The rise of Windows Phone 8: New hero apps breathe life (and legitimacy) into Microsoft’s mobile OS

App counts don’t matter but so-called “flagship apps” do. Ever since Windows Phone 7.x came out nearly three years ago, the “break moment” has been anxiously anticipated. That’s the instant where things click with consumers and the phones become an accepted, viable option for people to consider when shopping—the third way, if you will.

There have been false alarms in the past: Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”, Nokia’s Lumia 900 (with AT&T’s “Hero” status) and then finally Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920.

Every one of those turning points it felt as if Windows Phone would finally catch on and go mainstream, but alas it never happened. Granted, with the Windows Phone 8/Lumia 920 combo, Microsoft and company had their best opportunity. But even then, things have been slower than expected despite the award winning OS and hardware.

Now in May 2013, I think Windows Phone is finally reaching critical mass. Six months after it was introduced, Windows Phone 8 is growing faster and more popular than ever before. We’re seeing numerous high profile apps come to the platform, including an authentic YouTube client, Pandora, Hulu Plus, Tumbr, NBC News, Star TrekGoComics, HSN and overhauled apps like OpenTable, Facebook, Viber and Foursquare.

And don’t get me started on Instagram.

Not only are these new experiences, they’re solid, quality apps that set the bar in design. There’s little disagreement that the Pandora app for Windows Phone is one of the nicest experiences on any platform.

More and more we’re seeing high profile games based on the Unity engine arriving in a timely manner and developers committing to the platform (just yesterday Digitally Imported jumped on board). It’s an exciting time both for developers and longtime users of Windows Phone who finally feel like they’re getting the respect they deserve.

Getting the message out

Combined with all of the new app momentum, we’re also seeing an even more aggressive advertising push from Microsoft, culminating in the cheeky “Wedding” commercial directed by Roman Coppola. That ad, which has garnered a massive 4.5 million views in just over a week on YouTube alone, nearly doubling the Grant Hill ad. And that ad is now in regular rotation on TV, playing on TBS and other channels on a fairly regular basis.

For all intents and purposes, it has gone viral. Why? Because it’s hilarious and is something to talk about, despite all the naysayers who suggested that Microsoft missed the point with the ad.

In addition, we’re seeing Windows Phone Challenge commercials playing before packed theaters for Iron Man 3 and other blockbuster films, raising even more awareness.

And this is just the warm up.

The Next Stage


1080P display for Windows Phone 8?

What’s really fascinating about all of this is Microsoft is just getting started.

Next week in London, Nokia is expected to reveal their aluminum-based Lumia ‘Catwalk’ design—an updated Lumia 920 but with a thinner, lighter body. Verizon is on the cusp of releasing the Nokia Lumia 928—their first “hero” Nokia phone that looks to even surpass the Lumia 920 due to it being thinner, lighter and featuring a Xenon flash. T-Mobile is just starting to roll out the Lumia 521, going for a remarkable $130 off contract.

Then in June, Microsoft is holding their BUILD conference in California where they are expected to reveal Windows 8 and Windows Phone “Blue” projects aka the next milestone for both operating systems. In between those releases, Windows Phone users will get OS updates including GDR2 and GDR3, adding new functions including FM radio, 1080P support and more to their current and future hardware.

Nokia's "Catwalk" 

Come this fall we can expect Nokia to finally show off their ‘EOS’ 41MP Windows Phone, a device expected to launch here in the US on AT&T, not to mention Sprint finally getting on board with two new devices.

It’s an unrelenting juggernaut that is in full motion.

Make no mistake, these aren’t just some awesome apps we’re getting on Windows Phone, it’s the moment that Microsoft’s OS, in conjunction with Nokia and HTC, begins to go mainstream.

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.