Should You Buy A Windows Phone?

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Samsung / LG / HTC have a new Android phone that’s slightly bigger / smaller / faster with more something and an improved something else!

Apple’s next iPhone will be marginally bigger than the current zzzzz

. . .

Sorry. I dozed off.

Wow, is the bloom off that rose or what?

There’s more agreement than you might expect that Nokia is making the best designed phones on the market right now, and that Windows Phone 8 is a few steps ahead of Android and iOS for design and usability.

There’s a bit of an issue about apps, which we’ll talk about below.

If you’re an AT&T customer, take a look at the Lumia 1020, which is single-mindedly devoted to having an unbelievably excellent camera. It’s got a 41-megapixel image sensor that can take pictures rivaling DSLR cameras. It’s a little overwhelming for snapshots and probably only makes sense for people who care about their photos – but it’s the best phone on the market for those people.

The Lumia 1520 has a six inch screen, which is a little startling on first glance but is actually turning out to be a preferred size for many people, according to a recent New York Times column. The oversized screen is matched with a camera that is significantly better than all the competitors without being over the top.

Meanwhile, Verizon just got the brand new Lumia Icon, which might be the perfect phone. It’s big but not jumbo size, it has the same excellent camera as the Lumia 1520, and everything else about it is first class. It got a rave review from Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times last week:

“The Icon, which goes on sale this week for $199 with a two-year Verizon contract, has a lot to like: a graceful design, a brilliant display, a remarkable camera and an innovative set of microphones to make better-sounding home videos. The Icon runs Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system, which has a cleaner and more coherent user interface than Google’s Android, and a more flexible and more informative home screen than Apple’s iOS. . . . The Icon is just the latest in a series of fantastic Nokia Windows Phones, which have combined deep technical innovations (like the 41-megapixel camera in Nokia’s Lumia 1020) with a striking design sensibility. Nokia is making just about the best phones on the market today. Its lineup beats Samsung, HTC, and Motorola, and it is nearly on par with Apple.”

It might not be completely accurate to say that the article about the Lumia Icon was a rave review.

There was, how shall we say, some nuance.

Namely that according to Manjoo, anyone who buys a Windows phone is adopting an ecosystem that is “fundamentally hobbled,” “locked out,” and leads to a “second class digital existence.”

Really?

Okay, so he overwrites the lead. But then he goes on to make a nuanced point, which is actually hidden up at the top: “While the Icon is nice, you should not make it your next phone if you expect to be able to do everything with your phone that you can do on Android or iOS.”

Well, he’s right.

Part of the reason is my old mantra – it’s not the device, it’s the ecosystem. If you are deeply committed to Google, or deeply committed to Apple, you will be able to take advantage of synergies that are not identically mirrored on Windows phones. (Google Now is the best example. It’s amazing.) But the flip side of that is also true: if you are deeply committed to Microsoft, you will be able to take advantage of things that are not identically mirrored on Android or iOS phones. Most people will do best if they stick with one ecosystem.

But that’s not Manjoo’s real argument. His point is that at the moment, new apps are likely to appear for Android and iOS and may be delayed or never appear on Windows phones. It’s true. The question is whether that ought to disqualify Windows phones from being considered by anyone and everyone.

His generalization is that it will matter for everyone. My answer is that not everyone expects to be able to do everything with their phone that they can do on Android or iOS.

The small selection of apps won’t matter for people who are likely only to use apps that are available on all three platforms and who will not be upset if something isn’t available because it won’t occur to them to check. Those people – commonly over 40 and using their phone for business – are attracted to Windows phones because they’re well engineered, the interface is better than Android or iOS, and they provide a better experience for productivity.

If you had a Windows phone, would you be upset that Uber is not available yet? That YouTube is not as good as on an Android phone? Would you be upset that you couldn’t use (fill in the blank app)? Maybe. It’s more likely that the answer will be yes in a big city, or for frequent travelers. The apps in both cases are extraordinary on Android and iOS and many of them have no equal on Windows phones.

But for me, or my wife, or many of my clients? We love our Windows phones. And the Nokia Icon looks awesome. It’s got a camera that rivals most DSLRs. Some people don’t like the square design but it’s virtually identical to my current phone, the Lumia 928, and I love it. I’ve got a selection of apps that makes me happy every day and I don’t feel hamstrung by anything missing. I don’t go to the app store looking for new apps very often. Not my style.

There’s an interesting possibility on how this goes. It’s entirely possible that Windows Phone will become a respectable third place player in Europe, South America, developing countries, China – everywhere except the US. It will likely take the number two position, behind Android but ahead of the iPhone, in some countries. That’s already further along than you realize.

The question is whether that will be enough to attract developers and give it semi-equal footing for new apps any time soon. No one knows. Windows Phone could continue to be ignored and eventually that would bring the whole platform down, just like Manjoo suggests. But I’m not convinced that’s clear yet.

In the meantime, I’m having a great time with my Windows phone. Think about whether you might enjoy one too!