Back in the 1990s, one company pretty much dominated mobile computing. That company was Palm. But, by the end of the last millennium, Microsoft decided that mobile computing was a big deal and they sunk a bunch of effort in developing Windows CE, then Pocket PC and eventually, Windows Mobile. Palm disappeared and Microsoft ruled the roost for a while. But then Apple released the iPhone, Google released Android and Microsoft found themselves dumped from leadership to being an also-ran in very short time. And after trying to reassert themselves, Microsoft has finally given up on Windows Phone. Which is a shame.
Windows Phone sought to give people a completely different experience on their smartphones. A lot can be said about Microsoft's attempt to make the mobile, laptop, tablet and desktop experiences as alike as possible but that's not what I want to discuss. What Microsoft attempted to do was give users a more data-centric approach on their smartphones, as opposed to iOS and Android, which had a more app-centric view of things.
The live tiles on the Windows phone screen meant you could see useful information on the home screen without having to tap an icon.
Instead of simply seeing a number on an icon, indicating that you had some email, the mail tile showed you some useful information about the message. The People app included recent social media updates.
In short, it was a more information based interface than the simple hunt-and-tap system that iOS and Android have adopted.
Microsoft did they, in their way, to regain ground in the smartphone business. But almost everyone could see that buying Nokia's phone business was a disaster waiting to happen. Why the company didn't apply the same engineering effort to smartphones as they did to the Surface, or Xbox, is a mystery to me.
Now, Windows Phone is a dead man walking. It still works but live tile updates are going as is "Find my phone" on devices stuck running Windows Phone 7 and 8. Version 8.1 remains active but given it's nudging four years old we can expect it to be knocked off soon as well. Windows Phone 10 is getting on to three years old - can you imagine Apple of Google not changing a version number for three years?
Microsoft could, yet, make a run at being the third player in the smartphone platform game. They proved with the Surface that they have the engineering skills and will to make a great product. And some of the patents they've registered suggest some people at Redmond are still thinking about making a great smartphone.
I hope that's the case. While the catch-up/leapfrog game being played out between Google and Apple is fun, a third player would shake things up.
While it seems Windows Phone is being given the last rites, I hope there's a secret team working under Satya Nadella's watchful eye, creating a new smartphone experience that lights a fire under Google and Apple. One that thinks about how we use information rather than simply giving us pretty icons to tap.