It used to be easy for smartphone buyers to ignore Windows Phone and the devices it came installed on. As recent as a year ago it seemed like Microsoft had thrown in the towel and ceded all the gains it’d made in the smartphone space since introducing Windows Phone back in 2010.
Then Microsoft announced that it would buy Nokia last fall and everything changed. Gone are the days when Windows Phone relied on the whim of third-party hardware makers to boost its sales. Since that announcement, it feels like the world has changed, like the entire smartphone industry has moved to a different place where pumping out new flagship smartphones is no longer enough. It feels like smartphone buyers are looking for that next evolution, that next fresh break from what is now considered the normal: iPhone and Android.
Today, the weakest part of the Windows Phone ecosystem is still apps. To be clear, I’m not talking about getting The Next Big App that everyone will love. As a third-place competitor, it’s very unlikely that Windows Phone users will ever get an app on the first day of its release. That’s just the way it is. No, what I’m referring to are the serious apps, those apps users need every day.
The Windows Phone Store is a unique study in what happens to a platform that came years behind two other leading products. Whereas Android and iPhone users have access to millions of apps, Windows Phone users are sort of stuck in a rut. Many of the most popular apps are already available on the platform. Unfortunately, they are not as good as what you’d find on other smartphones. The apps that aren’t there have full on replacements made by third-party developers. These apps are better than nothing, but they just don’t live up to the apps that are produced by the companies themselves.
The situation is a bit unfortunate, but I think we’re finally at the point where app developers can no longer ignore the Windows Phone ecosystem any longer.
We’re Number 3
Sure, saying that you’re part of the third-largest smartphone ecosystem doesn’t exactly have a ring to it. It doesn’t roll off the tongue, but it’s true. It’s very unlikely that Blackberry will be able to mount a comeback and overtake Windows Phone’s market share at this point.
Before this quarter, Nokia the biggest Windows Phone vendor in the world noted that it’d seen steady sales of its smartphones in developing countries. That’s mostly because Microsoft and Nokia worked hard to get the Windows Phone experience on cheaper handsets that didn’t suffer from not having the latest and greatest processors.
More recently, Microsoft has focused on opening up the Windows Phone ecosystem. Whereas companies needed to work directly with Microsoft and pay a licensing fee for Windows Phone before, Windows Phone 8.1 is now free for hardware makers to create devices around. That and the new hardware specifications that basically make Windows Phones devices and Android devices interchangeable have caused the number of Windows Phone hardware makers to bloom. Today, that number stands at 15. Many of them are international names that American users wouldn’t recognize like Karbonnn and Micromax. Others like LG, Lenovo and HTC should provide Windows Phone with a boost in users.
It’s time to accept that Windows Phone is a solid third option in the smartphone space based on sales figures and market share alone. Once you do that it’s not hard to conclude that companies should be release their apps for Windows Phone too. Nokia sold 8.2 million Windows Phones last year. Again, it’s not as impressive as the iPhone or the Galaxy S5, but it’s a solid third-place finish even without these new Windows Phone vendors.
Developer for Windows, Deploy on Windows & Windows Phone
One of the biggest benefits of being a Windows Phone user is that new apps being released
into the store can be purchased once and installed on Windows 8.1 devices too. That’s great for users, but companies should also keep in mind that coding their apps correctly for Windows Phone also means that they’ll be able to reuse the majority of that code for their Windows 8 app. Unlike on other platforms, Windows Phone developers can target two platforms, both with millions of daily users with the same amount of work.
Windows Phone Apps Can Integrate
The Windows Phone 8.1’s People app and Cortana Personal Assistant are arguably the biggest thing to come to Windows Phone in years. Together they represent what happens when Microsoft takes its cues from what other companies have made available and learns the correct lessons. Cortana is a mash-up of the iPhone’s Siri and Android’s Google Now. This has resulted in a voice assistant that’s just as personal as Siri but is backed up by the information that Bing can provide – all the while giving users control of their information. The People app combines Contacts and Social media awareness into one place and it’s a lot more useful for it. Both of the apps also provide a sort-of hidden feature that’s great for everyone involved: they’re both an app platform.
Unlike Apple’s Siri, developers can add commands to Cortana. Since being available for download Cortana commands have grown to include browsing Craigslist, listening to music through iHeartRadio and searching Wikipedia for articles on specific topics.
The People app doesn’t yet boast a huge new assortment of compatible apps, however Facebook is already integrated into this new hub and reports indicate that Twitter is on the way. Social media apps will be able to plugin information directly to the People app and make their user’s experience seamless.
I get it. For now, the majority of users are on an iPhone or an Android device. This means that for now Windows Phone is destined to stay #3. The good thing about that is that if you’re a developer or app maker who has already released apps on those two platforms, do you really have an excuse not to use a bit of those resources to build an app for Windows Phone now? I say no.