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Are tech pundits killing off Windows Phone 8?

Windows Phone 8 is only doomed if we say it is. I've been losing patience with the growing meme among pundits that Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 is a brave try, but not worth recommending because it doesn't have the most popular apps from other platforms.

And yes, that's true, right now. But it may not be true in six months. And those same pundits actually have a lot of control over whether or not it will be true.

App momentum is all about perception and zeitgeist. It's either a positive or negative feedback loop. Microsoft can prime the pump a bit, and it's doing so. If carriers want to absolutely shove a platform at users, that will also aid adoption. But in general, as long as the platform's SDK is acceptable (which it is), developers will write for a platform if they feel the users are there, and users will come if the developers are there.

That gives pundits an unusual amount of power, because they have some control over perception. If developers and users see that Windows Phone is regarded as up and coming everywhere, they'll give it a try – and it'll be up and coming. But if they hear that it's a damp squib because of a lack of apps, they'll stay away, maintaining the lack of apps.

Not everyone uses iOS

I've been seeing the "doomed" meme come up recently in the work of influential writers I respect, like David Pogue of the New York Times (which isn’t linkable because of the NYT paywall), Chris Ziegler of the Verge and Todd Hasleton of TechnoBuffalo. They try to couch their words in conditional terms, but their columns all read to me like early obituaries. The underlying tone is that "Windows Phone doesn't have every iPhone game I love right now, so it's worthless."

Against that I'll hold Noah Kravitz's column, "The Windows Phone Problem," which goes more negative on desktop Windows 8 than I prefer, but at least acknowledges that Windows Phone is a solid offering with a fighting chance.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of these folks tend to be iOS guys, at least judging by their repeated references to some game called Letterpress. I have a whole half-column written in my head about how sick I am of hearing about this Letterpress thing, which seems to have become some sort of Twitter shibboleth for being a hipster iOS user. But not everyone uses iOS, and not everyone is surrounded by people who use iOS. iOS is vastly overrepresented among geeks and pundits, I suspect. Most consumers aren't suffering from an iOS network effect. Windows Phone doesn't have Letterpress, but it has enough apps to amuse, and if it gains more momentum, other apps will come.

There are still plenty of folks out there who don’t have a smartphone yet, and there's still room for Windows Phone. But it will only survive if people believe there's room for Windows Phone, and that's where the pundits are key.

Why we need Windows Phone

Everyone who loves competition and innovation should be invested in Windows Phone's success, because otherwise we're stuck with a duopoly (sorry, RIM). Duopolies tend to be boring, stable, and pretty good at repelling new entrants.

Take the desktop OS market. Divided between Windows and OS X, it was stable for a decade with no radical advances until just this year, when the threat coming from iOS and Android prompted Microsoft to radically innovate with Windows 8.

You could argue that a duopoly is inevitable, but I'm sure as heck going to fight it, because competition means all the choices become better.

Windows Phone is not WebOS

Pundits are probably all a little burned from the failure of Palm's WebOS, a critical darling (and still a cult fave) that completely flamed out. But the punditocracy can't save a company that does everything wrong. Palm mismanaged partner relationships, had one of the worst TV ad campaigns in history, delayed phone releases, put handsets out in the wrong order, then finally sold itself off to HP, a company which then replaced its CEO with a guy who hated consumer hardware products.

That's not Microsoft's story at all. The company made some missteps with Windows Phone 7, but the very fact that it made it to Windows Phone 8 shows that Microsoft is wealthy, patient, and committed to mobile. None of those three things could be said of Leo Apotheker's HP. Microsoft now has multiple carrier partners, high quality phones, a solid SDK and ties to a major desktop OS. The pieces are all there. All it needs is the zeitgeist.

Windows Phone isn't BlackBerry, either. RIM waited until much later to acknowledge that it needed a new OS approach, missed the 2012 Xmas season, and most importantly doesn't have synergy with any other large, successful product ecosystems. Without a desktop OS like Microsoft and Apple have, or super-popular web services like Google, RIM is a pure mobile play and thus more vulnerable when it makes missteps with its mobile platform.

Windows Phone has a lot going for it. For people who like Xbox, for people who use Microsoft Office software, for people whose friends don't all have iPhones or even just for people who like the cool interface of live tiles. Before we bury it, let's give the darn thing a chance.