Rewind a decade to see Microsoft’s futile attempts to retake the smartphone industry

Rewind a decade to see Microsoft's futile attempts to retake the smartphone industry

Tech Highlights:

  • Evolution of Metro UI: 2nd gen Zune Evolution of Metro UI: Zune HD Evolution of Metro UI: Windows Phone 7. Evolution of Metro UI: 2nd gen Zune • Zune HD • Windows Phone 7. Originally Microsoft thought it could follow the same game plan as with Windows Mobile and indeed the PC – license the software, let others worry about the hardware. The company did set some requirements for the hardware, which held back early WP7 handsets. For example, only WVGA (480 x 800px) resolution was supported initially. There was also an approved list of chipsets, which made WP7 handsets lag behind Android in the CPU core count race.

  • Despite all odds, Microsoft and Verizon were able to kill the Kin phones twice. The first generation was created by Danger, the company that created the Hiptop, and it was released in 2010. (aka T-Mobile Sidekick). People familiar with the history of Android should be aware that Danger was where people like Andy Rubin and Matias Duarte lived. Having previously discussed the Kin saga, we now wished to concentrate on what took place in the decade that followed. It appears that Kin’s fate was predetermined from the start because the Windows Phone 7 platform was unveiled in early 2010.

You can read our early review of Windows Phone 7. The Cons list tells the story of a severely undercooked OS – no copy/paste, no multitasking, no USB mass storage mode, no system-wide file manager, no Wi-Fi tethering and so on and so on. Hubs were a core idea of Windows Phone 7 Hubs were a core idea of Windows Phone 7 Hubs were a core idea of Windows Phone 7 Hubs were a core idea of Windows Phone 7 Hubs were a core idea of Windows Phone 7. Hubs were a core idea of Windows Phone 7

Let’s have a look at those early offerings. There was the HTC HD7, a successor to the legendary HD2. There was also the HTC 7 Pro, which packed a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, as did the HTC Arrive, which hearkened back to the “communicator” style devices that HTC was building in the early days. The HTC 7 Surround had a slide-out speaker instead, which was an odd choice, considering that the early versions of WP7 weren’t great for music (there was no equalizer for one).

Despite all that, later in 2010 the first WP7 phones launched, hailing from several different makers – HTC, Samsung, LG and even Dell. All of them were already making Android devices, but now the maker of the dominant desktop OS (and one of the standout mobile OSes of years prior) had joined the game. Would this be the end of the fledgling Android OS? Well, with the benefit of hindsight, no, not at all. Since we’re on the topic of hindsight, Microsoft employees were a bit premature when they held a mock funeral for the iPhone, certain in the success of Windows Phone.

While HTC was responsible for most of the roster, there others too. Like a sequel to the Omnia from Samsung, the original being one of the more impressive Windows Mobile devices. LG chipped in its own famous smartphone brand, Optimus, with the LG E900 Optimus 7. The Dell Venue Pro looked like a reliable business phone with its vertical slide-out keyboard and its eyes set on the BlackBerrys.

For 2011 Microsoft managed to secure the collaboration of the biggest smartphone maker in the world – Nokia. The new Lumia series made its debut with the Lumia 800 and 710. Since the Finns were in a hurry, they reused most of the Nokia N9 hardware when making the Lumia 800. Those two were the only WP7 phones that Microsoft’s new key partner managed to deliver, which took some of the wind out of Windows Phone 7. Both were powered by the Snapdragon S2, one of the few chipset on Microsoft’s approved list. With a single CPU core it looked a bit underpowered for late 2011, considering that in May the LG Optimus 2X made it into the Guinness book of records as the first dual-core phone. This is one of the occasions where the limited hardware support was dragging WP7 down.

Of course, it wasn’t WP7 anymore, Microsoft released a new version dubbed Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”. By September it was already rolling out to older devices and the Lumias came with it out of the box. Flashback: a decade of Microsoft’s failed attempts to reconquer the phone market. This is what the launch version of Windows Phone should have looked like – as we note in our review, it added important features like multitasking and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality, plus smaller ones like letting you pick a local file for a ringtone. By mid-2012 the update was effectively mandatory as the Windows Marketplace required v7.5 for downloads.

The original version 7.0 was woefully incomplete, but later in 2012 we found out that the situation was much worse – Windows Phone 8 was announced in June and soon it was confirmed that older devices will not be updated, leaving them stuck on the now defunct 7.x branch. Why? Well, there was a reason WP7 phones were behind in the CPU core count race. Despite external similarities, the two OSes were very different on the inside – WP7 was based on the Windows CE core (which powered Windows Mobile before that), WP8 was based on the new Windows RT (which powered Windows 8 tablets). This is what enabled multi-core support, superior graphics with higher resolution screens, NFC and more.

Flashback: a decade of Microsoft’s failed attempts to reconquer the phone market
As a consolation prize, the older phones were given the Windows Phone 7.8 update, which spruced up the UI, but didn’t address the core limitations of the OS. We haven’t mentioned apps until now, but it is high time we do. Any new OS starts with a limited set of apps it can run, which is painful since smartphones are all about the apps. However, WP8 was so different than WP7 that software developed for the original phones from 2010 and 2011 just wouldn’t run on the new ones, forcing developers to start from scratch.

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