From the Editor's Desk: Is the Windows Phone community imploding?

Some people may not know, but I have been writing on Windows Phone here since 2007 back when it was just called Windows Mobile (and the site was just WMExperts). Funny how things come around again, and I'm not just talking about names.

There is little doubt that over the last few months, fans of Microsoft's mobile OS have had some trials to face and indeed, I expect we're at the lowest point right now. The tone today from many is dire. No one is happy with the Cityman and Talkman leaks, Windows 10 Mobile still feels rough and incomplete, and Microsoft looks to be miles from the competition. Throw in things like certain Lumia apps being retired and the relative success yesterday of Apple's big press event and it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, at times, there is barely a glimmer of light.

Yes, Microsoft has brought a lot of this on themselves.

Having said all of that, I do find it a bit disheartening to see so many not only turn on Microsoft but each other and this community. I do get it too, and I am certainly not here to say "It'll all be okay, just you wait!" because even I am tired of repeating that. However, there a few things to consider that I would like to discuss.

Incomplete picture

Although many of us are using Windows 10 Mobile as part of the Insider program, in some ways, this is creating more perception problems rather than fixing them.

In the past, when Microsoft was releasing a new OS we had to rely on well-placed sources to verify easily-faked screenshots and we only saw the OS through static images. Today, we are doing something unprecedented: seeing how an OS is made. As it turns out, it is not very pretty if you are just a consumer and not an engineer or software developer. Since we do not know what the final product is supposed to be like, we only see what is in front of us and being developed. This scenario is normal for those who make the OS, but strange to those used to a complete and finished system.

On the one hand, I think the Insider program is great. It lets us see how the OS is being developed, we can influence some aspects of it, and Microsoft can (hopefully) build a better OS in the long run.

Then again, since we do not know what Microsoft's criteria is for success, and you cannot help but wonder if they will ever have a stable platform. Windows 10 Mobile being the third OS reboot in so many years certainly does not help the situation.

How we got here

Windows Mobile 6.x based off of Windows CE was great except for the fact that it was built on a legacy core. This core crippled Microsoft who could not do much with it going forward. Faced with the iPhone and Android, Microsoft had to hit the reset button. Ideally, Microsoft would have gone to the Windows NT core, but development would have taken much longer than bootstrapping a new OS onto CE. So Windows Phone 7 was pushed out but it still faced the same limitations of Mobile 6.5.

Windows Phone 8 happened because Microsoft needed to get the NT kernel into the OS. However, doing so is like replacing the foundation of a building. It is rather hard to change out the base when the structure is already in place. But the promise of NT is too alluring. With it, Microsoft could add more APIs, extend feature sets and set the groundwork for their 'three screens and a cloud' strategy of a unified OS.

Windows 10 Mobile is yet another reboot because now that the foundation is the same as Windows desktop, the outside structure needs to match too. You cannot have a unified OS if the UI is completely different from the desktop one, so here we are again seeing another OS being rebuilt.

I mentioned all of this more depth in an older article aptly called 'This is why Microsoft keeps 'starting over' with Windows Phone'. I encourage you read it for more background on this complicated topic.

Keep in mind, I am not justifying Microsoft's history here so much as just explaining why they did what they did.

The real criticism for the mess we are in goes back to Steve Ballmer, who did not prioritize mobile back in 2006 when they should have. Combined with weird tangents like Courier, Kin, Zune and Windows RT and Microsoft is, in my opinion, finally on the right track with Windows 10. The problem now is they are clearly behind Apple and Google in terms of OS and smartphone maturity. It is what it is.

When Windows 10 Mobile does finally hit the market, it will be once again seen as New instead of a continuation. Part of this is very accurate, but obviously there is a lot more going on. How to rectify perception though with reality is not an easy solution.

Is it that bad?

So here we are going into late 2015. There has been no flagship Windows Phones in nearly 18 months, the OS is being rebooted, and Samsung and Apple are hitting their stride. So far, the leaks for Cityman and Talkman have failed to inspire people too.

For the record, I am not sure Cityman and Talkman are the flagship phones we deserve. I hear from sources who have seen and used them that they are phones you need to see and hold to appreciate really. I am willing to believe that but let's be honest, that is a tough way to sell a phone on TV. Conversely, you have the Galaxy S6 Edge. That phone looks phenomenal in ads, but in real life it is less than fantastic (awkward to hold and the 'edge' is gimmicky at best). But it looks awesome. Cityman and Talkman? They look a ho-hum solid.

The problem for Microsoft is everything is down the road. The promise of Universal apps? Coming soon. The promise of ported apps through Bridges from Android, iOS, Win32 and web apps? On the way. New exciting Windows Phone hardware? Just around the corner! A stable and mature OS that can compete with Android and iOS and even surpass them? It's almost here!

However, as mentioned above I still see Windows 10 as being just damn awesome – even if on paper. The desktop OS is doing very well so far with mass adoption and – let's face it – very little blowback in acceptance. Xbox One is still gaining and adding Windows 10 to it should be exciting. The Surface Pro is doing so well Apple is now copying it. HoloLens is still some crazy technology that is hard to believe exists. Now add Continuum and yeah, there is still some spark left in Windows Mobile.

So things are bad. We are in the pits right now at the lowest point, but what else is there to do? If you want Android or iOS, go ahead. If Windows Phone becomes great, just come back. Switching phones has never been easier especially since apps and services are abundant and even more convenient with 'the cloud'.

You don't criticize enough

Another thing we hear a lot here at Windows Central is we as staff are not critical enough. Admittedly, we are not sour on Microsoft for a few reasons, including:

  • My personality – I'm more of a 'the glass is half full' then empty kind of person
  • Critical Mass – If you want people slamming Microsoft you do not have to venture too far on the internet to find it, even amongst friendly sites and those sympathetic.
  • We're brand champions – I think it would be odd as the top Windows site in the world (raw traffic, forums, and our quality) not to believe in the products we cover

The issue here is when I don't agree with criticisms or defend a company it must because we are getting paid by them. I have gone on record in the past and will so again: we do not take money from companies. If we did, you would see 'sponsored post' everywhere to let you know that someone besides us was footing the bill. In those rare cases, we still maintain editorial control over the content. Case in point: Hidden Gems as we chose and approved of all of those apps. Even our ads are handled by an outside company called Purch. We don't know who is advertising with us and do not handpick our sponsors.

When it comes to laptops from Lenovo, HP, or Dell, we have never even been given a review unit, let alone been paid to write anything. Yeah, I'm not proud that Dell does not send us laptops, or Lenovo cannot be bothered to let us borrow a tablet. But it is what it is. (By the way, feel free to hound them on social media to get their attention if you want us to review hardware; otherwise, we pay for it out of pocket, which gets pricey fast).

Be happy

Although we all love our jobs here at Windows Central and are privileged to do what we do, it is a hard job at times. We try to give you the best reviews, the best in-depth coverage, and the most reliable insider information we can. Because of that, it's rather tough to see all of you bickering and fighting all the time in comments. It gets even worse when you turn on us because we just don't agree with your point of view, and we get accused of being sellouts.

Let's all step back, take a deep breath, and wait to see what happens over the next few months. We already see momentum with universal Windows apps for Windows 10, some movement with OEMs for new phones, and I even bet Cityman and Talkman are not nearly as terrible as you may think. At the very least, let us wait for Microsoft to tell their story and then judge. Fair?

Finally, remember, these are just phones, folks. There is a lot more to Microsoft and the Windows world, and there has never been a more exciting time for mobile technology than today. Cool gizmos constantly surround us, and it can only get better. Right?

So cheer up. You're part of something bigger and more exciting.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.