An Open Letter to Microsoft about Windows Phone

The world we live in, the technological world, is evolving and changing at such a rapid pace. Just since 2007 we've seen the introduction of both the iPhone, Android, the introduction and fall of WebOS, Microsoft pulling the rug out from Windows Mobile and the launch of Windows Phone 7. That's just the major highlights in the mobile space. No matter how you look at it, the technology we use today has evolved and changed rapidly from what we were using just a few years ago.

This is why I wanted to take a moment and address Microsoft and their push to recapture market-share in mobile while simultaneously pushing to counter the iPad with Windows 8. Microsoft will likely never see this post, and I'm ok with that. I want to make my opinions known to the world at large. First off, I'd prefer to use a Microsoft product. I say I'd prefer to, but I don't always, because right now, they aren't always the best tool for the job. That doesn't mean I won't switch back to Microsoft in the future. Right now I run a Windows 7 PC at home, a Chromebook CR-48 hacked to run the preview version of Windows 8, an Android Phone, an HP Touchpad hacked to run Android and have an Xbox 360 under my TV in my living room. As you can tell, I'm split between two ecosystems, Google and Microsoft's.

Here's the thing, I want Microsoft to get better. I want to use a Windows 8 slate over an Android tablet or an iPad, I want to buy the next Xbox whenever it comes out, and I really want to use a great Windows Phone with it all. I'm dealing with a few limitations right now. First, Windows Live services (soon to come under the Microsoft Account banner) such as Hotmail and the main Windows Live homepage suck. I don't want to pull any punches here because I want Microsoft to fix them. When I use Google's Gmail, I feel as though I'm easily able to connect and get to where I need to go, I don't get bombarded by huge picture ads on one side of my screen and the web interfaces are easy to use and well thought out. I can only hope Microsoft is working to update the look and feel of these core services so I want to use them when Windows 8 launches.

Secondly, the choice of Windows Phones in the US has been pretty pathetic for the majority of the life of Windows Phone. I get that Microsoft doesn't want to play the spec game with the Android manufacturers, but the problem is, they aren't Apple, and it isn't the iPhone. If there was one Microsoft Windows Phone for the whole world, specs wouldn't matter, but the thing is, Microsoft doesn't make any phones and their partners want to make several kinds to appeal to as many people as possible, I get that. Now that Nokia launched the Lumia 900 this week with AT&T and HTC is following it up with the HTC Titan II, both with LTE, we are finally seeing Windows Phone take the lead over the iPhone in at least one part of the specification wars, if only temporarily.

The other problem is the carriers. While AT&T and T-Mobile have embraced (more or less) Windows Phones, Sprint and Verizon have not, as each only offer one model that is looking very dated at this point. In my case with Sprint, the HTC Arrive is my only Windows Phone option. While the Arrive is a great phone for some and received good scores from reviewers, now it feels dated, unnecessarily thick and small. Personally, I don't want a physical keyboard on my phone, not because I don't like keyboards, but because of how much thicker they make the phone.

Microsoft needs to convince these carriers that an Android and Apple future isn't the best for their success. Honestly I don't think it is. With Android manufacturer's trying to reign in all the different variations of handsets across carriers, sooner rather than later, the high end smartphone market is going to look very similar on all of the nation's networks. Convince Sprint and Verizon that they don't want to be left behind not offering Windows Phones, convince them that Windows 8 will be the true coming out part for Windows Phone and the Metro interface. Or just pay them to do it, you know, whatever works.

I want something like the Lumia 900 or the HTC Titan on Sprint. More importantly, I want the software improved.

Don't get me wrong, I like Windows Phone, but there is a lot that still needs some work, and at this point, Windows Phone 8 needs to address these concerns because iOS and Android a beginning to build a mountain of a lead that will be impossible to overcome. So to that end, here's what I want to see from Windows Phone before I buy in. Take control of updating the phones away from the carriers. Apple does this with the iPhone and it works well. If the basic operating system is what needs patching, there's no reason Microsoft can't push these out to everyone. If radio or firmware updates need to come down the pipe for a specific device/carrier, allow the carriers to push that out on their own, but there shouldn't be an issue of fragmentation within the Windows Phone platform. The fact that there is, even to just a very small degree is troubling to me.

Add Google Talk support to the messaging app. To that end, come up with some sort of iMessage competition, I don't even care if it's based off of the Windows Live backbone, make it work, make it seamless and I will buy it. Right now SMS, Facebook Chat and Windows Live Messenger integration are not enough to compete against Apple's iMessage or Google's built in Google Talk. The bigger part of this, is that if the phone supports it, then Windows 8 needs to support it and so does the Xbox. Allow me to get text notifications while I'm playing my Xbox or writing a Word document on my PC and respond from any of them, keep my conversations synced and I'll never think of owning an Android or iPhone again.

Fix multitasking on Windows Phone 8. I know its a recent addition and not all apps support it yet or some devs just don't think it's worth it with the small market share, but even the apps that supposedly do "support" the feature don't do it well. Many times you are met with a splash screen as the app figures out where it was and opens back up. Android and iOS don't have this problem and neither should Windows Phone.

Big name apps, launching day and date with Windows Phone as well as iOS and Android. I know this is a bit of a catch-22 seeing how developers want to develop where the people are and people go where the developers are. Hopefully Nokia's hardware will help bring more consumers into the Windows Phone base and therefore more developers.

Finally, add a true turn by turn voice GPS navigation program to the platform as a part of Bing Maps. Now Nokia has a great solution here already, but it's only for Nokia phone owners, Microsoft shouldn't play favorites with this type of software as at least in the short term it will help them compete with Google and sets them apart from Apple.

All in all, while Microsoft has a lot of work to do with the Windows 8 platform, none of these requests are extraordinary considering what the competition is doing and setting expectations for what consumers should expect from an ecosystem. Can Microsoft turn their mobile fortunes around and build on the base of Windows Phone and turn it into a force to be reckoned with? That remains to be seen, but all signs point to Microsoft making the right moves with each update to the platform.

That all said, my money is waiting for you Microsoft. Make some changes, surprise me, and wow me with where Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 will take consumers. I want to see the future of these services working together with a common style and unified look. Like I said at the beginning, I'd prefer to be using your products right now. I'm they guy my friends and family turn to for advice on what phone to buy and I've been referring them to Androids and iPhones right now because of these issues. Getting me to make the switch doesn't just bring me, the trickle down effect is another 5-10 people and they talk to their friends too about what they use.

The ball is in Microsoft's court, and it's getting late in the match. Do they have it in them for a comeback? I think so. Windows 8 is going to move desktops and slates (as long as they improve keyboard and mouse) and that in turn will help move Windows Phones. As with all things, time will tell. For now, I'll keep waiting for another Windows Phone option to arrive on Sprint's network.

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