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What Windows Phone needs: A truly fabulous flagship phone

Mark Hachman | Dec. 8, 2014
As Microsoft floods the market with cheaper handsets, it's ignoring the power of one, great phone to lead the platform.

Unfortunately, Google has been making similar pushes into the low-end Android space, with phones like the Moto G and Moto E providing quality hardware at inexpensive prices. That, in turn, has put additional pressure on Windows Phone, due to the lack of quality apps.

Dawson spends considerable time detailing the "app gap" between Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. But the most damning graphic is the one below: Over half of the most popular apps in the Windows Phone Store are 'generic' (random apps that fulfill minor functions), 'substitute' (app developed to fill in for a name-brand app that isn't in the Store), or 'ripoff' (Dawson's wording is self-explanatory). 

We all knew this next finding, but when you see it in a chart it's more stark: iOS users can find pretty much all of the best and brightest apps on their platform. Windows Phone users are far less fortunate.

As I see it, Windows Phone is essentially the Nintendo of the smartphone world. Like Nintendo's Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong games, Microsoft's Windows Phone platform was built around a few core technologies: Office and Skype. Porting Microsoft's software and services to other platforms--such as Office to Android or iOS--has increased their value and extended their lifespans, Dawson notes, but it also severely undermines the value Microsoft can bring to its own hardware.

The solution: What is Windows Phone?
Dawson lays out a three-point solution for Microsoft: Find a better way to appeal to developers. Design and showcase a flagship phone. Focus on what makes Windows Phone special.

The 'special' part is the rub: Microsoft hasn't yet defined what Windows Phone is. Microsoft's Surface tablet had the same struggle initially, but since Microsoft tied it to the company's productivity message, the Surface has begun to take off.

Microsoft's tried the same tack with Windows Phone to some extent, but the strategy hasn't really succeeded--in part, because a phone is as much a personal entertainment device as a productivity tool. Windows Phone still operates in some sort of nebulous space where it provides solid hardware for less. But that's a tough sell.

Let's leave the "app gap" aside--Microsoft can only do so much to attract developer attention. But otherwise, it controls its own fate. What it can do to improve?

1. Underscore the basics. Windows Phones do what you expect a smartphone to do, as well or better than the competition. They include solid hardware, excellent cameras, tight integration with Outlook and other email, a good digital assistant in Cortana, and fundamental social apps like Twitter and Facebook. Even inexpensive Windows Phones generally run pretty well, and OS fragmentation is relatively nonexistent: Virtually every Windows Phone is powered by WP8 or 8.1. Here's your tagline, Microsoft: The Lumia is the best smartphone you can buy afford. 


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