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The Metro experiment is dead: Time to unleash Windows Phone+

How Microsoft can capture the mobile market - properly

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Operation Rescue Redmond

The Charge of the Metro Brigade may have made sense when the route to gaining tablet market share involved simplifying a PC into something that could be operated by a fingertip and slotted comfortably into an A5 envelope. But the market has changed in the past three years: smartphones grew bigger and became more sophisticated. With five-inch displays now common place and "phablets" appealing way beyond gadget geeks to reach some unlikely parts of the market, it now makes more sense to enhance Windows Phone rather than cripple the desktop.

Windows Phone 8, Redmond's operating system for mobiles, is truly a jewel, and by contrast to Windows 8 desktop, it is well liked by its users. But it has been curiously neglected by Microsoft with a glacial pace of development. The Surface laptop hardware got all the love - and the marketing attention. It's almost as if Redmond is so proud of its work creating Windows Phone it doesn't want to sully the experience by actually selling it, and certainly not by breaking into a sweat by improving it at a competitive pace. That would acknowledge it was in, y'know, competition with Apple et al.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year your Reg writer heard potential computer makers grumble at this and Microsoft's insistence on maintaining rigid control. The Windows Phone chief's primary concern is "preserving the purity of his platform", one complained to me.

Now is surely the time to step up a gear, for the opportunity is apparent. Microsoft must recognise Windows Phone as its best bet for capturing mobile users. Yet staple features, such as on-device search just like Spotlight in iOS, are not yet present. The operating system's Me tile supports exactly the same services it did at launch in 2010 - not new and hip things such as Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest. You can't even flag up a message in the Windows Phone email client - a remarkable omission for a platform that's pitched at enterprises.

There is no 5-inch Windows Phone yet, of course, and the maximum resolution supported by WinPho 8 - 1280x768 - looks quite underwhelming alongside the latest 1920x1080 in the Samsung Galaxy S4 and other Google Android-powered flagships, such as the Xperia Z. As Nokia has proved, it doesn't need the latest and greatest hardware to run very well. But the hardware is secondary to getting the developer story straight.

Microsoft really needs a roadmap that spells out an ambitious future for Windows Phone - let's call it Windows Phone+ - which can scale up to tablets, and ensures it shares a central consistent programming interface with its Windows 8 cousins. Redmond could then ship Windows 8.1 desktop with this unified application interface and promise to support anyone shifting to this uniform approach.

Crucially, the desktop build of the OS should not force the Metro screen of widgets onto PC workers, nor should its software shun the keyboard, mouse and large screen combination that office workers prefer to use. This should not be beyond the wit of Redmond's brains.

Windows Phone chief Terry Myerson appears perfectly content with third or fourth place in the mobile world. But WinPho 8 is an attractive and decent product. At the old ruthless Microsoft, settling for even second place in the market wasn't an option for any executive. How times have changed. ®

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