To read most of the coverage from afar, Microsoft did an excellent job of messaging that 2012 could be a big year for WindowsPhone 7. As one piece puts it:
There’s a curious thing happening in the smartphone space at this year’s CES. Two Windows Phone devices — the HTC Titan II and the Nokia Lumia 900 — are the most hyped, talked-about phones at the show. Yeah, that’s right: Windows Phones.
From what I can tell, I’m one of the few people who’s used two WP7 phones over the past year: a Samsung Focus (sent to me by Microsoft for reviewing while I was RedMonk) and a Dell VenuePro (my current “work phone”). They’re both beyond just fine: they’re good phones in hardware and operating system. The core problem they have is a lack of apps, specifically, the apps I already use and like in iOS-land.
Anchored by Apps
There are, it should be said, lots of apps for WP7 (30,000+ back in August…but, compare that to 500,000+ in iOS-land). The problem is that they don’t have the apps I want to use, specifically, all those iOS apps I’ve spent money on over the years. As Ed pointed out to me awhile ago, the annoying catch here is that, even if the pay apps I wanted were in WP7…I’d have to pay for them again. And, with estimates of 60 apps downloaded per iOS device, that’s a lot of apps people need to take with them. Of course, this is just the case when you switch between Windows and Mac (or Mac and Windows): a license for Office or Creative Suite in Windows won’t translate from Windows to Mac.
Thankfully, most mobile apps are cheap – much cheaper than desktop Office ($119) or Creative Suite (from $280 to $1,500, or so). In reality, I make enough money that I’d pay for the apps twice. But, they don’t always exist in the first place. Indeed, many of the apps I depend on in iOS land aren’t (or weren’t last time I looked) available in WP7-land: Flipboard (hands down my most used app), EchoFon, even an official tumblr app.
For WP7 to be successful, Microsoft needs to ride all of those app authors to create WP7 versions of their apps. The same is true for Windows 8 – where, at least, Microsoft already has one of the world’s most important “apps,” Office (important as in “the [army|company|etc.] runs off [PowerPoint|Excel]“). App vendors like Evernote have a good track record of going balls out here, and I’ve seen a handful of apps developed for WP7 that are more than just quick ports: they take advantage of the tiles, integrating into the sharing functionality through-out the phone, and so on. It’s got to be tough for an app vendor, though: supporting iOS, Android, and WP7 is a hefty bought to sign up for.
HTML5 is good for who exactly?
Arguably, “HTML5 fixes this,” but I’d argue that each platform vendor (Apple, Google, Microsoft) is just barely incented to make HTML5 as good as their native app frameworks. What we’re discussing here is a major point of customer lock-in, thus, a major element of any mobile/tablet strategy. Each of these “post-PC” platforms (iOS, Android, WP7, and Windows 8) needs to differentiate on the entire platform experience – HTML5, really, takes away the ability of any OS to be different. If I can simply take all my “apps” (written in HTML5 so that they’re really web apps or web apps that I download a la Tiddlywiki to my mobile “desktop”) with me when I go…there’s little reason to stick to one mobile platform: I just skip around to the one that has the beast hardware and network. (Imagine if you actually selected a device because of the carrier’s QoS!)
Don’t get me wrong: as a user, I’d love my apps to be cross-platform and achieve that HTML5 nirvana existed and I could just take my apps with me from platform to platform. But that’d make these “smart phones” into “dumb phones,” which is definitely not anything the mobile platform creators are looking to do. On the other hand, I’d suggest that the cross-platform dreams of HTML5 suite just about everyone else’s interests: the app makers would be available on everyone’s devices, the handset makers would avoid this whole app lock-in problem, and the carriers could differentiate on service instead of platform exclusiveness. Historically, the platform providers tend to win out because they’re willing to play the long game of locking users into awesomeness, while the other parties go for quick wins quarter to quarter. We’ll see if it pans out differently this time.