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Tales In Tech History: Windows Phone

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Windows Phone is officially dead, but it was much loved by those that used it. Why did it fail and what next for Microsoft mobile?

The death of Windows Phone this week was greeted mostly with indifference and ridicule, but for millions of people, Windows Phone was simply the best operating system for mobile devices in recent years.

That was the controversial opinion of the dedicated Windows Phone (WP) community, as unlike Apple’s iOS icon-driven approach and Android’s UI layout, Windows Phone offered a fast, satisfying user experience, coupled with seamless email, MS Office and social media integration.

Live Tiles were a unique selling point and greatly valued due to their versatility. Ironically, the live tiles were inspired by the Zune user interface, proving that Microsoft’s ill-fated and much-parodied media player had at least a minor legacy.

Tiles could be any size, and they could be updated dynamically with live information. Indeed, many experts felt that live tiles were a much more suited user interface approach given the limited screen sizes found on smartphones.

And they’ve now made their way onto Windows desktop too.

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But when we consider the Windows Phone operating system, we should first provide some context and a bit of history.

Windows Phone 7 was launched back in October 2010. When it arrived it created a stir, and for those people who actually used it, they tended to enjoy the experience. Indeed, IDC at one stage predicted that Windows Phone 7 would carve itself a sizeable market share.

So the omens initially looked pretty good. Matters were helped when struggling mobile giant Nokia took the decision (made by a former Microsoft executive) to officially adopt Windows Phone in 2011, and it seemed for a short period of time that Microsoft had finally got its mobile act together and stood a chance to make a dent in the consumer space.

Windows Phone 8 then arrived in 2012 and again it gathered positive reviews from those who actually used it.

But there were warning signs, even back then.

Microsoft had failed spectacularly to make a dent with its previous mobile attempt (Windows Mobile) outside of the business sector. Windows Mobile incidentally was also regarded as a fairly decent mobile operating system.

But Redmond’s decision to end that previous mobile OS, and not make Windows 7 compatible with Windows Mobile applications alienated a lot of a developers, a move that would return to haunt Microsoft in the years to come.

The reality was that Microsoft was scrambling to recover lost ground, as then CEO Steve Ballmer had recognised that Redmond had missed the smartphone revolution.

That said, Ballmer was determined to catch up. He had hoped that Nokia, acting as the Windows Phone champion, would be able to carve itself a sizeable market share.

Read More about the fall of Windows Phone (and the hardware) on Page 2…