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How Microsoft Can Fix Windows Phone in 2011

I've made no attempt to hide my love for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's innovative and trend-setting new OS for smart phones. In fact, I wrote the book. But Windows Phone, like any other 1.0 product, is as full of holes as your typical Swiss cheese. For that reason, and because high-quality competitors like the Apple iPhone and Google Android are getting better all the time as well, Microsoft needs to move quickly in the next year to address the missing features and continue to ensure that, from a high level, Windows Phone continues to outshine the competition.

Here are some of the ways in which I'd fix Windows Phone in 2011. Note that most of these are high-level, big box feature requests, not picky little issues with individual buttons or screens. There are a million tiny ways in which Microsoft could change Windows Phone--multiple calendar support, a camera that retains custom settings, and so on. Those are all as obvious as they are necessary. But these are the big ones.

End the duh: Copy and paste, multitasking for third-party app

Right now, every Microsoft-loathing, Apple-promoting Captain Obvious tech reviewer and blogger can complain about missing features like copy and paste and multitasking for third party apps because, well, they really are missing. So let's just get rid of the obvious complaint bait and fix that stuff, so we can shut up the haters of the world for good. At least about this.

Embrace more third party services

If you store photos on Facebook, as many do, or on Windows Live, as almost no one does, Windows Phone will nicely integrate with those services and provide seamless, over-the-air, on-device access to all of your cloud-based photo content. If, however, you use Flickr, or Google Picasaweb, SmugMug, or any other photo sharing service, you're out of luck. Microsoft's answer is to hope and pray that these services or other third parties embrace Windows Phone and correctly integrate into the system's Pictures hub. And maybe it will happen, slowly, over time. Instead, Microsoft should simply do the hard work to integrate as many services as it can, directly into Windows Phone, and do it as soon as possible.

And while we're on the subject of Facebook, even Microsoft's handling of this one third party service could be a lot more granular. Currently, there's no way to configure how Facebook integrates with the device; its either on or off. There's a lot more work that needs to happen there.

Support higher resolutions

This one works in tandem with the next item, but Windows Phone is currently constrained to an 800 x 480 resolution that is, while excellent, still not as voluminous as that of its best rival, the iPhone 4, which features a 960 x 640 resolution. More important, it's too low a resolution for a coming generation of devices that should be based on Windows Phone, including tablets and media players. My recommendation is to keep it simple and support a single HD resolution, say 1200 x 720, in addition to the two currently supported resolutions, and support automatic, in-OS upsizing.

Tablets and media players

Microsoft must not cede the tablet market to Apple, and if it is going to rely on Windows 7-based PCs to compete in that market, then that is exactly what it's going to do. My advice is simple and often repeated: Port Windows Phone OS to tablets, using the aforementioned 1200 x 720 resolution in a 7-inch widescreen tablet device. Modify the OS so that panoramic experiences like the Pictures and Music + Videos hubs appear full-screen. And automatically size and position single screen experiences, like built-in and third-party apps and games so that they work normally in portrait mode. This needs to happen sooner rather than later, and a nice keyboard dock for Office Mobile (or Office Web Apps) usage wouldn't be such a bad idea either.

Speaking of non-phone devices, Microsoft also needs to ship a Windows Phone OS-based Zune in 2011, one that includes the entire OS minus the phone capabilities. This is a simple concept, and would of course be Microsoft's version of the iPod touch: Something that could run all of the apps of its phone-based stablemate but would cost much less and come with no wireless plan requirement.


As I write this, Windows Phone is compatible only with 3G-based wireless networks that run on the GSM standard. That's a lot of the world, but it's also yesterday's technology. Microsoft needs to embrace both the rest of the US--i.e. CDMA, as used by Verizon and Sprint--and also next-generation wireless network types including HSPA+ "4G" networks and of course the next-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks that will soon make everything else obsolete.

Take back software updates from the carriers

The day after Windows Phone launched in the US, Microsoft dropped a bombshell when it revealed that one of the biggest selling points of Windows Phone was, in fact, a lie. Rather than provide software updates--which will contain new features as well as bug and security fixes--directly to Windows Phone users, Microsoft will instead work with the wireless carriers and actually allow them to block updates from being delivered to their customers. And they'll be able to do so even when the update is delivered through the Zune PC software and not over their precious wireless networks.

No, it's not a complete disaster: Wireless carriers can only block updates for one "update cycle"--i.e. until the next update ships--but that's one update cycle too long in my opinion. If Microsoft is really as customer-centric as it claims, it won't allow those companies to get in the way. Because they will. They always do.

Rebrand It

I know, I know. Microsoft loves the name Windows, and wants to splatter the name of one of its few timeless hits on as many products as possible in the hope that some magic pixie dust will rub off and make those products successful. It didn't work for Windows Mobile, isn't working for Windows Live, and won't work for Windows Phone. Windows Phone has nothing to do with Windows at all--in fact, it's pretty Windows-antagonistic in that it doesn't offer any Zune-less PC integration at all--and Microsoft is hobbling this system by drawing attention to the past.

The time to rebrand Windows Phone is when the OS is pushed to different devices, as Apple did when it rebranded its iPhone OS to iOS last year. Windows Phone OS is OK for phones, I guess, but with the bifurcation of the target devices between phones, media players, and tablets/general purpose computing devices, it's going to need a new overreaching brand. I recommend Zune OS. But it just needs to be anything other than Windows.

(Knowing Microsoft, they will simply call it Windows "something" like Windows For Phones, Windows For Devices, and Windows for Tablets. This is a company that doesn't get branding, and it's only a matter of time before we have to deal with names like Windows for Phones With Keyboards 2012 R2 Special Edition. You know it's coming.)

Final thoughts

Sorry haters, but Windows Phone has no endemic issues, as do its popular but flawed competition. What it has, however, are teething issues. Microsoft can't move quickly enough, in my opinion, to fix the many tiny missing features and push this OS ahead to new form factors and usage scenarios. If everything goes as I see it, Windows Phone will replace Windows as Microsoft's mainstream computing OS, just as iOS will at Apple. That's how important it is, and I suspect we'll discover in 2011 whether Microsoft realizes this. It's going to be a big year.

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