There’s a massive problem with the way news circulates in the tech world. Old news sticks with no regard to how things change unless the company of question is willing to blow billions to make good press happen.
Avid researchers and up-to-date tech enthusiasts know that the Google Play Store has surpassed the Apple AppStore in both apps and app downloads… and that it’s been this way for a long time now. Yet ask anyone on the streets and you’ll find that most are still in 2012 where the AppStore has more apps. Even amidst news that iPhone apps leak personal information and Macs being long since proven to get viruses and be more vulnerable than Windows, the average joe still believes there are absolutely no infections whatsoever on any Apple platforms.
Windows Phone got it’s bad press ground deeply in it’s grapevine reputation early in 2012 when it was revealed to have *only* 120,000 apps… and this is the information the mainstream audience chose to stick with for years and years to come. Windows Phone hasn’t really been re-evaluated by the masses since then though… and it shows.
It’s a rarity to find valid arguments against Windows Phone since the comments made are – more often than not – two years past their expiration date, made by people who haven’t been in touch with the platform for years. If you’ve had the pleasure of dealing with that guy who never accepted that PlayStation 3 grew out of it’s “Just a BluRay player” reputation it launched with, you know what millions of Windows Phone users deal with when talking to an out-of-touch public.
So lets do our part in evaluating the state of what’s changed since the last time the world collectively took a look at Windows Phone.
- Windows Phone 8 to Windows Phone 8.1
Windows Phone 8.1 brought a metric ton to the table. The ability to install apps to SD breathed new life into every phone with expansive qualities, important features like the notification bar brought us some us the most painless notification toggles we’ve seen yet. Cortana brought a frightening level of competence to the arena of virtual assistants within a very short timeframe. The Word Flow keyboard (while now dethroned) rose to be the fastest keyboard in the world , and break it’s way into the Guinness Book of World Records quicker than any other. The platform was both cleaned up, modernized, and gained features that other platforms are still waiting for… and they managed to keep the experience impressively smooth and efficient even on entry-level devices like the Lumia 520.
- Overall 300% App Growth
Everyone seems to know that magical number of “only 120k apps,” but few seem to have understood that devs didn’t just stop making Windows Phone apps… or that the mobile Windows Phone store’s digital footprint has tripled since 2012 when everyone got their ammo that they’d use to forever bash the platform.
Evaluate things now and you’ll see that the situation’s changed since the general public has delved into Windows Phone.
- Heavy Hitters In The Windows Store
While it’s nice to know we have more to choose from than we ever did, quantity means nothing without quality. The average user doesn’t have over 100,000 apps in their library… or even 1% of that. So it’s not like we ran out of apps in the first place. Even an app packrat like myself has 1500 apps in my history (which, if you’re doing the math… means I’m well above the average and still haven’t scratched 0.5% of what’s on the Windows Store) … and to say the vast majority has over 100 apps on their phone is being optimistic.
The key concept here is that most just use a handful of quality apps… luckily this is an area where Windows Phone has majorly taken a step up. I’m seen about the world snapping shots with my Lumia 1020, and I’ve found that a staggering amount of strangers have no problem stopping me mid session to ask me how I like my Windows Phone… but the “Does your iPhone 6 bend?” question in the world of Windows Phone is “How can you live without having Instagram or Candy Crush?” in which I’m able to quickly switch to the official Instagram app, show them Candy Crush on the Store and follow up by letting them know the app situation is a LOT better now. Not perfect, and arguably still unsatisfactory for some – but significantly improved.
It’s not just Instagram and Candy Crush either – not by a longshot. The surprising number of business users on Windows Phone; myself included, were ecstatic to see that Mint and Mobiligy (now Prism) made their way to Windows Phone… as well as LinkedIn, GasBuddy, Vine, WhatsApp, Viber, Kik, Pandora, Slacker Radio, Plex, Duolingo, YouTube clients that have 60fps playback, actually let you hit the home button without stopping the song (and let you download it), and more Twitch clients than you can shake a stick at… and that doesn’t even address the exclusives.
- Mobile NFC Payments
While Apple was able to successfully brainwash their herd into believing contact-less payment was going the way of HD-DVD, their flip-flop showed they couldn’t even ignore it’s impact, and it’s something that only Google had ever seriously invested into prior. Another feature we saw in the Windows 8.1 upgrade was a select-able “Tap to Pay” feature that seemed mysterious at the time because nothing used it.
Thanks to Softcard, us Windows Phone underdogs can tap our phone to NFC terminals at McDonalds, Walgreens, Office Depot and many more just like the giants within Google’s massive ecosystem can.
- Revision of the Mobile Xbox Live Platform
A major appeal of the Windows Phone platform is something that no one else has really ever focused on to the degree that Microsoft has – and that’s integrating it’s social gaming phenomenon into it’s mobile phones. Windows Phone gamers, unlike Android and iPhone gamers, actually get a system of leaderboards and gaining achievements that tie into the same Xbox Live platform that’s on Microsoft’s gaming consoles and their Windows operating system.
Yet… it always seemed that this program wasn’t getting the support it could get… and those who followed developers quickly found out why: Microsoft created such a headache of a process for anyone wanting that iconic “Xbox” title in their game that punished developers who supported them. Developers had no problem exposing that there was a ridiculously long approval process for both publishing and updating Xbox Live Mobile games, that it was so costly that smaller dev teams couldn’t even get their foot in the door, and that their titles were often pulled with little to no explanation or reason.
We’ve had talk of the Xbox Live Mobile program getting revamped in a manner that would relax the rules, remove some technical hurdles and make it easier for devs to publish Xbox games on Windows Phone… but now it’s actually happened (source) and we’ve instantly started seeing the effect in one of my favorite recent Windows Phone trends: Non-Xbox games getting updated to include XBL leaderboards/achievements.
- Native Smartwatch Capabilities
We’ve had Pebble, we’ve had Kreyos… but nothing seriously game changing. Nothing that let us walk into a Starbucks and let us pay with our wrist wear. Nothing that let us get a SMS notification on our wrist and respond to it on the same device, no first party option that let us simply talk to our wrist to invoke a reaction… and nothing that came with a social health aspect that we could call our own until Microsoft very suddenly churned out the result of all those patents they were eating up.
The Microsoft Band was quite abruptly released with only one day warning between announcement and release… and it set the world on fire with immediate success. It’s been rapidly and consistently sold out and quickly became so sought after that it’s value skyrocketed to over 250% it’s actual retail value.
I have one myself, and it’s one of very few times I’ll say something was worth the hype. The appeal of being able to respond to a message, check my email or search for light information by talking to my wrist is something I never thought would be accurate enough to be practical until I got my hands on the Microsoft Band… and it did get me to monitor the results of my workouts a lot more than I previously did.
- Improvement in Hardware Variety
The Lumia Icon and Lumia 1520 quickly shot to the very top of gaming benchmarks (surpassing every Android and every iPhone), and I’ve got fond memories of wowing people with their smooth gaming performance in graphically intense Xbox Live Mobile titles offered by Gameloft.
But not everyone needs such a powerful device… the average user’s often concerned with nothing more than their Instagram, Facebook and Candy Crush… and possibly the “fad of the moment” app which rotates through our games like Ruzzle, Flappy Bird, Trivia Crack and whatever is the flavor of the moment. In just one year, we got our hands on a Lumia 630, 635, 535, 730, 830 and more… which gets complicated, but admittedly also accomplishes the goal of covering all bases, and making sure offerings are available in developing countries.
- Improvement in Public Presence
This series of occurrences is something so unexpected common that I actually have been actively checking with others to confirm it happens in other areas… but there’s a lot more Windows Phones popping up in the public! Of course the fact that one has been able to get a brand new Lumia 520 for $29 (and once even $19.99) plays a huge part in that… but still, getting the product in consumer’s hands plays a big role in spurring even more development for the platform.
Working where I deal with hundreds of people a day (and even on college campus) I see Lumia 520/521s every-freaking-where, spiced with appearances of 1020s, 1520s, and 928s in the mix.
- Improvement in Developer Interest
No denying it, there’s been some rough times for Windows Phone users who want to hop on board a phenomenon just as it’s happening. The keen observer actually would have seen that recent improvements in Windows Phone’s standing have allowed us to see some releases of apps that are actually within the same release window as their Android and iOS counterparts. I’ve personally gone back about half a year ago to see we got Modern Combat 5 at the same time as Android/iOS, and there’s likely some further back than I’ve examined. More noteworthy is a recent occurrence – the same Trivia Crack your Facebook friends are losing their mind over, but released on Windows Phone while the phenomena is fresh.
A major complaint of days past is seeing our apps come months after they’ve run their course – and if this past half year marks a change in that trend it’s very welcome.
- Percentage Increase In Sales
You know you’ve truly reached a turning point when you can get The Verge to recognize something positive about a non-Apple product. While VT’s had no problem recognizing it when they have a valid complaint against the platform, it is noteworthy when they find positives worth talking about. Last October, it was revealed that; compared to the same period last year, Lumia sales have actually gone up from their record last year.
I am absolutely certain that there is much more I missed out on… likely even some things that are more important than what I’ve listed here – but that’s a good thing; we should have platform that’s grown far to an extent far larger than any one person can think to evaluate in any one article.