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Windows Phone: Making progress and following in the footsteps of OS X

Four years ago, I asserted: "Windows Phone 7 series is a lost cause", and it was. But you gotta give Microsoft credit for persistence. Today the foundation is solid, and app developers are finally starting to notice, like they did in 2004 with Apple's flagship operating system.

But pundits howl like the zombie apocalypse, which is a pretty good analogy for mindless Android and iOS users constantly clicking and scrolling. Microsoft's Windows Phone "glance-and-go" design philosophy is all about living beings and interacting with them rather than cold plastic and metal slabs. (Say, isn't that where we lay the dead before burying them?)

Ex-Microsoftie Robert Scoble is pundit-of-the-minute (honestly, twenty seconds given zombie attention spans), demanding that Microsoft abandon Windows Phone and surrender its collective mobile soul to Android. I have expressed many times in the past that Microsoft's mobile strategy sucks - or did before buying Nokia. The path reaching Windows Phone 8.1's release was a long road to ruin. But from devastation, new things rise.

"That train has sailed," Scoble tells GeekWire. "The real answer is, give up Windows Phone, go Android, and embrace and extend like you did with the Internet. But they don’t listen to me".

Trains sink. Except in science fiction movies where they fly, like the closing of "Back to the Future III" - end of a series that got the year ahead, 2015, wrong. Cars don't fly and most homes don't have fax machines. The point: The future isn't always what you predict. Scoble is too caught up in the numbers game.

As is my colleague Mihaita Bamburic with his article yesterday entitled "It's game over for Windows Phone". Mihaita reports about Strategy Analytics data showing Windows Phone "28.94 per cent decrease year-over-year in market share", based on unit shipments.

Yeah, yeah, hand me a hanky so I can blow my nose.

Given Microsoft's purchase of Nokia, the world's largest Windows Phone maker, and the logistical handicaps, the decline is unsurprising. Windows Phone remains a distant third to Android and iOS, but it's number three nevertheless. Let's silence the gripe and pass the snickerdoodles.

Comment banter to my story "Why is iPhone so destructible?" makes a valid point about these stats. John Topper asks WP7Mango: "Is that why in the US Windows Phone market share dropped from 4 to 3.8 per cent?" He answers: "Why should I care what the market share is? I don't buy my phones based on market share stats. In fact, I don't buy anything based on market share stats".

Right. Who does? I don't. Do you?

Mean transition

Again, I am reminded of OS X, the transition of which left Apple an applications wasteland - all while Windows surged. The modern Mac operating system released in March 2001, into a market where the best way to measure Apple PC share was a magnifying glass. But by 2004, the same year Service Pack 2 made Windows XP usable, enough good apps grew from the OS 9-to-X-transition devastation to promise revival.

What pundits ignored then about OS X, as they do now with Windows Phone, is that the platform isn't a single entity. By 2004, Apple had retail stores, iPod, iTunes, and iLife pulling consumer sales - many "halo" people buying music players also adopting Macs, for example. Pretty computers running a UNIX core pulled niche creative professionals, and their demand for supporting apps spurred developers to produce them. Then there were the rebels: People seeking escape from Windows or looking to live a different digital lifestyle.

Windows Phone also doesn't stand alone. Microsoft's efforts to tie the platform to existing stronghold products like Exchange and Office are more sensible today than four years ago, in part because the platform and the integrated strategy around it has matured. I bought the Nokia Lumia Icon, and to my surprise really enjoy using Windows Phone 8. But I got the phone anticipating Surface Pro 3, purchased on the day of availability (in the US). Like someone choosing iPod and a Mac a decade ago: Product synergy.

The Windows Phone apps wasteland observed a year ago - even just a few months ago - fills with new growth. All the majors I care about - Adobe PhotoShop Express, Facebook, Flixster, IMDB, Instagram, Kindle Reader, Netflix, Shazam, Tumbler, Twitter, Vimeo, and Vine, for example, among others - are available. My bank and credit card provider have apps. Absent: Apple and Google apps, although most Big G services work just fine in the browser, including Plus, and Microsoft provides solid support for Google Calendar, Contacts and Gmail.

Six months ago, I would not have considered Windows Phone, when app selection still looked too much like a graveyard. Momentum grows, even as zombie pundits seek to feast on the platform. Like OS X in 2004, for which Apple produced the best apps, Microsoft does the same with Windows Phone. Office is surprisingly useful - more than it ever was on Windows Mobile. I write on my Icon with increasing frequency. Then there are the Nokia apps, which are absolutely great, providing the kind of digital content creation capabilities reminiscent of Apple applications on OS X a decade ago. Nokia's stuff isn't as tightly integrated, but the utility bangs heads - or should I say the zombie dead.

Reaching down to move up

Where Windows Phone's future can - and I predict will - defy the doomsayers is the brilliant low-cal, high-nutrition strategy. Nokia is still a leader in the global mobile marketplace. In most geographies, the flip and other so-called dumb phones being converted to smart slabs bear the Nokia brand. Meanwhile, in the overall handset market - not singling out smartphones - Nokia still ranks number two, according to most reliable market research firms.

Not that you would know. There is way too much misinformation about the global handset market. BGR headline from this week: "Strategy Analytics: 85 per cent of phones shipped last quarter run Android". That's inaccurate. The analyst firm says smartphones, which make up the largest chunk of the global handset market but by no means all of it.

As I predicted three years ago, Microsoft's platform deal undid Nokia. But actual ownership, with resurgent Windows Phone and some solid devices could save the device maker. Nokia Lumia 635 is great example. It's a tasty smartphone morsel that offers lots for little cost, and that's exactly the winning way to move existing Nokia customers using hundreds of millions of dumb phones to smarter ones with the same brand. Over here in the US, I can walk into my Microsoft Store and buy the no-contract phone for $99 (£59) or $129 (£76), for AT&T or T-Mobile, respectively.

That's what smartphones should cost, with no carrier-contract obligation, or even less. In India, where Nokia once commanded 70 per cent market share, the official brand store sells a dual-SIM Lumia 630 for ₹11,329 or about £110. That's not exactly cheap based on household incomes but bargain basement compared to iPhone 5C, which Amazon India sells for ₹32,900 (£320) but lists for ₹41,900 (£410).

Microsoft should keep up the entry-level push, while courting aficionados with devices like Lumia Icon (pictured above), Lumia 930, or 1020. Windows Phone will get more respect, and Nokia will help bring it. Sure the apps go to Android and iOS first, like they did Windows a decade go. But people still bought Macs, and increasing numbers for a convergence of previously stated reasons. The only thing dead here is the zombie apocalypse of mindless smartphone users and pundits seeking to eat Windows Phone's brain.