Windows Phone: Innovative and Colourful but Now Dead
April 4, 2016 | Elliott Carter | 6 Minute Read
The Windows phone. It’s been a rocky road and judging by its history its heading straight for a brick wall. Windows has been on mobile devices phones since the early 2000s and has come a long way since its first release. But I’m taking a look at the “Lumia Age” of Windows Phones, they were colourful. innovative and damn right plastic.
“Just launched Lumia, the first real Windows Phone #NokiaWorld”
Stephen Elop – Nokia CEO
“It’s alive!” they preached. “It’s alive!” November 2011 brought us the first Lumia phone (the Lumia 800): it was primarily targeted at the high-end smartphone market and cost around £450. It was housed in a tough polycarbonate body but overall felt comfortable in the hand. In terms of style, they did an okay job; it came with a selection of vibrant colours to match many a soul. But put it next to an iPhone, and it looked dated. Its plastic casing looked amateur next to the slick aluminium body of the iPhone and for a phone that is ‘High End’, I believe it shouldn’t even mention plastic in its specs. Nokia had stated it had been a “huge hit” even though their sales forecast had been sliced in half. James Faucette – analyst at Pacific coast said:
“We believe that shipments of Nokia’s new Windows Phone 7 have been lower than we had previously anticipated. We had expected that the company could ship as many as 2 [million] units into the six targeted markets for the holidays; however, we now believe that those shipments are likely to be less than 1 [million] for the quarter.”
Compare that to an iPhone (at the time an iPhone 4s), that sold over 4m units over its first weekend on sale. So let’s just say the Windows phone didn’t really have the greatest start.
Jump 10 months ahead (September 2012) and the curtain was pulled to unveil the “Flagship” Lumia 920. With everything in mind from the previous release Microsoft knew they had to have some stand out features to try and make this model more successful. Wireless charging, a new camera boasting (at the time) the best available in a smartphone and the fact it ran Windows 8. It was one of the most technically exciting phones available, great features, an amazing camera… So what was wrong? Well, of course, the ongoing elephant in the room for Windows phones: the lack of available apps. For the same price range at the time you could pick yourself up a Samsung Galaxy S3 which of course has a much bigger app store and is overall more appealing in design. It almost seems like Microsoft’s best efforts, even with snazzy features, just wasn’t big enough bait for consumers. On November 23, 2012, it was reported that the device had 2.5 million pre-orders around the world in just three weeks of its availability. In comparison, that is more than the entire (previous) Lumia range (610, 710, 800, 900) sold in the whole of the third quarter of 2012! When you put it like that, it sounds like incredible numbers. It even topped the charts in France (Oct 2012) outselling the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy Ace. Things were looking up!
“This is Lumia. It’s time to switch”
Stephen Elop – Nokia CEO
2013 was a very good year Lumia. Sales had doubled from 13.3m in 2012 to 30m. Across the board Microsoft had released 10 handsets including the Lumia 720, 520, 920 and the 1020. Of course, that’s not to say that they all sold fantastically, they didn’t. Apple single-handedly managed to sell 47.8m iPhones in Q1 of 2013. Even with double the amount of Lumia handsets sold in comparison to 2012, Lumia was far behind and it just wasn’t enough to keep the boat afloat. Nokia announced it would cut 300 jobs, mostly in Finland, and transfer hundreds more other employees to Indian suppliers. Up to 820 jobs will be outsourced in this way. The cuts were a part of a plan to slash 10,000 jobs in its mobile division by the end of the year.
September 2013 Microsoft announced they were going to acquire Nokia’s mobile phone business for around $7 Billion in cash. Steve Ballmer at a news conference in Finland hammered home the importance of the deal for Microsoft quoting it as a “Bold step into the future for Microsoft” further adding, “Through our partnership we have already accomplished so much, and yet clearly the opportunity ahead is remarkable. And I am incredibly optimistic about what we can achieve together”. This entitled Microsoft to take over the Devices and Services business, (which includes “Smart” Devices and Mobile Devices). In other words: The Lumia, Asha and X series were now owned by Microsoft. The Design teams, supply chains, accessories, employees, developer relations and most of Nokia’s manufacturing plants are also on Microsoft’s side, as are most of their services such as MixRadio, Store and more.
April 25th 2014 had brought the official closure of the deal settled at $7.2Billion dollars. It would be another 7 months and 6 “Nokia Lumia” handsets released until Microsoft could scrap the Nokia name off the handsets and replace it with “Microsoft Lumia”. Roll on the Microsoft Lumia 535. At £75~ it was a bargain. What did you get for £75, I hear you ask? Well, a plastic shell with round edges and a big black front. And I mean a big black front at 5” It was one of the biggest screens available. It was a very basic phone made primarily for the sort of person who likes to call and text. I mean what else would you use a smartphone for?! It even included Cortana, Office, OneDrive and Nokia Maps and for a £75 phone that’s rather incredible. How did it go down? Well, fantastically. Its budget price made it available to so many and it sold. Microsoft had seen a 300% increase in sales in Pakistan overtaking IOS in popularity which they put down to the Lumia 535.
2014 was easily the best year Microsoft ever had with Lumia sales: in Q4 they sold 10.5m units, their highest ever. But since then it’s been a huge decrease from around 8m in Q1 2015 to 4.5m by the end of 2015. So where did the problem lie? Primarily because Microsoft doesn’t have any compelling Lumia handsets and the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were just disappointing “flagship” phones with an operating system that felt unfinished. Another huge disadvantage with the phones is of course the lack of apps, and its only getting worse. Big companies such as American Airlines, Bank of America and NBC have all discontinued their Windows Phone apps. At a time of airlines putting boarding passes on phones, internet banking on the go and streaming TV through your phone, does this show that even companies are giving up with the Windows Phone? With sales on the decline, lack of hardware sales and a poor 2% share of the market, is it really the end of the Windows phone? Where do Microsoft go from here?
The much rumoured ‘Surface Phone’ is due to make an appearance. So far the rumour mill has branded it as a very powerful phone indeed and that wouldn’t be all that surprising, considering its powerful big brother, the Surface Book, has some very impressive spec. In terms of design, it really wouldn’t be a surprise if it turns out looking like a baby Surface, alongside a set of accessories including a Surface Pen and maybe a keyboard… The OS will of course be Windows 10 mobile but we can only hope for an OS that is stable and not still in development stage as previously done. Of course, at this time, the Surface Phone is still unconfirmed, but the fact Microsoft have purchased surfacephone.com is surely a hint, and in my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before they do the big reveal. However, this really would be Microsoft’s last shot at breaking into the smartphone market with hopeful success.
I think the main contributor to the failure of the Windows phone was that Microsoft were too slow breaking into the mobile market. They left it too late and now the competition is so far ahead. Alongside a sloppy unfinished OS and an App store that has less in it than my local Tesco Express. There is just no appeal to a Windows phone. If Microsoft still want to tackle the smartphone market then the ‘Surface Phone’ really does need to be incredible because if not, Windows phone will be a thing of the past.