Microsoft's latest Windows Phone 8 upgrade looks like a winner. But it's had winning upgrades before. Will this one be good enough to finally get the smartphone OS the breakthrough it needs?
The latest upgrade brings some solid changes to Windows Phone 8. One of the biggest is that it targets jumbo-sized phones and phablets, and will support 5-inch and 6-inch devices with 1080p HD displays. In addition, the OS now supports quad-core processors.
These are both big deals. The ability to run on quad-core processors is a must-have in the smartphone arms race. Also, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 shows that there's a big market for jumbo-sized phones, and Microsoft will now be able to compete in that market. The upgrade will allow Windows Phone to show six tiles on larger screens instead of four.
There's plenty more as well, as detailed on the Windows Phone blog. There's now a driving mode so that you can limit notifications, texts, and so on you get while you're driving. You can also lock your screen orientation, something that both iOS and Android offer, but that so far has been missing from Windows Phone. You can now more easily use your Windows Phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot for Windows 8.1 devices.
All this is very good stuff. But enough to help gain serious market share? The answer is no.
Microsoft is still bumping along at under a 4% worldwide market share, and only 3.2% of the U.S. market. Upgrades to the operating system by themselves won't help with that. Windows Phone's biggest problem is still the app gap. In August, Gartner warned that the app gap is seriously hurting Windows Phone's chance to gain market share. Nothing has changed since then. Last week Bloomberg reported that developers are shunning Microsoft, concluding:
Interviews with more than a dozen developers show that the odds remain stacked against Microsoft -- even with the Nokia deal, which is set to close in the first quarter of 2014. Developers said that while Nokia's handset business gives Microsoft a ready pipeline of Windows Phone devices, it isn't enough to overcome a lack of users, or the cost and confusion related to the technical specifications of writing for the company’s phone and tablet devices.
David Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School, told Bloomberg:
"The lack of applications that exists for the Windows platform is a critical deterrent in customer adoption."
That will be just as true after the upgrade as before it. So while this latest upgrade is a very nice one, apps are the key to Windows Phone's success more than any upgrades.