Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why I will not buy a Microsoft Lumia flagship anytime soon

Microsoft is rumored to be working on two Windows 10 Mobile flagships, that would serve as replacements for the aging, Nokia-made, Lumia 930 and Lumia 1520. 

Future Man Looking

On paper, both look great, with specs that match those of high-end Android smartphones. And Windows 10 Mobile is not too shabby either, featuring lots of improvements over its predecessor. As someone who is frequently shopping in this segment, I should consider at least one of them as my next smartphone. However, going down this road again feels like a huge mistake.

After taking everything into account, the cons clearly outweigh the pros. It does not help that I currently use an iPhone 6 Plus, which constantly reminds me why I am not longer rocking a Windows Phone flagship as my daily driver. There is a whole host of reasons why I do not plan to buy a Lumia flagship in the foreseeable future, and here are the most important.

1. Resale Value
Resale value is entirely irrelevant during the time one uses a device. It will not make the experience any better or worse. But it will make you think long and hard when time comes to shop for a replacement. And since I am not Bill Gates nor Satya Nadella, the prospect of owning a Windows 10 Mobile device, knowing that I will lose lots of money in the end, is not really all that appealing.
After buying two Windows Phone flagships, trying to sell them at decent prices and failing completely, I have realized that very few people are interested in high-end Windows Phones in the second-hand market. The low market share that Windows Phone commands plays into their resale value, and so do plummeting retail prices and gray market imports.
High-end Windows 10 Mobile offerings could fare better in this regard, but I am not willing to bet on it with my own money. It will take a while to change the public's perception.
2. Unclear Long-Term Strategy
Microsoft's track record concerns me. Since the software giant took control of Nokia's Devices & Services business, in April of last year, it has not released a single Windows Phone flagship with its own branding. I have to put that into perspective, because, the way I see it, Microsoft could make the same mistake again.
Microsoft could release two, very attractive, Windows 10 Mobile flagships, then spend a lot of time on the operating system's successor, and introduce nothing completely new until it is ready for prime time. There is no clear strategy for Windows 10 Mobile and the future of the Lumia brand.
At least with other vendors you know where you stand: for instance, Apple replaces its iPhones in September, and Samsung releases a new version of Galaxy S and Galaxy Note devices every year. Knowing what to expect is extremely important, and, right now, we have no idea when Microsoft will release Windows 10 Mobile, let alone if it will stick to a predictable release schedule.

3. Android and iOS Matter More
No matter how much Microsoft would like you to believe that it treats Windows Phone, and Windows 10 Mobile, as a priority, you only have to look at some of its recent app purchases to realize that this is not the case. With the exception of Wunderlist, which has been available to Windows users since September of last year, neither Outlook (formerly known as Accompli) nor Sunrise can be currently had on Windows Phone or Windows 8.x. Should I even mention the Office suite, which debuted in its current form on iOS?

This will change come Windows 10 Mobile, as at least Outlook will be integrated in the upcoming operating system, but what will happen when Microsoft decides to buy another new, very popular app? How long will you have to wait? Why should you wait? It is a question I struggle to answer without sounding like an apologist. "Soon" is not good enough. "Now" is, and Microsoft cannot meet that.

If you want the best of what Microsoft has to offer, and you want it now, the best place to find its offerings is Apple's App Store, followed by Google's Play. Microsoft's own Store is like a ghost town, and it looks like it will remain so for the time being.

4. Yeah, Yeah, the Apps
There are two sides to the app problem that Windows Phone has, and Windows 10 Mobile will have. The first concerns the number of quality apps that are available in Store. This is clearly much, much lower than in App Store or Play. There is no question about it. Does it matter? To me it does, because I am the sort of person who likes to keep their options open. Windows 10 Mobile will not give me that.

The second concerns the quality of apps that are available in Store. If you have not used Android or iOS, suffice to say that virtually every app is of a higher quality on App Store or Play. Updates are released at a faster pace, there are more features available, and, generally speaking, they look nicer too.

Apps do not matter to everyone who is using a Windows smartphone, but for those that like living in 2015 the prospect of buying a high-end, really expensive flagship that is clearly inferior in this regard when compared to top-of-the-line Android smartphones and iPhones is highly unappealing.

5. Where Are the Benefits?
A bit of context: late last year, I made the switch to an iPhone 6 Plus from a Windows Phone flagship (a Lumia 920, to be exact, running Windows Phone 8.1). I have no regrets. So, I have to ask, what has changed in the Windows ecosystem to make me want to go back? Or, better put, what do I have to gain by making the switch to a Windows 10 Mobile flagship?

My iPhone 6 Plus does everything well, better than I expected in fact. I am really happy with its performance, camera, battery life, build quality, support from my carrier, and, not to mention, the app store. I expect its replacement to be even better.

Granted, I have no crystal ball in front of me to shows me whether Microsoft can one up Apple, but, looking at the high-end market as a whole, it is more than likely that, hardware-wise, the main players will have closely-matched offerings. There is no clear-cut leader now, and there will not be one in the coming months.

The differences will lie with the software, and this is one area where, no matter how different Windows 10 Mobile is to iOS 8 and the upcoming iOS 9, Microsoft will struggle to convince me that its devices are worth the asking price. Yes, the operating system looks like nothing that is on the market today, but are those features alone worth it?

I have used Windows 10 Mobile, and, to be perfectly honest, there is little that truly excites me about it. To me, having the more mature ecosystem and developer support is critical in this segment. Windows 10 Mobile has the potential to level things out, but until that happens, I do not see another flagship running the tiled operating system in my pocket anytime soon.