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How Microsoft Dug the Grave for Windows Phone

A few years back, Windows Phone was doing rather well. You could actually spot quite a significant number of people with a Nokia branded Windows Phone. Fast forward to recent years, and the platform has been facing a rather slow death.

Some would say it’s courtesy of Android, but I think it has to do more with Microsoft actions.

nokia windows
Nokia Phone Running Windows Mobile OS

You’d expect that the platform would be a success after Microsoft acquired the powerhouse that was Nokia Hardware Division, but that has not been the case. The result of that takeover have been some decent Microsoft branded Lumia’s which somehow haven’t changed the company’s fortunes in the smartphone market.

So what has been going wrong? Well, the answer to that can be pointed to a lot of factors, but the most significant in my opinion, lies in the software department.

Windows Mobile to Windows Phone and Back to Windows Mobile

Microsoft have been going through a lot of iterations on their mobile software ever since they got into the mobile space, and more specifically, the smartphone.

It started far back with Windows Mobile 6.0, then they switched to the Window Phone moniker on the 7.0 version. From then we’ve had 8.0, then 8.1 and now we have Windows 10 Mobile.

As it was on the desktop OS, the shift from 7.0 to 8.0 saw the biggest change. This is probably the time when Microsoft started flirting with the idea of having one unified platform on mobile and desktop.

The touch-centric metro interface on the desktop, which I might say left a bitter aftertaste on many, was a clear indication on the direction they were taking.

Since then, they’ve been refining their implementation as well as their “grand vision” with the first major update coming in form of the 8.1 update (on both desktop and mobile). This was then followed up by what would be their final iteration on the OS having decided to adopt the software as a service model.

It’s from that debacle that we got the heavily pushed Windows 10 – a vast improvement, especially on the usability on the desktop. On mobile however, things got a little bit complicated.

Getting it right? – Windows 10 on a Hybrid Device

The experience on the mobile OS, unlike it’s big brother on desktop, was to say the least very buggy in the start. I’ve summed my experiences on this issue in this post if you’re interested with the particulars.

But beyond the bugs, the mobile OS has also suffered even much worse from Microsoft’s decisions and actions. It’s this combination that I believe have held back what was quite a promising platform.

So in a bid to give you a heads up, I’ve decided to compile a list of some issues you may want to consider before taking the dive into Windows Phone or W10M as it’s been christened. This of course will be more of a subjective take on the matter as I’m speaking mostly from my personal experience. 


1. App Gap

This is quite well documented. It’s arguably the first thing you’ll realize once you switch to the platform. The most affected app category is usually that of official apps for popular services e.g. social media networks (Google Plus, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat etc.), online media (YouTube, Soundcloud), Google maps etc.

The other is apps that are popular on other platforms such as web browsers (Google apps like Chrome, Firefox Mozilla etc.). To make matters worse, for such apps that exist, they tend to either get updated less frequently or even abandoned for good.

As a result, users in this platform tend to get some features much late compared to those on other platforms or never at all.

A good example of this Opera Mini which got a facelift across all platforms, however over a year later the Window’s phone app on has yet to get some core features other than a polished interface.

Interestingly, the app has been pulled from the store by the developer since last month and it’s no longer available for installation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Opera calls it quits. They won’t be the first “big developer” to do that anyways.

Regardless, it’s hard to put all the blame on Microsoft for this one, as some big developers such as Google just “refuse” to develop or allow other developers to build apps for Windows Phone/Mobile.

That should explain to you why there’s no official YouTube app on the Window’s store. Microsoft even made one for them and Google wasted no time shooting it down.

2. Poorly Curated Store

The windows store, despite its “small” app catalogue, is filled with a substantial amount of misleading and worthless apps. Some are just fake apps, merely capitalizing on pushing ads for revenue while offering no function at all.

The other is a group of developers that are taking advantage of the absence of some of the aforementioned popular apps in the store by mimicking their look (icons usually) so as to trick users into downloading them.

Apps that are victim to this include Google chrome, Opera Mini and ColorDict dictionary just to mention a few. I don’t know how Microsoft curates their store but however they do it, it’s failing and clearly hurting the quality of their app catalogue.

3. Region Locked Store

The windows store is locked to the region settings in the phone and this is utter nonsense. This is why: the review and ratings for any app will only display those of your country, meaning if in your country Windows phone is not that popular, you can’t get a concrete idea of how good an app is.

You just have to settle with downloading it and testing for yourself. Change your region settings to US for example, and you get countless reviews. Absurd.

What’s more, this hurts developers as good apps with no reviews or are not rated at all (or poorly rated by one or two people) push such apps to oblivion – they either don’t nearly make it in your suggestions as some other apps or are pushed down in the list when you do a search.

I’ve seen some developers complain of this (i.e. the app listing) and this could be a contributing factor.

4. Monopolized Apps

All links in the phone (i.e. outside the browser) will by default open via Edge or IE. Then you got a stock keyboard that’s decent enough but still lacks features and customizations that would have been possible if only MS allowed third party keyboard development.

5. No Default Apps Setting

You either get prompted every time to choose which app to open a particular format/protocol or it uses its default app (for instance Edge/IE for links).

6. Wi-Fi to Install/Update Apps

For apps with a “big size” (>20Mb on WP 8.1), the store refuses to use mobile data and only Wi-Fi. It doesn’t matter if you’ve an unlimited mobile data plan.

Operating System

1. Feature Removal

For some reason, Microsoft loves to shoot itself in the foot. While I figure they’ve reasons for some of their absurd decisions, I wonder what’s their explanation for removing something as basic as the FM Radio app from the OS (W10M). The phones did ship with radio receivers so why deny users of this service?

Another awesome feature that Microsoft axed was Kid’s Corner, which allowed you to create a “locked environment” for your kid when using your phone – access to select apps, videos music etc.

There’s also talk that they plan on doing away with its related alternative – App’s corner – in the Creators update.

Also a while back they removed SIM Applications from the store and now you’re left with the option to unearth that option from settings (Mobile & SIM) every time you need to use it.

2. Some “Basic” Features Lacking

It’s now 2017 and still there’s:

  • no offline charging
  • no USB tethering (supports only Wi-Fi & Bluetooth support which are slower, less secure and power hungry)
  • no default apps settings
  • no native way to import contacts from a vCard (needs an app)
  • no native way to set custom ringtones (needs an app too)
  • no status icon for headphones (essential for troubleshooting audio problems)
  • no fine brightness control (you only get four presets – automatic, low, medium & high – low is pretty low, medium is too bright and automatic doesn’t get it right always.)
  • no task manager, even a rudimentary one to just view running apps/service.

3. Poor Dual SIM Implementation

I use a dual SIM Lumia and it surprises me how unintuitive some actions are:

  • one has to keep on switching/toggling between the two SIMs every time you need to make a call or text. Two call buttons (for each sim) or a pop up prompt would’ve been better. To make matters worse, the toggles are placed at the top of the screen i.e. farthest from your fingers.
  • call history/log cannot be filtered by SIM
  • SIM Applications only handles one sim. Very unacceptable if you ask me.
  • switching the active SIM for mobile data has to disable and re-register mobile networks. Could be a hardware limitation but Android dual SIMs do this quite instantly.

4. File Management

File management is quite restricted in Windows phone. An app has to be granted permission almost every time it needs to write/save to the phone storage.

Third party file manager apps also have to be granted access to your storage first before they can handle any file management tasks.

The stock file manager (File Explorer in W10M, Files in WP8.1) is also very basic and unintuitive (hamburger menu in FE) and so there’s not much you can do with it. For instance, in Files, you can’t copy or move whole folders – just their files.

5. Media Handling

The photo app in W10M is really slow. It takes quite a long time just to find pictures and generate their thumbnails.

On the other hand, the one in WP8.1 relies on both resampled images along with thumbnails. These resampled images are just resized images (to fit the phone resolution) and are stored in the internal memory (in the hidden folder – WPSystem).

So if you’ve plenty of pictures on your phone (including the SD), your internal memory gets filled pretty fast, since in some cases the resampled images are upsized and thus, larger in size than the original ones. It also generates thumbnails for all the videos in your storage.

The video app also takes rather long to scan for videos and in the case of WP8.1, does not remove thumbnails for deleted/moved videos unless you do it manually. Also, it has no portrait view and a “select all” feature.

The music apps (both Music and Groove) have poor tag reading capabilities compared to other music players. It’s really annoying to have to deal with “Unknown Albums”, “Unknown Artist” and case sensitive music tags which causes different album listings for the same album.

6. Phone and Contacts App

The phone and contacts (people) app don’t support:

  • call recording
  • auto listing of contacts when you type an existing number
  • importing and exporting contacts from and to a vCard (vcf)
  • filtering calls (i.e. by received, outgoing and missed)

Update & Reset

1. Wi-Fi Update

Just like large sized apps, you can’t use mobile data to get large system updates.

2. Updates

With every passing year, Microsoft keeps reducing the number of phones it supports to get the major system updates (i.e. W10M software as service).

The coming major update (Creator’s Update) is said to be only supporting a handful of devices. This is despite the fact that there are countless stores all over the world still selling some of this unspported devices with the claim – upgradable to Windows 10.

I wonder what’s Microsft larger plan now that it’s a while since they last released a device (excluding OEMs) – perhaps, a one phone one OS like iPhone? Who knows??

Also, should you not finish getting and installing system updates, there’s no way to get back the space reserved for that update until you complete that update. You can however use this trick to get back your space.

3. Bricking and Reset Problems

It’s not that uncommon for new system updates to brick your phone (early on with W10M) as some users have reported.

Secondly, as I’ve experienced, resetting may not always work (including hard reset), in which case you’ve to use Windows Device Recovery to redownload and install the stock ROM on your device.


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Kelvin Kathia

Kelvin Kathia is a writer that's passionate about sharing solutions to everyday tech problems. He's the founder and editor of Journey Bytes, a tech blog and web design agency. Feel free to leave him comments or questions regarding this post, or by leaving him a message on the contact page. If you found his content helpful, a donation is much appreciated.