Tag Archives: windows phone

Last thoughts on Windows Phone

Microsoft’s Windows Phone disaster lurched further towards oblivion last week, when Windows boss Terry Myerson emailed employees with the news that “Today I want to share that we are taking the additional step of streamlining our smartphone hardware business, and we anticipate this will impact up to 1,850 jobs worldwide, up to 1,350 of which are in Finland.”


“Streamlining” is exec-speak for further withdrawal from the mobile phone business.

Microsoft is at times a dysfunctional company and nowhere is this better illustrated than in its mobile devices adventures. The failure of Windows Phone is a self-inflicted wound. Mis-steps include:

  • Aiming the first release of Windows Phone 7, in 2010, at the consumer market despite Windows core strength being in business computers
  • Launching Windows Phone while failing to do the spadework with operators and retailers to ensure that it was actually widely available
  • Using Silverlight as the development platform for Windows Phone and then abandoning Silverlight on Windows and releasing Windows 8 with a different and incompatible development platform
  • Promising that Windows Phone would be updated by Microsoft so users could stay up to date, while in fact leaving this to operators who did not care – this applied until April 2014 when the Developer Preview program kicked off, allowing users to update by signing up as developers, subject to hardware constraints
  • Long dormant periods while Microsoft went through one of its, “let’s pause while we make huge changes that will be great eventually” phases, such as before Windows Phone 8.0 which introduced the NT kernel and before Windows Mobile 10 which introduced the Universal Windows Platform

Despite all the above, the arrival of a former Microsoft executive at Nokia meant that Windows Phone was adopted by a company that actually understood how to develop and market smartphones. Visibility of Windows Phone at retail greatly improved and technology such as Nokia’s PureView photography gave it an edge in some areas. Windows Phone was also strong for turn by turn driving directions with Here maps.

It was an uphill battle against iPhone and Android, and with Microsoft’s too-slow platform development, but Nokia made some impact and built significant market share in certain territories, though in Europe rather than the USA.

Microsoft acquired Nokia’s devices business in 2014, along with CEO Stephen Elop, and it was here that everything went wrong. Specifically:

The transition period along with the coming Windows 10 resulted in not much happening in terms of new phones or announcements

Steve Ballmer was replaced as Microsoft CEO by Satya Nadella, before the acquisition completed. Ballmer had a strong belief in “Windows everywhere” and the importance of Microsoft not conceding the mobile space to competitors. Nadella came from a server background and believes everything will be fine as long as Microsoft’s server and cloud products are strong.

There was no consensus at Microsoft about whether Windows Phone was a key strategic asset or a waste of time and after running around in circles for a bit the inevitable happened: in June 2015 Nadella cut back the Windows Phone staff, cancelled some forthcoming devices, and parted company with Elop, who presumably had no appetite for presiding over the death of the business he had nurtured.

Myerson’s memo still presents the illusion that Windows Phone has some kind of future. “We’re scaling back, but we’re not out!” he writes. However you cannot be a little bit in the mobile phone business any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. The reason, as Elop announced when Nokia chose Windows Phone, is that you need an ecosystem. No, Continuum (the ability to use a phone like a desktop with an external display) is not an ecosystem. Maybe there will be some specialist business cases where a mobile device running Windows meets the need, but it will be a tiny niche.

This is also the reason why June 2015 was really the date that Windows Phone died, at least in public. Once it became obvious that Microsoft no longer believed in its own mobile platform, there was no hope, and sales suffered accordingly.

Could it have been different? Of course. The Nokia acquisition was not necessarily a bad idea: in theory it gave the hardware the backing of Microsoft’s deep pockets and brought to the company the skills that it lacked in how to make and market phones.

The saga has not been pretty to watch. In particular, the destruction of value in acquiring and then disposing of Nokia is distressing, as is the destruction of value in the Windows Phone operating system itself.

I have used a Windows Phone as my main mobile device for several years, and yes, it has a lot going for it. Navigation is easier than on Android or iOS, performance is good, and the integration with social media was for a while excellent. The camera on a Lumia 1020 remains superb. The development platform is strong, with Visual Studio and C#.

The subject of operating system design is another story; but there is another take on this narrative which looks like this:

Old world: Windows 7, Windows Mobile 6

Lurch towards mobile: Windows 8, Windows Phone 7

Lurch back towards desktop: Windows 10, Windows Mobile 10 with Continuum

Windows 10 is not as good as Windows 8.x on tablets, and Windows Mobile 10 is perhaps not as good as Windows Phone 8.x on mobile. I say perhaps because I don’t hate it; but there is a trade-off with performance and touch-friendliness worse while the capability of the operating system and its apps has improved.

In this way of reading Microsoft’s strategy, the death of Windows Phone is a consequence of the unravelling of former Windows boss Steven Sinofsky’s strategy to make Windows a secure and mobile-friendly platform.

The new Microsoft

That is it then; Microsoft is exiting mobile and trusting in server and cloud, plus a large but declining desktop Windows business, plus applications for other people’s mobile platforms. It is a software company after all.

It is too early though to say whether or not Ballmer was wrong and Nadella right in steering away from Windows everywhere. For sure Google will continue to do all it can to push Android users towards its own cloud services. Apple’s is a more open platform in this sense, because the company has no real equivalent to Office 365 or Azure, but Microsoft is vulnerable here as well. There is also Amazon Web Services to think about, the dominant cloud player, with its own offerings for email, cloud database and so on.

Still, this is the new Microsoft; and from a customer perspective there is good news in that both iOS and Android should be well supported for Microsoft’s services, and that Office 365 and Azure have to compete on technical merit, not just on the basis of integrating nicely with Windows.

Microsoft financials April-June 2015: loss from Nokia write-down, comments on future direction

Microsoft has reported its financials for its fourth quarter. The company made a loss of over three billion dollars ($bn 3.195) but this was because of an eight billion dollar write-down mostly on the phone business – in effect, writing off the value of its Nokia acquisition. It still has plenty of cash in the bank – over $96 bn according to its balance sheet. Perhaps it is too easy for companies of this size to make bad business decisions (I leave open whether it was the acquisition or the way it was handled that was the bad decision, but one of them was).

Here are the latest figures:

Quarter ending  June 30th 2015 vs quarter ending June 30th 2014, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Gross margin Change
Devices and Consumer Licensing 3233 -1670 2966 -1555
Computing and Gaming Hardware 1933 +591 435 +417
Phone Hardware 1234 -748 -104 -158
Devices and Consumer Other 2300 +538 594 +303
Commercial Licensing 10451 -782 9529 -769
Commercial Other 3076 +814 1350 +659

A few points to note. The confusing segment names are summarised at the end of this post. Revenue was slightly down quarter on quarter, from $bn 23.4 to 22.2, largely because of a decline in consumer Windows (weak PC sales). Commercial licensing was also down, which Microsoft attributes to the end of the XP migration boom.

Phone aside, Microsoft’s hardware is performing well, thanks to Surface Pro 3 and Xbox One. Although Xbox One has been outsold by Sony’s PlayStation 4, it is holding its own and Microsoft says that Xbox Live usage has grown by over 30% over the year. The company says this is “deeper user engagement”; another way of looking at this is that playing games without an Xbox Live subscription is often disappointing.

Microsoft’s cloud and server projects are both growing. Business cloud revenue (Office 365, Azure and Dynamics CRM) is up 106% over the year and server products up 12%.

A bright spot is that search advertising revenue grew by 21% and Bing is expected to be profitable in the next financial year. The search wars are last year’s thing but Microsoft’s determination has won it a small but viable slice of the market. It is important because the data from search is essential for high quality predictive analysis and personalisation services, which is still a coming thing (Cortana, Siri, Google Now).

In the earnings call, CEO Satya Nadella revealed some data:

  • 15 million consumer Office 365 subscribers growing by 1 million per month
  • 50,000 new SMB customers for Office 365 per month
  • Paid seats for Dynamics CRM up 140% year on year
  • 17,000 customers for Enterprise Mobility Services (Mobile Device Management)
  • Over 100% growth in Azure both in revenue and compute usage

Of Windows 10, Nadella says:

While the PC ecosystem has been under pressure recently, I do believe that Windows 10 will broaden our economic opportunity and return Windows to growth.

A short-term boost from Windows 10 would not be surprising, but does he think that Microsoft can reverse the trend from PC to mobile, or that Windows can be successful enough in the mobile category (tablets and phones) to benefit from that trend? If the latter, perhaps destroying the Nokia acquisition was not the best move (but I must not harp on about this).

On Windows 10, Nadella described three phases:

Upgrade phase: From July 29th when free Windows 10 upgrades begin.

OEM device phase: From “the fall” when Windows 10 PCs and devices go on sale.

Enterprise upgrade phase: Piloting and deployments from January 2016

Note from the last that Windows 10 is not fully business-ready yet. Enterprise Store, OneDrive for Business client, “Project Centennial” which lets you wrap Win32 apps for Store deployment, none of these are done.

How is Microsoft hoping to grow its business? CFO Amy Hood identified three areas, in response to a question on operational expenditure:

The first one is Windows 10. The second is the first party hardware where we just had such terrific performance again this Q4. And then, finally, the third bucket was about accelerating our commercial cloud leads.

Of these, the third looks a sure bet, the other two are more speculative. Microsoft will continue to be a fascinating business to watch.

Microsoft’s segments summarised

Devices and Consumer Licensing: non-volume and non-subscription licensing of Windows, Office, Windows Phone, and “ related patent licensing; and certain other patent licensing revenue” – all those Android royalties?

Computing and Gaming Hardware: the Xbox One and 360, Xbox Live subscriptions, Surface, and Microsoft PC accessories.

Devices and Consumer Other: Resale, including Windows Store, Xbox Live transactions (other than subscriptions), Windows Phone Marketplace; search advertising; display advertising; Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions; Microsoft Studios (games), retail stores.

Commercial Licensing: server products, including Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center, and Windows Embedded; volume licensing of Windows, Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync; Microsoft Dynamics business solutions, excluding Dynamics CRM Online; Skype.

Commercial Other: Enterprise Services, including support and consulting; Office 365 (excluding Office 365 Home Premium), other Microsoft Office online offerings, and Dynamics CRM Online; Windows Azure.

Satya Nadella positions Windows Phone as small PC, Microsoft retreats from Phone business

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has spoken to journalist Mary Jo Foley about the future of Windows Phone and Windows Mobile. What you read there does, I suspect, reflect heated discussions on Microsoft’s board about Windows strategy. I am guessing of course; but given the departure of Stephen Elop in June, and the cuts announced by Nadella last week, including the departure of 7,800 employees mostly from the phone business and the write-off of the value of the assets acquired from Nokia, it is likely that Elop disagreed with the new strategy.


So what is the future of Windows Phone? I suggest you read the transcript carefully because it is not clear, deliberately so. Nadella says:

We will do everything we have to do to make sure we’re making progress on phones. We have them. Even today Terry (Myerson, the head of Windows and Devices) reinforced, again, yes, we will have premium Lumias coming this year.

When then was the meaning of last week’s announcement? Mainly, it seems to me, that having acquired a phone business from Nokia, Microsoft is now dismantling it and drawing back from the phone business. Nadella tells Foley she is right to conclude that “Your phones are going to be more of like showcase devices for what Windows mobile can look like on a phone.”

He also makes a couple of other remarks. Curiously, he says that “If no OEM stands up to build Windows devices we’ll build them. There will be Lumia devices.” What if we turn that round. Let’s say OEMs do continue to build Windows phones. You get the impression that in that case, Nadella would be happy to scrap Lumia. But what constitutes building a Windows Phone? The lacklustre efforts that appeared at the launch of Windows Phone 7, slightly adapted Android phones? Or beautiful Nokia devices like the 1020 with a 40MP camera, or the elegantly crafted Lumia 830?

Nadella views Windows Mobile through a PC lens. In fact, he says that the best thing about Windows Phone is its ability to be a PC:

So when I think about our Windows Phone, I want it to stand for something like Continuum. When I say, wow, that’s an interesting approach where you can have a phone and that same phone, because of our universal platform with Continuum, and can, in fact, be a desktop.

Like most things in IT, this has been tried before. The Asus Padfone has been around for several years in various guises, the idea being that you dock your phone into the back of a tablet to give it a big screen.


It is a great gimmick but the Padfone has had limited success; most people, it seems, use phones as phones, tablets as tablets, PCs as PCs. That could change, but I doubt Continuum will rescue Windows Phone.

This also betrays a PC-centric view of Windows Phone. Hey, it looks like a phone, but it has the brains of a PC. I can certainly see uses for this kind of device, but nobody goes into a phone shop and says, “I am looking for a phone that works like my PC”.

I recapped the history of Windows Phone here. Many things need to come together to make a successful phone, including not only the OS but the hardware design, the apps, the marketing, the sales channel and the operator partnerships. Microsoft proved incapable of doing this until Nokia adopted the platform.

There are now hints that Microsoft will outsource future Lumia (if it makes them) to OEMs to build. Here is what Nadella says:

I want people to evaluate us on the phones that we produce, but not the inside baseball — what are we doing to produce — because that should not be relevant to our broad consumers.

Don’t look too closely, Nadella seems to be saying, because Microsoft might not be as closely involved in the phones it makes as it first appears.

Financially, of course, the cost involved in paying the likes of Asus or Acer to make some phones running Windows is tiny compared to the cost of operating a phone business. The results though will not be the same at all.

All about the apps

The big puzzle here is about the apps. The single biggest factor holding back Windows Phone has been lack of apps, or the inferior quality of available apps. Thus, the Nokia acquisition combined with Windows 10 universal apps seemed to based on the idea that by providing a single developer platform across Windows and Phone, Microsoft could fix the app problem and make a success of the phone by combining it with Nokia’s hardware and design expertise.

Nadella now seems to be removing the Nokia element before the app strategy has had a chance to succeed, though he re-iterates the notion of Windows 10 being beneficial to the phone:

All of this comes down to how are you going to get developers to come to Windows. If you come to Windows, you are going to be on the phone, too. Even if you want to come to Windows because of HoloLens, you want to come to it because of Xbox, you want to come to the desktop, all those get you to the phone.

Note that in reality it is not that simple. Universal Apps will run on the phone and PC, but the user interface may require considerable effort before it makes sense on both form factors. There is still a cost, for developers, in supporting both phone and PC. In fact, there is a cost even in cases where the code runs untouched, just because of the additional testing and support required.

In practice though, Nadella does not think Windows Phone makes much difference to developers:

Universal Windows apps are going to be written because you want to have those apps used on the desktop. The reason why anybody would want to write universal apps is not because of our three percent share in phones.

This shows, I think, the extent to which Nadella has given up on Windows Phone. This too is where Nadella’s leadership has diverged from that of his predecessor, Steve Ballmer. Ballmer acquired Nokia because he believed that Microsoft needed to continue bashing away at Windows Phone until it worked, because the PC is in decline and mobile is the future. Nadella has abandoned that plan because he does not think Windows Phone can ever succeed, and thinks instead that Microsoft can prosper as a device-neutral company:

We want to be in every device, not only have our application endpoints on every device. I want the identity management. It’s not MSA [Microsoft Account] alone, it’s Azure Active Directory. It is managing those devices, securing those devices in terms of data protection. These are all core capabilities that we have. … one big mistake we made in our past was to think of the PC as the hub for everything for all time to come. And today, of course, the high volume device is the six-inch phone. I acknowledge that. But to think that that’s what the future is for all time to come would be to make the same mistake we made in the past without even having the share position of the past. So that would be madness.

Microsoft then is also hoping that some future thing comes up which makes its Windows Phone failure unimportant.

I am not so sure. I think Nadella should have given the Nokia acquisition a chance to work, and the destruction of value from this acquisition saddens me. The other side of this argument is that it is better to kill something that is not working earlier rather than later. Whichever is right, Microsoft has taken the most expensive route possible, making the Nokia acquisition and then changing course.

Inside Microsoft: Ex design lead gives perspective on Metro, Office, iOS and Android battles

Here is a must-read for Microsoft watchers. Two days ago a former design lead on the Office on Windows Phone team turned up on Reddit and said I designed the new version of Office for Windows Phone. Ask me anything.


The overall theme is that Microsoft did not get the design of Windows Phone quite right and is changing it; that Windows 8 was even worse; and that Windows 10 just might begin to pull it all together at last, though the company is also consciously moving away from a Windows-centric view. The Windows, Windows Phone and Office teams are now working together for the first time, we are told:

Windows didn’t believe in working well with others, certainly not that dumb upstart Windows Phone team.

Office believed it was the greatest software on earth, and didn’t get along with Windows.

Windows Phone was pretty proud of itself despite its middling marketshare. Too proud.

So now when these three teams got together to do something for the good of Microsoft, and the good of customers, there was a ton of ego in the way. Windows believed in the Windows way. Windows Phone believed their way. Office was like "fuck all y’all, we’re Office."

The new situation at the company is way better. People actually do care about working together in a way I hadn’t historically seen in my short time there. (or read about in many MS history books)

So I wouldn’t say Windows Phone caused the shift. You know what did? Sinofsky leaving, Windows 8 being a failure, Windows Phone failing to gain significant traction, and then Ballmer leaving.

They basically had to start working together. And it’s cool to see.

Here are a few more things that caught my eye. There are long discussions about the “hamburger” menu, three lines appearing at top left of many new apps where it is hard to reach if you are using the phone with one hand:

Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly a tradeoff. Frequently used things have to be reachable, even one-handed. But hamburgers are not frequently used, and one-handed use is not ironclad. Combine those two factors together and you see why the industry has settled on this standard. It wasn’t random.

From a developer perspective, the key insight here is that hamburgers are not frequently used. In other words, do not design your app so that users will have to reach constantly for the hamburger menu. Reserve it for stuff that is only needed occasionally.

Why is Microsoft appearing to prioritise iOS and Android over Windows, for example with Office?

When Ballmer saw the iPad version of Office, he reportedly said something like "you’re killing me." It was so fucking good. Way better than anything on any other platform. It leveraged a bunch of iOS stuff in a really good way, but it was still "unmistakably Office," as they say.

Ballmer knew it was good. And he knew the company’s other efforts were years and years out. And he iced it. Because his mentality, and what I’d call dogma, was that Windows had to be first. At all costs.

Good riddance. It was an outdated philosophy.

… The way Microsoft wins the long term war is to remind people where they’re strong. And no, it’s not through withholding Office on iOS. Not anymore. The ship sailed on Ballmer’s watch

I would love to know the date when Ballmer “iced” Office for iPad.

What was wrong with the design of Window Phone?

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he said he was going to save the company by reminding people of Apple’s sex appeal. He described colored plastics and technology as fashion. And the board thought "uh-oh, this guy is going to drive us into a ditch."

But from "Bondi Blue iMacs" and "OS X has an interface you just want to lick" you’ll notice their design went more and more subdued over the last 15-20 years. It’s because you need to shock people at first, then you get back to being more practical.

Metro had to shock people. It had to look like its own thing. And it did that really well. Pivots, panos, big text, black everywhere, it looked like art. And more than that it looked different. Something to witness. Steve Jobs even gave kudos to the Windows Phone design team! He said something like "I mean, it’s still clearly a v1, but it’s really beautiful." And he was right.

So what would I change?

Well. The interaction models, honestly. The pivots and the panoramas are a nightmare in day to day use. They’re as distinct as a Flower Power iMac, but it painted the interaction models into a corner.

In another post, there is a discussion of the difficulty with the back button. “when back is good, it’s good. But when it’s bad (from a user experience standpoint) it’s really bad.”

Here is another insight:

The stark look of Windows Phone seemed to turn off more people than fell in love with it. I know here in this forum we’re all fans but in the mainstream marketing was only one problem. Apps was another. But the biggest one was lack of relevance. People didn’t understand why they should care. A lot of people said it looked like a nice phone, but it wasn’t for them.

Despite the criticisms, the ex-Microsoft designer (who now works for Twitter) is optimistic, saying “I do have a lot of hope for Universal apps. It’s not a magic bullet, but given enough time for the system to mature, and the business support, and new initiatives, I see rosy days ahead.”

Microsoft may be well positioned for “the next big shift”:

Look beyond just Windows. Just make amazing software. Get back some relevance that was lost. 2) Of course keep competitive with hardware, and keep improving WP. 3) Then, a few years out, when the market experiences another big shift (it’s not a matter of if but when) I suspect MS’s strength as a multi-OS developer + cloud leader will help Windows regain a ton of relevance

Fascinating stuff, though note the disclaimer:

I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m one designer and I don’t work at MS anymore.

Universal Apps: a look at Microsoft’s first efforts on Phone and PC

Windows 10 for phones is now available on preview; I wrote a first-look piece for The Register here. I like it better than I had expected; it is a bit laggy but pretty much stable and with some compelling new features.

The main interest of the preview for me though is the appearance of first-party universal apps. Since these form a key part of the strategy for Windows 10, it seems to me that they merit close attention; after all, this is what Microsoft is hoping other developers will do when creating apps for Windows. Universal apps are not actually new in Windows 10 – you can write one today for Windows 8 and Windows Phone – but in the forthcoming Windows they run on the desktop rather than just in the tablet environment. There are also changes in the Windows Runtime API and frameworks though these are currently undocumented as far as I am aware (wait for Build!)

How many Microsoft universal apps are there in Windows 10, designed for both tablet and phone? Quite a few. The ones I am looking at here are Settings (not sure if this is actually the same app), Calculator, Photos, Sound Recorder, Alarms and Feedback.

There is more coming, most notably Outlook (including Mail and Calendar), Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The latter three are already available in preview in Windows 10 for PCs and tablets, but not yet for phone. However, the Android and iOS phone versions are probably a good indication of what is to come, at least for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. For Outlook there is some confusion caused by Microsoft acquiring third-party apps and rebadging them, so in these cases Windows 10 may diverge more from iOS and Android.

Enough apps then to be significant. In the screenshots that follow, I have shown in most cases three versions of each app: Windows Phone 8.1 (the equivalent app, not a universal app), Windows 10 PC, and Windows 10 phone. My general observations are:

1. The old Windows Phone version is more carefully optimized for a smartphone, with a chunky UI that is optimized for touch.

2. The new apps have more functionality, as you would expect for apps that need to work on the desktop where expectations are higher.

3. The new apps have a distinctive look and feel compared to either Windows Phone 8.1 apps, or Windows 8 “Metro” apps. Needless to say, they look different from Windows 7 style desktop apps as well. These are still Windows Runtime (the platform underlying “Metro” or “Store” apps) but in general the UI is denser than before; there is more information on view in a single screen.

While I have some doubts about the usability of the new apps on a phone, this seems to me a good direction overall; the phone is benefiting from work Microsoft is doing for the PC and vice versa. I think we will see better, more useful apps on both platforms as a result.

Now for the screenshots:


Windows Phone 8.1 Windows 10 Phone Windows 10 PC
image image image

A good example of how the new app is more functional but less well optimized for touch.


Windows Phone 8.1 Windows 10 Phone Windows 10 PC
image image image

I have cheated a bit here because no world clock in the old Alarms app!

Sound Recorder

Windows 10 Phone Windows 10 PC
image image

No Phone 8.1 version. But you can see this really is the same app. I am glad to see this on the phone; it is an update of an ancient Windows accessory and actually useful.


Windows Phone 8.1 Windows 10 Phone Windows 10 PC
image image image


Windows 10 Phone Windows 10 PC
image image

While this is the same app, you can see that Microsoft has adapted the UI for the phone. In the Phone version, you hit the All Categories link to see the categories and select. In the PC version, they are listed in a left-hand column. The Universal App concept allows for a totally different UI on different devices if necessary.


Windows Phone 8.1 Windows 10 Phone Windows 10 PC
image image image

The Settings app is radically changed in Windows 10; a good thing in that the Windows Phone 8.1 settings is a hopeless long and confusing list and needed some organisation. The Windows 10 PC version looks different but has the same sections and icons.

Why Microsoft is hard to love

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated last week that “We want to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows. That is our bold goal with Windows.”

It is an understandable goal. Many users have discovered a better experience using a Mac than with Windows, for example, and they are reluctant to go back. I will not go into all the reasons; personally I find little difference in usability between Mac and Windows, but I do not question the evidence. There are numerous factors, including the damage done by OEMs bundling unwanted software with Windows, countless attacks from malware and adware, badly written applications, low quality hardware sold on price, and yes, problems with Windows itself that cause frustration.

There is more though. What about the interaction customers have with the company, which makes a difference to the emotional response to which Nadella refers? Again, Apple has an advantage here, since high margins enable exceptional customer service, but any company is capable of treating its customers with respect and consideration; it is just that not all of them do.

Now I will point Nadella to this huge thread on Microsoft’s own community forums.  The discussion dates from September 10 2014 and the contributors are customers who own Windows Phone devices such as the Lumia 1020. They discovered that after updating their devices to Windows 8.1 they experienced intermittent freezes, where the phone stops responding and has to be cold booted by pressing an emergency button combination (volume down plus power). These, note, are critical customers for Microsoft since they are in the minority that have chosen Windows Phone and potentially form a group that can evangelise this so far moribund platform to others.

The thread starts with a huge effort by one user (“ArkEngel”) to document the problem and possible fixes. Users understand that these problems can be complex and that a fix may take some time. It seems clear that while not all devices are affected, there are a substantial number which worked fine with Windows Phone 8, but are now unreliable with Windows Phone 8.1. A system freeze is particularly problematic in a phone, since you may not realise it has happened, and until you do, no calls are received, no alerts or reminders fire, and so on, so these customers are anxious to find a solution.

Following the initial complaint, more users report similar issues. Nobody from Microsoft comments. When customers go through normal support channels, they often find that the phone is reset to factory defaults, but this does not fix the problem, leading to multiple returns.

Still no official comment. Then there is an intervention … by Microsoft’s Brian Harry on the developer side. He is nothing to do with the phone team, but on 27 October receives this comment on his official blog:

Brian, sorry to hijack you blog again, but you are the only person in MS who seems to care about customers. Can you please advise whoever in MS is responsible for WP8.1 and make them aware of the “freeze” bug that MANY users are reporting (31 pages on the forum below). There has been NO feedback from MS whatsoever in the months that this has been ongoing and it is obviously affecting many users (myself included). If “cloud first, mobile first” is to be a success, you better make the bl00dy OS work properly. Thanks

Harry promises to raise the issue internally. On 12 Nov still nothing, but a reminder is posted on Harry’s blog and he says:

Nag mail sent.  Sorry for no update.

This (I assume) prompts a post from Microsoft’s Kevin Lee – his only forum post ever according to his profile:

I’m sorry we’ve been dark – I work closely with the Lumia engineering team that’s working directly on this. Trying to shed a little light on this…

Beginning in early September we started to receive an increased number of customer feedback regarding Microsoft Lumia 1020 and 925 device freezes. During the last two months we have been reaching out for more and more data and devices to systematically reproduce and narrow down the root cause. It turned out to be a power regulator logic failure where in combination with multiple reasons the device fails to power up the CPU and peripherals after idling into a deep sleep state.

I am pleased to pass on that we have a fix candidate under validation which we expect to push out the soon with the next SW update!

Appreciate your patience.

OK, so Microsoft knows about the problem, has sat back saying nothing while users try this thing and that, but now after two months says it has a “fix candidate”. This is greeted warmly as good news, but guess what? Phones keep freezing, no fix appears, and in addition, there is lack of clarity about how exactly the fix is being “pushed out”.

Two months later, user Shubhan NeO says:

And I broke my Lumia 1020. Not going back to Windows Phone ever ! Switching back to Android ! Here is sneak peek of my phone !


It is not quite clear whether he broke the phone deliberately in a fit of frustration, but perhaps he did as he comments further:

Works ? Seriously ? It hangs 2-3 a day, has stupid support for official apps. So many issue.

I’m done.

Here is another:

I paid the extra £ for a better phone; with a better ’41-megapixel camera’… now to find out that people with cheaper models have not had any freeze problems. Despite peoples comments about this being an aged device, and probably the reason for lack of support, I must add that I only purchased my 1020 ‘NEW’ in July 2014 (which is only 6 months ago). For 3 of those months it has been very unreliable … I am extremely disappointed in how I and everyone else here has been treated by Microsoft.

Read the thread for more stories of frustration and decisions never to buy another Windows Phone.

What are the real problems here? The hardest thing to accept is not the fact of the fault occurring, or even the time taken to fix it, but the apparent lack of concern by the company for the plight of its customers. If Mr Lee, or others from the team, had posted regularly about what the problem is, how they are addressing it, possible workarounds and likely time scales, it would easier for users to understand.

As it is, it seems that this part of the company does not care; a particular shame, as Nokia had a good reputation for customer service.

I post this then as feedback to Nadella and suggest that a cultural shift in some areas of Microsoft is necessary in order to make possible the kind of emotional transition he seeks.

Windows Phone wobbles: why users are losing heart

When Microsoft acquired Nokia in April this year, there was always a risk that the Windows Phone platform would lose momentum (yes there was some momentum).

Nokia was better at marketing, better at hardware innovation, and better at the all-important operator relations than Microsoft itself.

I consider the launch of Windows Phone 7 in October 2010 to be one of Microsoft’s great disasters, not because of the operating system which is very good, but because the company failed to get all the pieces in place at the right time. When the phone was first released in the UK, you could not buy it at all in my local town centre, and even if you could find it, the hardware was indifferent, just slightly tweaked Android handsets from the likes of HTC and Samsung.

The underlying problem was that Microsoft was late to market and the iOS/Android duopoly was already dominant; but even so, the company could have done better.

Nokia’s adoption of Windows Phone in February 2011 (first devices came in October 2011) made a striking difference. Distinctive hardware and better visibility in the high street gave the platform a better chance of success. Nokia Drive for turn-by-turn navigation was a great feature, along with other Nokia apps and services like Mix Radio. Admittedly the Lumia 800 (the launch model) had some issues, especially with battery life and charging problems, but better devices followed.

Nokia also started making cheaper Windows Phones, delivering some of the best value smartphones on any platform.

The Nokia Lumia 1020, released in late summer 2013, brought the best camera in any smartphone to market, thanks to the company’s PureView research along with a high-quality though slightly protruding lens.

Nokia Lumia 1020

That was something of a high point for Windows Phone. Nokia, perhaps, started to panic as Windows Phone sales still failed to take off as quickly as had been hoped. At Mobile World Congress in February 2014, it announced Nokia X, a version of Android without Google services. This made no sense to me at the time; but indicated that Nokia had diverted its focus away from improving Windows Phone to chase an alternative (and doomed) platform.

There was also a period of hiatus between Sept 2013 when Microsoft’s acquisition was announced, and April 2014 when it completed. During this time Nokia operated independently, but with the knowledge that the businesses would be merged in due course; not a good scenario for long-term planning.

The problem today is that even those few who have adopted Windows Phone are losing heart. This is not only to do with market dynamics and the app problems over which Microsoft has no control. Check out this monster thread on Microsoft’s forums. There is a hardware issue with some Lumia models (including the 1020) such that the 8.1 update causes the phone to freeze at random intervals; not good if, for example, you have an alarm set or are waiting for a call. What you will see is that users started complaining on September 10th. Nobody from Microsoft bothered to comment on the thread or help users with mitigation suggestions until November 22nd, when Kevin Lee at Microsoft made an appearance:

Beginning in early September we started to receive an increased number of customer feedback regarding Microsoft Lumia 1020 and 925 device freezes. During the last two months we have been reaching out for more and more data and devices to systematically reproduce and narrow down the root cause. It turned out to be a power regulator logic failure where in combination with multiple reasons the device fails to power up the CPU and peripherals after idling into a deep sleep state.

I am pleased to pass on that we have a fix candidate under validation which we expect to push out the soon with the next SW update!

Which update? When? Mr Lee has made no further comment, and phones are still freezing. It is frustrating for users who return phones for repair, have the software reset, and then still suffer the problem, because it is incorrectly diagnosed by the repair engineers (read the thread for many such tales).

While the specific issue affects only a subset of Windows Phone users, this is not only indicative of poor quality control before the 8.1 release was pushed out, but also poor communication with users of the high-end Windows Phone devices; the market where Microsoft is weakest.

More seriously, the 1020 which is now coming up to 18 months old is still in some ways top of the range, certainly for the camera; note that in the Lumia range you have 8x, 9x, and 10x prefixes, and there has been no advance on 1020 in the 10x series.

Another issue for Windows Phone is that Microsoft is putting out Office for iOS and Android while seeming to neglect its own platform. The forthcoming Visual Studio 2015 includes a new set of tools for both native and HTML-based development for iOS and Android. It is beginning to look as if Microsoft itself is now treating the platform as second-class.

Unlike Ed Bott and Tom Warren I still use a 1020 as my main phone. I like the platform and I like not taking a separate camera with me. It was great for taking snaps on holiday in Norway. But I cannot survive professionally with just Windows Phone. It seems now that a majority of gadgets I review come with a supporting app … for iOS or Android.

Microsoft is capable of making sense of Windows Phone, particularly in business, whether it can integrate with Office 365, Active Directory and Azure Active Directory. On the consumer side there is more that could be done to tie with Windows and Xbox. Microsoft is a software company and could do some great first party apps for the platform (where are they?).

The signs today though are not good. Since the acquisition we have had some mid-range device launches but little to excite. The sense now is that we are waiting for Windows 10 and Universal Apps (single projects that target both phone and full Windows) to bring it together. Windows 10 though: launch in the second half of 2015 is a long time to wait. If Windows Phone market share diminishes between then and now, there may not be much left to revive.

Alcatel OneTouch on plans for Windows Phone OS tablets

At IFA in Berlin, I spoke to Dan Dery, VP and CMO at Alcatel OneTouch, who told me of the company’s plans for Windows Phone OS tablets. Alcatel OneTouch is part of TCL Corporation, a Chinese global electronics company, though for historical reasons (a 2004 joint venture between TCL and the French company Alcatel-Lucent) it has strong links with France; Dery’s first language is French.


Alcatel was at IFA to launch new Android devices, primarily the Hero 2 smartphone and the Hero 8 tablet, but Dery particularly caught my interest when he started talking about future plans for tablets running the Windows Phone OS 8.2 (the current version of Windows Phone is 8.1).

Note that I am reporting on my press briefing with Alcatel; I have not heard anything from Microsoft about Windows Phone 8.2.

“Rumour has it that the Windows Phone is going to be available on tablet kind-of form factor on ARM chipset, and we are going to be first in doing that. For example we are developing a 10 inch tablet which has this Magic Flip technology for the keypad with trackpad.”

Magic Flip is Alcatel’s brand name for smart magnetic covers which fold back as stands and which are able to show notifications, so it sounds like Alcatel has something Surface-like in mind here. The cost will be similar to Android he implied – my guess is that Microsoft will charge little or nothing for the use of Windows in this context – and the devices will have LTE, so we are talking about connected devices.

But why will the market want an Windows Phone tablet, I asked?

“Compared to Android there is still a big advantage with the presence and natural integration of Office. To be fair, you start having it on iOS. It’s available, but integrated, that is probably a different thing. The simple fact, for most of the users who are interested in that kind of use case, to receive an email which has an attachment, to click the attachment, to open it, edit it, and resend it, that’s almost impossible today unless you are going into the Microsoft environment. That’s the standard for 20 or 30 years in the market, you are not going to change it overnight.

“There is a big advantage in Microsoft because they are probably the most advanced in driving an integrated solution between computer, tablet and smartphone. Everybody is going in that direction, but Android is probably not the easiest one for that.”

Today, something like full Office is available on Windows RT (as found in Surface RT), but not on Windows Phone, which has cut-down viewers and editors for Office documents. The implication is that Windows Phone OS for tablets will have something more fully featured.

I asked Dery if the Windows Phone OS is more efficient than Android on a low-end device, from Alcatel’s experience with prototypes.

“It is the case. It was not a few months ago. There is a big advantage which is the memory footprint. This OS is meant to run with rather low memory, which is not the case in Android. You have far less overhead the day you switch on your device. Android is fantastic but in some countries, the day you switch it on you download a size of apps and services which obviously has a toll on the memory footprint, on the processing capability. That’s less the case on Windows Phone.

“I think they have been doing a pretty good job on eye-candy, on the UI, where even with a low GPU you can have elasticity features, and all that. So there are some benefits.

“So you can ask, if you are telling me this is so good, why haven’t you been shipping Windows Phone 8 for a year and a half?” said Dery. Apparently the company’s researchers have been uncertain whether the success of entry-level Windows Phones is because of the OS, or because of the Nokia brand. The company seems to have experimented with ideas or prototypes, but “each time we came up with a solution, and each time we have been told, maybe this works because it is Nokia. That is still today the big question mark. Is Windows Phone working in entry [level], is it Nokia with decent smartphones in entry making it happen? Nobody has the answer to that question.”

Dery is convinced that Microsoft’s appeal is for the mass market, not at the high end. “In essence it is a mass market thing. Playing it super high end, was more challenging,” he says.

Note that pre-announced plans can change. We should learn more soon.

Farewell Nokia X? Not quite, but the signs are clear as Microsoft bets on Universal Apps

I could never make sense of Nokia X, the Android-with-Microsoft-services device which Nokia announced less than a year ago at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona:

If Nokia X is a worse Android than Android, and a worse Windows Phone than Windows Phone, what is the point of it and why will anyone buy?

Nokia X is Android without Google’s Play Store; if Amazon struggles to persuade developers to port apps to Kindle Fire (another non-Google Android) then the task for Nokia, lacking Amazon’s ecosystem, is even harder. Now, following Microsoft’s acquisition, it makes even less sense: how can Microsoft simultaneously evangelise both Windows Phone and an Android fork with its own incompatible platform and store?

Nokia X was meant to be a smartphone at feature phone prices, or something like that, but since Windows phone runs well on low-end hardware, that argument does not stand up either.

Now Nokia X is all but dead. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella:


Second, we are working to integrate the Nokia Devices and Services teams into Microsoft. We will realize the synergies to which we committed when we announced the acquisition last September. The first-party phone portfolio will align to Microsoft’s strategic direction. To win in the higher price tiers, we will focus on breakthrough innovation that expresses and enlivens Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences. In addition, we plan to shift select Nokia X product designs to become Lumia products running Windows. This builds on our success in the affordable smartphone space and aligns with our focus on Windows Universal Apps.

and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, now in charge of Microsoft devices:

In addition to the portfolio already planned, we plan to deliver additional lower-cost Lumia devices by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices. We expect to make this shift immediately while continuing to sell and support existing Nokia X products.

Nadella has also announced a huge round of job cuts, mainly of former Nokia employees, around 12,500 which is roughly 50% of those who came over. Nokia’s mobile phone business is no all Windows Phone (Lumia) and Nokia X. In addition, it sells really low-end phones, the kind you can pick up for £10 at a supermarket, and the Asha range which are budget smartphones. Does Microsoft have any interest in Asha? Elop does not even mention it.

It seems then that Microsoft is focusing on what it considers strategic: Windows Phone at every price point, and Universal Apps which let developers create apps for both Windows Phone and full Windows (8 and higher) from a single code base.

Microsoft does also intend to support Android and iOS with apps, but has no need to make its own Android phones in order to do so.

My view is that Nokia did an good job with Windows Phone within the constraints of a difficult market; not perfect (the early Lumia 800 devices were buggy, for example), but better by far than Microsoft managed with any other OEM partner. I currently use a Lumia 1020 which I regard as something of a classic, with its excellent camera and general high quality.

It seems to me reassuring (from a Windows Phone perspective) that Microsoft is keeping Windows Phone engineering in Finland:

Our phone engineering efforts are expected to be concentrated in Salo, Finland (for future, high-end Lumia products) and Tampere, Finland (for more affordable devices). We plan to develop the supporting technologies in both locations.

says Elop, who also notes that Surface and Xbox teams will be little touched by today’s announcements.

Incidentally, I wrote recently about Universal Apps here (free registration required) and expressed the view that Microsoft cannot afford yet another abrupt shift in its developer platform; the continuing support for Universal Apps in the Nadella era makes that less likely.

Speculating a little, it also would not surprise me if Universal Apps were extended via Xamarin support to include Android and iOS – now that is really a universal app.

Will Microsoft add some kind of Android support to Windows Phone itself? This is rumoured, though it could be counter-productive in terms of winning over developers: why bother to create a Windows Phone app if your Android app will kind-of run?

Further clarification of Microsoft’s strategy is promised in the public earnings call on July 22nd.

A tale of two Lumias: snaps on a Lumia 630 versus a Lumia 1020

I spent a morning in Oxford taking some snaps and thought it would be fun to compare what a budget Windows Smartphone – the new Nokia Lumia 630 – can do versus the king of photography smartphones, the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Note this is not intended as a fair comparison; the 1020 costs around four times as much as the 630. It does show what you are giving up if you use a budget smartphone for all your snaps. In each case, you can click the image to see the full resolution.

Here is the Bodleian Library on the 630:


and on the 1020, using the 5MP version (the 1020 also stores a high res version of each image):


Next, Pembroke College on the 630:


and on the 1020:



Some flowers at the corner of Pembroke’s Chapel Quad, on the 630:


and on the 1020:


The difference is more telling if you zoom in. Here is a detail taken from a picture of Broad Street on the 630:


and on the 1020:


What about the high-res versions of the Lumia 1020 snaps? Here is a picture of Oxford’s “Bridge of Sighs”:


Let’s zoom in to look at the sculpture on the bridge. This is from the 5MP version, which I’ve enlarged slightly:


Here is the same section taken from the high-res 34MP image:


I consider the improvement well worthwhile; it does pay to hang on to those high-res images for the pictures you most value.

I snapped this on the 630 too; here is the same zoomed-in and enlarged section:



Conclusion? The camera on the Lumia 630 is not too bad – for a cheap smartphone. The Lumia 1020 is something special and I am grateful to Nokia for delivering a smartphone with a camera good enough that I can leave a standalone camera out of my bag – noting that I am not a photographer, just a traveller who takes pictures. I have not used a tripod on any of the above; from my perspective, coping with camera shake is one of the characteristics I need in whatever camera I use.