developers to add features or influence the influencers. Users did not flock and it’s hard to know if it was the uniqueness of Metro, the lack o certain apps, or both that kept them away.

With Windows 10 Microsoft is merging Windows Phone and Windows RT (tablet OS) to create a new mobile offering. This means the things Windows Phone was about in its beginning no longer apply. And that could ultimately be bad or it could be good. We will know in another five years.

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