Feeds

Windows 8

Apple iOS 7 makes some users literally SICK. As in puking, not upset

Excessive zoom and 3D-effect graphics in Apple's latest iOS is leaving some users reaching for the sick bucket

Windows Phone 8 must be Microsoft's priority one, two AND three

Woe betide Nokia if Redmond can't keep its smartphone promises

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Analysis Unless Microsoft gives Windows Phone some urgent attention, all of its hard work will go up in smoke and take Europe's largest technology company with it.

We've now seen Windows Phone 8 running on four strong handsets - two each from Nokia and HTC - and it's fair to say the manufacturers have kept their side of the bargain. HTC wins on design, Nokia on build quality and software features, and Nokia can boast one genuine unique selling point: the Lumia 920's camera that no other phone can match. But has Microsoft kept its side of the deal?

Nokia burned its old phone platforms because Microsoft promised a more vibrant app ecosystem. But almost two years later, it's still not there.

This won't be easy reading for Microsoft; its engineers have moved the operating system to a new kernel, Windows Phone 8 is pretty good at running older phone software, and the company has built a solid and reliable base. This is far from fatal.

Now with Windows 8 chief Sinofsky gone, Microsoft can now refocus on the importance of its phone platform. After esoteric adventures such as the development of the Surface laptop-cum-tablet - like Caligula planning to make his horse a consul: "a combination of all the gods and to be worshipped as one" - focus is what Microsoft needs.

Stop fretting about tablets. You can fix Windows 8 by making the new touchscreen-driven Metro user interface optional on desktops and laptops that aren't primarily touch devices - just tweak it, so it's no longer so much in your face. People will keep buying Windows for PCs and they'll be glad of the changes you made. Windows Phone should now be priority number one, two and three at Microsoft. It needs to be in this race in two years.

There are several issues with Windows Phone today that are hard to overlook. One is the state of the platform's online software store Marketplace. In comparison with Apple's and Google's outlets, it looks worse, if anything, than a year ago. It reflects inertia rather than momentum.

Nokia Lumia 820

Nokia's heavyweight WP8 flagship handset is a great camera phone

A depressing number of apps haven't been updated in months. There's no tumult of new WP8-capable programs. And some major applications, for example Spotify, that were present a year ago are not there today.

This may reflect the lateness of the Windows Phone 8 software development kit, which means developers haven't yet had a chance to rewrite their applications for the new and much more capable platform. Or it may reflect the fact programmers have far more lucrative markets to target besides Windows Phones: iOS and Android are already very competitive marketplaces, so any time spent coding for a third platform is very hard to justify.

Rather ominously the unified realm of Windows 8 that was promised hasn't materialised: Windows 8 smartphone apps won't run on Windows 8 desktops; a Windows 8 Metro PC app will require a different code base to run as a Windows 8 Metro mobile app, as Tim Anderson pointed out here. Microsoft retains the Silverlight-based XAML runtime in Win 8 or the cupboard would look very bare indeed. Developers may well be beavering away writing native code for WP8, but if they are, it's going to take a while to make a difference.

As we've mentioned in previous articles, Windows Phone 8 doesn't reflect a year's worth of user-land improvements. In terms of renovation work the user can see, it's more of a minor feature pack. For example, there's little benefit to having DirectX and the Autocad frameworks on a phone until there are apps that can take advantage of them. The user opting for a new Windows phone will have a curious experience.

On the one hand, especially if they're a heavy Facebook user, there's a vivid and imaginative handheld computing experience that's radically better than anything else on offer. They'll find they can pin friends to their home screen on tiles that aggregate their photos, social networking messaging, as well as calls, emails and texts. Facebook doesn't need to make "the perfect Facebook phone" - Microsoft has done it for them. The feedback for this is uniformly positive; it's how the iPhone should have been designed.

But at the same time, users may be wondering why the music playback volume and ringtone can't be decoupled, or where Instagram is, or why Tumblr isn't supported in the People hub, or why you can't mark a tweet as favourite, nor flag an email message as important.

HTC 8x

HTC's Windows Phone 8 mobile is surprisingly svelte and tactile

And there's a mismatch between the pricing of Windows Phone devices and the segments of the market that most appreciate the futuristic social-centric user interface. That part of the market is looking for £20 to £25 monthly contract bargains - not for £35 to £40 premium models.

Microsoft can do several things here.

It needs to assert the importance of the smartphone. It also needs to reassure developers and hardware makers that the recent upheavals haven't distracted the company. Microsoft's welding of a touchscreen phone interface onto the PC version of Windows 8 hasn't really pleased anyone - Redmond needs to put all its weight behind the phone platform and follow the Apple strategy - thew iPhone maker successfully scaled its phone operating system up to a tablet. The Sinofsky strategy was too clever by half.

Microsoft also has to reassure hardware makers and their supply chains that the OS will still be there in two years. And it needs the users to come along with it by announcing a quarterly schedule of updates. The hard work has been done - a great design and a difficult platform shift. But Windows Phone drifts into the Christmas buying season in a strangely listless state.

Nokia has enough cash for another swing at the market next year. It's certainly in a stronger position than RIM, which must do all the platform development itself. But Nokia can't save it Windows Phone by itself - and it needs it to succeed more than anyone. ®

Footnote

Don't forget to check out our Nokia Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 reviews.

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.