You’d be forgiven for thinking Microsoft had abandoned Windows Phone, its mobile operating system. Statements made by the company sounded as if it’d given up on topping the iPhone 5s. The company’s recent actions left Windows Phone 8 users, and potential Windows Phone 8 buyers, all asking the same questions. In a world where Microsoft’s services are available everywhere, why would someone consider purchasing a Windows Phone? Also, even if they did purchase a Windows Phone, what would it give them that was so unique that they couldn’t get on any other platform?
Windows Phone 8.1 answers both questions eloquently.
Why Would Someone Consider Purchasing a Windows Phone?
I don’t mind saying that as a longtime Windows Phone users, I strayed last year and picked up an iPhone 5s. I’m not ashamed of it. Microsoft hadn’t updated its operating system in a major way in a year. Sure, it could now be loaded onto hardware that was every bit as powerful as the iPhone, but that was it. In hindsight, I spent five months with the iPhone 5s for two major reasons. One was Siri, which I’d learned to use for just about everything by this past February. Windows Phone had nothing like her. The second and biggest reason I left was that I felt Microsoft had made owning a Windows Phone moot. I could get Xbox Music, Xbox Video, Bing, Office and OneDrive on my iPhone 5s. Why would I stay with a Windows Phone, when I could have Microsoft’s best experiences on devices with more apps and more capabilities?
Firing up Windows Phone 8.1 on my device today answered that question for me, and it did so in a very Apple-esque sort of way. If you have Windows, and let’s be real, the majority of the world still does, then Windows Phone just works. Windows Phone 8.1 leverages the cloud in a very unique way. The things you might already expect cloud syncing to enable, it does. For example, Windows Phone 8.1 still automatically, backs up photos and videos to OneDrive and makes them available on other Windows devices. Contacts, and a list of installed apps, are also synced to the cloud as well. Where Windows Phone 8.1 changes the game is the way it enhances users’ lives with even more syncing.
Going forward, Start Screen themes, settings from specific apps and even passwords are automatically shared between devices, and that includes devices running Windows 8.1. The websites I’ve just visited and the passwords I’ve grown tired of entering over and over again are simply there once I’ve logged into my Windows Phone using my Microsoft Account. Windows Phone 8.1 also syncs apps and apps settings and when the two are combined with Windows Phone 8.1’s newly unified apps model, things get even more convenient. We’re talking about purchasing one app for two platforms and having settings sync in the background. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.
My point is simple: Windows Phone 8.1 uses syncing and a Microsoft Account to weave devices together in a way that wasn’t previously possible in any ecosystem, even the iPhone 5s. Yes, contacts and settings synced and app purchases made on an iPhone were available on an iPad. However, Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 are the first operating system to take these to the next level. Because they’re available on a phone, a notebook or desktop and a tablet, it’s the easiest thing to get up and running on a Windows device yet. Microsoft has used the cloud syncing and its services to create a platform that’s easy for first-time smartphone buyers to get started in. It inherently makes their entire Microsoft experience better. It’s something that goes beyond Microsoft Office and games. It’s something that honestly makes Microsoft’s products approachable. Are there still certain software features that are so unique to Windows Phone that users have to run out and buy one? I’d say both yes and no.
There’s no one Windows Phone “killer app” or must-have service. As I said, Microsoft’s decision to make most of its experiences available to everyone means that Windows Phone 8 itself offers far less in exclusive mobile features than it once did. In a world that’s dominated by iPhones, I think that makes sense. This stuff needs to be where users are looking and right now they’re looking at the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S5. That’s not to say that everything available on Windows Phone has come to the iPhone. Wi-Fi Sense, an app that automatically finds and signs users into free Wi-Fi networks, isn’t available on other platforms. Nor is the Data Sense tool that keeps track of user’s mobile data plans and tries to curb their browsing bandwidth usage accordingly.
Still, I’d argue that these features are minor when you compare them to how easy Microsoft is making the transition to a smartphone for anyone with a Windows PC. That’s the real value add here, the real reason users will want a Windows Phone and the real reason they’ll be better off buying one instead of the iPhone 5s. Apps will come as more users and developers take Windows Phone seriously. It’s how Windows Phone fits into user’s lives and its stated mission that really needed an overhaul and help.
To beat the iPhone 5s Microsoft never needed to match every single feature, or find one must-have application. Instead, it needed to realize that the iPhone is so popular because it isn’t just a smartphone. It started out as an iPod and iTunes companion and quickly turned into a Mac and iPad companion. Windows Phone only needed to be a legitimate Windows companion to be competitive with the iPhone, especially since Windows is still used on the overwhelming majority of PCs. Finally, they’ve seen the light, done their homework and delivered.