Why Windows Phone might die if Microsoft doesn’t release a flagship soon

Lumia 1020

It was recently that I opted, at last, to move away from my venerable Lumia 1020. Spoiler alert: I ended up moving to the refreshed Lumia 930.

Purchased in May of last year, my innocuous little white slab of polycarbonate, with its comical camera ‘Oreo’ and muscle-car styling has seen me through thick and thin. Having had the 41-megapixel monster in my pocket at all times has meant that I have never missed an important shot or moment, and every one of these received the superstar megapixel treatment.

However, all good things come to an end, and so the honeymoon eventually passed. After a few lovely months, my initial boundless enthusiasm began to wane. When I purchased the device, it was a flagship in the latter days of its august prime. Though it was hardly the cutting edge of tech (at least processor-wise), it was a respectable package with a killer feature.

This killer feature was what drove me to ignore such other options as the LG G2, the Lumia 925 or the iPhone 5S; none of these could match the sheer clout of the 1020’s Pureview madness. Indeed, this state of affairs continued even with the arrival of the Lumia 930 on to the scene. Representing an evolution, rather than a revolution over either of its predecessors, the device abandoned the strict camera focus in favor of offering a solid overall package of features. As such, I shunned it.

930

Yet, at this moment, it’s the Lumia 930 that sits in my hand, with the 1020 confined to a drawer, waiting to be sold.

As happens with any phone, over time, little problems became major annoyances. The shot-to-shot times, and the inconsistent ability of the camera button to wake the device, initially something of an inconvenience, turned into even more of a bugbear. The shot-to-shot times became an eternity, and the camera button rarely succeeded in waking the device. It did not end there, the radioactive hues introduced by the saturation-drunk camera lens to every picture started to look far too vibrant, and with every passing week the age of the processor continued to show more strongly.

The final straw came following CES in January. Having anticipated the camera improvements in Lumia Denim for several months, I was keen to see some of the capabilities of the updated Lumia Camera app come to the 1020. I wanted faster shot-to-shot times, a more reliable wake from sleep function and some implementation of HDR. Instead, I got jack squat.

Contrastingly, the 1520 and 930 were the recipients of a delightful smorgasbord of improvements: 4K video, Rich Capture, ‘Hey Cortana’, the list goes on. The 1020 suddenly became a dinosaur in my hand, the future was clear.

It was time to upgrade.

1520

Yet, this presented something of a problem. Having discounted the 930 previously, my only other option was the 1520. Beautiful and functional as it is and was however, the massive screen and profile of the device proved to be too much for my weak and girlish hands. As such, with nothing on the horizon, I found myself in something of a pickle.

Having experienced the delights of Windows Phone and Pureview imaging, I couldn’t go back to the wild wastes of the Android badlands, and yet I was too much of a peasant to afford an iPhone. Yet, even with the biggest mobile tech event of the year approaching, MWC 2015, there hasn’t been so much as a hint of a new flagship from Microsoft.

This raises the important question: what game is Microsoft playing?

With Windows 10 on the distant horizon, it is understandable that Redmond perhaps wants to make sure things all go according to plan. So far, it has been open and understanding in its dealings with the public, delivering timely and interesting updates to many of its services, all the while improving their quality.

“what hasn’t been given is a reason to stay interested in Windows Phone”

Yet what hasn’t been given is a reason to stay interested in Windows Phone. The Lumia 930, the last true flagship designed for the OS, was released in April 2014, even earlier if you count the Icon. Since then, there has been an unsteady progression of ever cheaper budget devices, offering decent specs at an affordable price, but failing comprehensively to catch the public eye.

This is the true role of the flagship. It can been seen in the sales figures of any large tech firm involved in the mobile game, save apart from the weirdo that is Apple. High-tech, high-spec devices, with inordinate price tags, released at tech trade shows, allowed to trickle into subsistence for months, have a reason for their existence.

535

Despite the protestations of the likes of Google and Microsoft, phones are sold on the strength of the hardware more than the software experience. With the overall user experience of most mobile operating systems having become so homogenized for years, the consumer relies on the look, feel and capabilities of the hardware to make a decision, yet also relies on name recognition.

As such, the Samsung Galaxy ‘X’, which say, Joe Bloggs, has heard about for months, seen an advert for on TV, and has a 2K screen, is an easier sell than the respectable, but relatively invisible, Lumia 535 for instance. This may be something of an unfair comparison, yet in stores around the world, this exact scenario is currently playing out.

Yes Windows 10 is on the horizon, and yes, it will hopefully leapfrog the traditional problems facing new software systems, offering something new and unusual that the public will love, but where are we now? With potentially another six months before another flagship, can Windows Phone survive? Will the lack of oxygen suffocate the nascent phone OS before it can fully take flight?.

Microsoft

It is the allure of the flagship that sells phones, even if the main model itself does not sell. Samsung has built a mobile empire from the Galaxy name, selling knock-off devices ad infinitum and generating an enormous profit. Each phone is sold on the promise of the original, higher-end model, cashing in on the style-conscious shopper, not tech-savvy but wanting to fit in with their peers.

Without an option, I, a staunch Windows Phone loyalist, went for the recently refreshed Lumia 930. So far, I have been pleased with my decision, and likely will be for some time to come, yet, will others be so patient?  Moreover, what will this mean for the platform as whole? Is Windows Phone to go the way of Asha phones?

In the past year, it has become apparent that only those with the longevity of a Time Lord can truly function on ‘Microsoft time’. However, with a difficult year ahead, both for the company as a whole as well as its mobile OS, it is imperative that Microsoft addresses the massive gaps in its mobile strategy, or things may not be so rosy in 2016.

Do you agree? What would your perfect Windows Phone flagship be? Let us know in the comments below.

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