As we come into Mobile World Congress 2015 in earnest this week, I’m reminded of a stark reality as a Windows Phone enthusiast. That reality is that beyond two devices that are both over a year old, Windows Phone has no flagship device. That, in itself, should not be news. If you are reading my site then you are likely a Windows Phone user or at the very least have a morbid curiosity on how the other 3.5% live (that’s the rough market share of Windows Phone) and know that there hasn’t been a flagship worthy Windows Phone in a long while. The last three devices of what many would consider “Flagship” were the Lumia 930 (Icon), the Lumia 1520 and you may be able to stretch and say the HTC M8 Windows Phone. The last of those was launched mid-year last year but the Lumia 1520 came out at the end of 2013 and the 930 early last year. In terms of half-life for mobile devices, that is an eternity. One could argue that the Lumia 830, the “affordable flagship” is a reasonable stop-gap but let’s be honest with ourselves here, it’s not a flagship device not matter what the marketing materials says.
Microsoft has been very busy on the low end of the market and you often hear the term “the next billion” when referring to the segment of the market that is moving from mobile phones to smartphones. There is, in many parts of the world, an untapped customer base, thus the next billion. But equally the argument could be made that Microsoft needs – indeed must – cater to the upper end of the market at the same time. They don’t have to look any further than their own competitors in the market to see this need yet seemingly are willing to ignore it. It is disappointing, frustrating and not helping win mind share around Windows Phone as a platform.
Today at Mobile World Congress, Samsung announced the Galaxy S6. Overall it looks roughly the same as the S5 and while there is the new S6 Edge along with it, fundamentally there isn’t much of a change. For Android fans – particularly Samsung fans – this may be disappointing. But what Samsung has done today is present their flagship device. It is likely a $700 device which sets the standard for their lineup of phones. Underneath it they will have other devices including last years S5, the S5 mini and other devices not to mention the other OEMs in the Android market who will produce the mid-to-low end devices. For Samsung, they know that in order to attract and keep attracting power users and enthusiasts, they have to produce a world class killer phone. While we can debate if the Galaxy S6 is a world beater, one this for sure is that it is the flagship.
If Samsung and Android isn’t your thing then take a look down the road in Silicon Valley at Apple. They too have a flagship device – two of them in fact. The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus have been, without a question, a huge success for Apple. In fact the iPhone division of Apple does more in sales than all of Microsoft. Think about that for a second…. Apple has included their latest and greatest features in the iPhone 6 lineup including things like ApplePay and arguably one of the best cameras in a smartphone out today. But they too realize, even as a premium brand, that not everyone can afford or is willing to buy a top-of-the-line device. Go to your local Apple store and you can still pick up an iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and yes, even an iPhone 4S (for free I might add). At one point that was a flagship phone so it isn’t sub-standard by any means. It’s merely been updated.
These are just two examples but should be sending unending alarm bells in Redmond. The volume is in the low-to-mid end of the market but the value is at the high end. At the high end is where you have the group who will defend the platform. You have those who will help through Microsoft Community or their own site (like this one) users who are new to the platform or don’t quite know how do to that particular thing on their Windows Phone. These are the ones who will stay up tonight at 2AM EST to hear Microsoft’s announcements of the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640XL, two mid-range phones that will be announced tomorrow. Yet at the same time they will grumble because there is no flagship in the Windows Phone lineup being announced.
It’s a shame and a big miss for Microsoft on the world’s biggest mobile stage, MWC.
I truly believe that the best days for Windows Phone are ahead. I believe that with the launch of Windows 10, the promise of universal apps for both Windows 10 PCs and Windows Phones will be the key thing that drives developers back to the platform. I believe that the user experience in Windows Phone 8.1 and what is coming in Windows 10 for Phones is what people want and need. Windows Phone is a personal, intimate experience. You cannot get that from Android and you cannot get that from iOS they way you can from Windows Phone. Your personally shines through on the Start screen of your Windows Phone through theme colors, wallpapers and Live Tiles, not that of the OEM. That’s a good thing – an important thing. But all of that promise and potential is lost if there is not a phone out there that can compete with the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6. Microsoft cannot wait until Windows 10 for Phones is out although that seems to be the mindset. That, in my opinion, will be too late.
Microsoft desperately needs a new flagship Windows Phone. Today. Not tomorrow.