I first resigned Windows Phone in December 2014. Microsoft's mobile platform was lagging behind, and I was tired of not having access to the applications that everyone else was using. Microsoft took a few years to finally admit that Windows Phone is dead, and the company no longer plans to release any new hardware that runs its mobile operating system or update it with any features. I recently turned on an old Windows Phone to create a silly April Fools joke about reusing it as my daily device, and then I realized: I really miss Windows Phone.
Windows Phone debuted in 2010, with the design philosophy of Microsoft's Metro, and a focus on taking a look at your phone for information instead of going in and out of applications. Two obvious features that I miss in the Windows Phone Metro design are dark mode and Live Tiles. Android and iOS do not yet have dark modes in the whole system, almost 8 years after Windows Phone introduced it for the first time. Google recently closed the dream of that happening outside of Pixel 2. I use my iPhone a lot in bed, and the white interface still seems to illuminate the room even with Night Shift enabled.
Live Tiles was one of the most exclusive features of Windows Phone. They allowed the applications to display information on the home screen, similar to the widgets found on Android and iOS. I could almost anchor any useful item on the home screen, and Live Tiles was wonderfully encouraged to turn it around and provide small nuggets of information that made your phone feel much more personal and alive. I hope that Apple will finally take the Live Tiles concept, or even one that was designed for iOS 8, and take it to the iPhone. Widgets are simply not enough. Rumors suggest that Apple plans to update the iOS home screen soon, so there is hope that iOS will move away from its static and boring home screen.
Outside of the design features, there were many more that showed how Microsoft was really innovative with Windows Phone. The software keyboard is much better than the default values on iOS and Android, and Microsoft even added a tracking option that allows you to swipe to type words like many Android keyboards do now. The Windows Phone keyboard always felt accurate, at a time when Apple was struggling with its iOS autocorrect.
Microsoft also experimented with features that were different from other mobile platforms, and some of the concepts have not yet come true. iOS or Android:
- Kid's Corner: allows parents to share a separate account on their device with applications and games restricted to children.
- Dedicated search button: you can search anywhere (with Bing, hmm) in the operating system, regardless of the application.
- Browser address bar: Microsoft placed the browser address bar at the bottom of the screen, making it easier to use the thumbs to scroll.
- People Hub: The concepts of Microsoft Hub meant contacts in Windows Phone could take photos and information from social networks directly to your address book.
- Unified Messaging: Microsoft's message center allows Windows Phone users to chat through text messages or messaging applications like Skype in a single thread without the need to juggle separate applications.
One of the main reasons why I still miss Windows Phone is because it drove both Apple and Google to improve. When it was launched, Microsoft had a good opportunity to create a third mobile platform and enervated the competition. Google refused to create applications for Windows Phone, and a public dispute over a YouTube application and blocking services on Windows Phone devices made it clear that Google would do anything to stop Windows Phone.
Undoubtedly, Windows Phone has changed Android and iOS. Microsoft aggressively pursued the principles of modern design at that time to launch Windows Phone with its Metro design, and Apple responded with iOS 7 and a flatter user interface. Google went a step further, with its design of materials that included bright colors, playful transitions and a much more flat and simplified interface.
Beyond the design, Windows Phone also had some fundamental principles and features that can now be found in iOS and Android. Windows Phone focused on the deep exchange of data between applications, to avoid having to change from one application to another. That's something that Apple now manages through the iOS application extensions, and Android has always had its Intents system. Both have been improved to the point that the Windows Phone of Microsoft hires the vision for the exchange of data of the application beyond its own platform.
Microsoft also pressed the features of the Windows Phone camera, even forcing phone manufacturers to include a dedicated camera button to take pictures of the screen lock much faster. Both iOS and Android reached the quick start functions of the camera, but at that time Windows Phone was ahead. Microsoft even added a controversial Wi-Fi detection feature to Windows Phone that allows you to share Wi-Fi passwords to your contacts. The software maker ruled it out in Windows 10, but Apple introduced an identical feature in iOS 11 recently. Apple also added Live Photos to iOS 9, which is similar to an animated photography feature that was available on Nokia Lumia Windows Phone devices.
There are probably many more examples of the influence of Windows Phone on Android and iOS, but now that it is dead the competition has disappeared Google recently launched its Android edition Oreo Go for low-end phones, and is designed to make Android work better on phones with 512 MB or 1 GB of RAM. Windows Phone always worked well on a variety of hardware, but Microsoft launched low-cost devices in an identical push with only 256MB of RAM five years ago.
Samsung has also started creating its own version of the Windows Phone Continuum concept, which turns a phone into a PC. The Samsung system is actually superior to the Continuum in several ways and includes popular windows and mobile applications. Ironically, it seems that Continuum could play a lot in the possible return of Microsoft to a mobile device form factor. Microsoft is now focusing on software modes such as Continuum for new smart hardware projects.
Windows Phone has no future, it's over. Microsoft will continue to support it, but without a new hardware star and without operating system updates, it is a forgotten and dead platform. It has been widely rumored that Microsoft is working on a secret Surface notebook device with dual folding screens. The patents have shown a hardware that closely resembles the Microsoft Courier concept of a digital notepad, and this could be the rumored "Surface Phone". Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also promised that future Microsoft phones will not be seen as phones at all, and this type of device fits that message.
The patents also show Microsoft's mysterious Surface device, codenamed "Andromeda", it adapts to become something more than a notebook or a tablet, and in a portable form factor. Microsoft could have a final stabbing in the mobile with a device like this, but it will not be the same as Windows Phone. Microsoft generated some genuine enthusiasm around its platform with ingenious marketing, unique features and advanced hardware. It just was not enough, even though the developers tried to save Microsoft's mobile efforts. Even so, I will miss him.