My First Windows Phone "In the Wild" Sighting
I am an iPhone user and have been since 2009. I have no plans on switching platforms unless Apple does something to make me lose trust in their brand and their products. I'm the kind of person who finds something he likes and sticks with it until it no longer lives up to expectations. So far Apple has met and exceeded my expectations (especially with the interoperability of Mountain Lion and iOS). In the 1980s and early 1990s I loved and bought Macs, but stopped when they went south in the mid 1990s. I then I became a big advocate of Dell. Later I would start buying Palm mobile devices. I did not buy Apple devices again until 2008 with an Airport Extreme router and a couple of Airport Express routers because they were the only ones on the market at the time that would do wireless network extension with better security than WEP (they actually supported WPA). Those routers were great and in 2009 I bought an iPhone 3GS for me and one for my wife. Those phones were fantastic. Since then I have bought tons of Apple products including a pair of iMacs and a Mac mini, 2 x iPhone 4S, Apple TV, and 3 x iPod Touches for the kids. So why am I posting this in Microsoft Tribe? Because I want to give my perspective on something.
I have tried out Microsoft's Windows Phone demo website on iPhone and I have seen countless videos of phones running Windows Phone 7. I have even seen Windows Phone makes its appearance on CBS' Hawaii Five-0. However, for the first time tonight I saw somebody using an HTC device running Windows Phone outside my church when I went to pickup my kids from an activity.
Here were my impressions:
1) Windows Phone is very very noticeable from a distance. it stands out because those beautiful live tiles are huge. What's more, I could even see the tiles switching between images from a good 20 to 30 feet away on a 4-inch screen. That home screen is like a live advertisement for the platform.
2) Windows Phone simply looks great. The interface looks so good that it makes the hardware kinda disappear. Your eyes are literally locked on screen when you are looking at it. It occurred to me that the hardware disappeared in much the same way PC hardware disappears and all you notice is Windows. This is something that Android has not achieved. Unless they are using a Verizon Droid, folks are very aware of who's flavor of Android they are running (and I don't mean dessert flavors from version names, but "skins" or "customizations" from manufacturers). Windows Phone does not figure to have that problem due to licensing agreements from Microsoft.
3) Windows Phone could be a serious threat to Android's sales because Android users are not locked in to a robust ecosystem. Android users by and large do not have a huge collection of "for pay" apps that they have accumulated that only run on Android. Android users don't have huge media libraries that can only be viewed on Android devices. The noticeable exception to this is Amazon's Kindle Fire users, but Amazon does not make smartphones (yet). Apple has done a good job building up a great third-party software and media content ecosystem with a huge accessory ecosystem as well. Apple has created the same wall of resistance for switching platforms that I felt at the end of 2009 when buying my iMacs & Mac Mini (i.e.: knowing that all my Windows software would no longer run on Mac, but also knowing I needed to buy upgraded versions for WIndows 7 eased the decision to switch). Windows Phone simply needs to have the most basic and most popular apps to get the majority of non-tech-minded Android users to give it a try.
4) Windows Phone lacks all the baggage of Windows 8. It is pure "Modern/Metro" interface. There is no desktop. It is what the Windows RT tablets should have been (IMO). Because of the lack of baggage, it will make sense. I think Microsoft's Windows 8 launch is going to fizzle a bit because of how they have positioned Windows 8. In my opinion Windows RT should have been sold as the "tablet version of Windows" and should have been 100% without a desktop since there were no legacy third-party apps to support. All first-party apps should have been fully ported to "Modern/Metro" UI. I also think that Windows 8 running on a non-tablet PC should have defaulted to using the desktop & start menu for familiarity with that user base, but then provide a hot corner to activate Metro and run all the tablet apps you have too. I think Microsoft made the wrong decision on both fronts with Windows 8 and much of their hard work is going to be met with resistance because of it. But Windows Phone does not have these problems. It is pure Metro. No desktop, no legacy, just pure and simple.
In summary, I think that if a guy like me who uses and loves his iPhone can take notice of a Windows Phone device and think "wow, that looks great" from over 20 feet away that Microsoft should have no problem marketing Windows Phone to the general public. They should not go running the "smartphone beta test" ads again -- just sell Windows Phone on its own merits and continue to get good placement in TV shows and movies. I think that Android users are clearly the easiest target for Microsoft because there are so few ecosystem ties for Android users compared to Apple users. Finally, I love the fact that in the very first version of Windows Phone that Microsoft started out with an original design language. I think that Android has founds its identity under the reigns of Mattias Duarte, but Microsoft's design team does not get nearly enough credit for what they accomplished. Microsoft and Nokia need only execute well and we will see that "horse from Redmond" that Tim Cook referred to last year running strong in the race again.