Hello, my name is Scott, and I am a Windows Phone user. I have been for many years. Take a moment for that to sink in as you survey your surroundings… chances are that no one else in your vicinity can say the same. Windows-based phones are the extreme minority in a smartphone market dominated by Android and iOS devices, and their share is only shrinking more. However, some compelling features are currently being introduced for the platform that may convince me to stick around a bit longer.

Why Windows Phone?

As the smartphone analyst here at gap intelligence, I attempt to justify my nonsensical loyalty to the Windows Phone OS as something that fosters a well-rounded analyst perspective. Sure, lots of us can discuss Android or iOS without hesitation, but how many can actually speak toward Windows Phone, beyond just the platform’s lack of apps? Plus, the photo-enthusiast inside of me needed that Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 40-megapixel action!

The Windows Phone OS started life as Microsoft’s promising alternative to Android and iOS roughly five years ago, with the tech-giant touting the platform as the third true mobile ecosystem. The Windows Phone 7 UI aligned nicely with the vendor’s Xbox interface, and later, its Windows 8 PC OS. Admittedly, I was excited for a cross-platform experience from Microsoft. However, my patience has been tested over these past several years as I wait for the platform to grow into its promises, but sadly, it is only getting weaker.

Windows Store apps

Photo Credit: mspoweruser.com

Features Lost

What started as the shining differentiators of the Windows Phone OS, have now been mostly phased-out or discontinued. Facebook integration was central to the Windows Phone OS in the beginning, drawing envy from onlookers as I showed how tightly integrated my phone was with social networks. This included seeing friends’ recent activity from Facebook as I went to call/text them, in many cases prompting surprise from them that I had “checked Facebook to see their updates.” I had not, my Windows Phone just displayed that type of information front-and-center.

Sadly, the seamless Facebook integration that the Windows Phone OS was known for ended recently, leaving me to click through the social network’s stand-alone app to get updates. On that same note, several of my phone’s apps are still in “beta” after many years, with Instagram as the most noteworthy. While the rest of the world was allowed to Instagram in different aspect ratios and record videos, Windows Phone users were left in the dark. Perhaps more troubling is the instant messaging feature within Instagram that has not made its way to the Windows Phone OS, meaning that I never received any of those messages you sent! Much like the “beta” problem, app makers are not investing resources for Windows Phones, leaving many popular functions to be handled by finicky third party apps. You may have read recently that gap intelligence is on now Periscope, well I will be the one using “Telescope” for Periscope in order to participate.

Lumia unit sales graph

The Journey

Like Microsoft, my journey with the Windows Phone OS has had its high points and low points, most recently brought on by the downward momentum of the OS. Over the life of the Windows Phone OS, Microsoft and Nokia sold a total of 110 million handsets, a staggeringly small number compared to the 4.5 billion iOS and Android phones that were sold within the same period. Microsoft’s latest financials showed sales of only 4.5 million Lumia devices for the recent quarter, compared to 10.5 million during the same period last year. That represents a massive one-year drop of 57% for the already minority OS!

Interestingly, I can plot my own personal path through Windows Phone handsets along this same chart to directly correlate my happiness levels against Microsoft’s own sales numbers.

Lumia unit sales graph

As you can see, the cycle of my happiness and Windows Phone hardware sales follow a similar trend for one major reason: Microsoft has not released any compelling Lumia handsets. Fans were eagerly awaiting the launch of the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, but both came as disappointing flagships with an unfinished Windows 10 Mobile OS. This caused me to just get a pay-as-you-go handset to tide me over as I await something worthy of attention.

Windows Phone retail trend graph

Data from gap intelligence’s smartphone retail tracking service shows a similar downward trend. Within the past year, Windows Phone devices fell from a peak of 41 placements to having 26 in the first quarter of 2016. This represents a share of only 3% out of the 788 total models tracked this quarter, compared to Android’s 70% share and iOS’ 26% share. The average selling price of Windows devices clearly shows a preference for novice price bands, and the majority of placements for the OS occur in the prepaid segment. Average pricing for Windows Phones was already below $200, but compared to one year ago, prices have dropped 15%. This places their average just above $150 despite a boost from the entrance of the more expensive Lumia 950 at the end of 2015 ($598 outright).

Instead of delivering in-demand smartphones, Microsoft’s phone strategy is centered around simple budget SKUs and making apps for other OS platforms rather than addressing its own users. Two years ago, Microsoft viewed mobile as such an important arena that it was worth spending $5.4 billion on buying Nokia’s handset business, later to be dissolved and logged as a $5.7 billion write-off.

Windows Phone

Photo Credit: winphans.com

MWC 2016 Brings Hope

At the 2016 Mobile World Congress, HP launched a flagship Windows 10 smartphone dubbed the Elite X3, which has features that justify what many Windows users are waiting for. The handset is led by a 5.9-inch Quad HD AMOLED display and powered by a Snapdragon 820 processor, placing it in line with many of the market’s top devices. Like the Lumia 950 models, HP’s Elite X3 boasts support for Microsoft’s Continuum, which aims to transform a smartphone into a PC by using a dock. Attaching the phones to the accessory dock allows users to interact using a standard monitor, as well as a mouse and keyboard. The dock turns the phone’s UI into a Windows-esque environment that is very similar to the Start Menu and desktop found on a Windows 10 PC, and enables the use of Microsoft’s universal Windows 10 apps.

Universal Windows 10 apps and having Continuum sound like the experiences that I was looking for from the start with the Windows Phone OS, so I am sticking with the it for a little while longer. I only hope that more of Microsoft’s hardware partners follow HP's lead, and take the Windows 10 phone concept a bit more seriously!