Microsoft needs to entertain the mobile masses with a new update soon. It has been more than a year since the company announced Windows Phone 8 – it was in June of 2012 actually – though phones for the platform didn't arrive until this past fall. That's far too long in the mobile landscape. We love Windows Phone, but Microsoft can't afford to sit around while Google and Apple move forward so quickly.
iOS 7 is already available for developers which – guess what? – means that they have early access for creating new applications or revamping existing apps. Google just announced Android 4.3, which is rolling out today to several devices. Again, developers have the chance to quickly improve apps and build new ones that take advantage of the new features, such as support for streaming content to Google's brand new Chromecast dongle.
Windows Phone 8? Well, it's still lagging in the app department. In fact, the ecosystem is one reason most reviewers still complain about new Windows Phone devices. Sure, you can use Vine or Instagram, but you'll need to buy third party applications. Android and iOS already offer far more features than Windows Phone and now, with each passing month, that gap is widening.
I don't know what Microsoft's planning with Windows Phone right now and that's a problem. Will Microsoft have its own unique devices that help move the platform beyond smartphones and on to our TVs? The Xbox 360 already serves as a solid extension, though it costs far more than Google's $35 Chromecast device. Will Microsoft completely rebuild Windows Phone? I hope not – that probably won't be good for developers and the UI is already really solid. It's just that… you're severely limited with what you can do on Windows Phone. The sharing options aren't as robust, the apps aren't great – though they are improving – and the platform hasn't changed a bit since it was introduced 13 months ago. Meanwhile, Nokia has the burden of making Windows Phone interesting, and it's doing a fantastic job with incredible hardware in the form of the Lumia 920, Lumia 925, Lumia 928 and the most recent Lumia 1020 with a 41-megapixel camera. Seriously, without those devices I'd leave the platform for dead in the U.S.
Fragmentation is obviously a major problem, and Microsoft can control it by keeping updates to a minimum. But, waiting more than a year before giving consumers a bit of a look into what's coming is dangerous. iOS is updated every year and Android, as we all know, is perhaps updated too often, but both strategies keep the platforms fresh and excitement high. Microsoft doesn't seem to know this, and its competitors probably love it.
For example, Google today said that its Chromecast device will support the platforms everyone uses: iOS and Android. Ouch. Burn for Windows Phone and BlackBerry, but it's true. Developers haven't flocked to Windows Phone because it's expensive to create an application for such a small audience, and that creates a sad never-ending circle.
"I eat because I'm fat and I'm fat because I eat," a character in an Austin Powers movie once said. The same problem applies to Windows Phone: it has a small user base because it lacks apps, and it lacks apps because it has a small user base.
I think we'll see something new from Microsoft this fall, but if Microsoft again leaves older devices out of the big update, then it really doesn't bode well for the consumers that already appreciate the platform. If the update only includes support for higher-resolution displays, then Windows Phone will fall even farther behind Google and Apple. Microsoft needs to get on the horn and start alerting the public that something new is coming, that it will support a range of existing devices and that it's continuing to push the boundaries of its mobile OS.