Flashback: a decade of Microsoft’s failed attempts to break into the phone market – GSMArena.com News – GSMArena.com | Hot Mobile Press

Microsoft and Verizon somehow managed to kill the Kin phones twice. The first generation came out in 2010 and was designed by Danger – the company behind the Hiptop (aka T-Mobile Sidekick). Danger was home to the likes of Andy Rubin and Matias Duarte, which people familiar with Android history should know pretty well.

We’ve covered the Kin story before, now we wanted to focus on what happened in the decade that followed. Well, it seems that Kin’s fate was sealed from the start since the Windows Phone 7 platform was announced in early 2010.



Development of the Metro user interface: Zune HD
Development of the Metro user interface: Windows Phone 7

Evolution of the Metro user interface: Zune 2nd generation • Zune HD • Windows Phone 7

Originally, Microsoft thought it could follow the same game plan as Windows Mobile, with the PC—licensing the software, letting others take care of the hardware. The company made some hardware demands that held back early WP7 phones. For example, initially only the WVGA resolution (480 x 800 pixels) was supported. There was also an approved list of chipsets, leaving WP7 phones behind Android in the CPU core count race.

You can read our first Windows Phone 7 review. The list of cons tells the tale 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

Despite all that, later in 2010 the first WP7 phones came out, coming from different manufacturers – HTC, Samsung, LG and even Dell. All of them were already making Android devices, but now the maker of the dominant desktop operating system (and one of the standout mobile operating systems of years before) had joined the game. Would this be the end of the fledgling Android operating system? Well, in hindsight, no, not at all. Speaking of which, Microsoft employees were a bit premature in holding a mock funeral for the iPhone given the success of Windows Phone.

Let’s take a look at these early offers. There was the HTC HD7, a successor to the legendary HD2. There was also the HTC 7 Pro, which included a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, as did the HTC Arrive, which harked back to the “communicator” style devices HTC built in the early days. The HTC 7 Surround had an extendable speaker instead, which was an odd choice considering the early versions of WP7 weren’t great for music (there wasn’t an equalizer for one).


HTC HD7
HTC 7 pro
HTC arrive
HTC 7 surround

HTC HD7 • HTC 7 Pro • HTC Arrival • HTC 7 Surround

While HTC has been responsible for most of the roster, there are others. Like a sequel to Samsung’s Omnia, the original being one of the more impressive Windows Mobile devices. LG has integrated its own famous Optimus smartphone brand with the LG E900 Optimus 7. The Dell Venue Pro looked like a reliable business phone with its vertically extending keyboard and eyes on the BlackBerrys.


Samsung I8700 Omnia 7
LG E900 Optimus 7
Dell VenuePro

Samsung I8700 Omnia 7 • LG E900 Optimus 7 • Dell Venue Pro

For 2011, Microsoft managed to secure cooperation with the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world – Nokia. The new Lumia series debuted with the Lumia 800 and 710. Since the Finns were in a hurry, they reused most of the Nokia N9 hardware in making the Lumia 800. These two were the only WP7 phones that Microsoft’s new key partner managed to deliver, which took the wind out of Windows Phone 7’s sails a bit.


Nokia Lumia 800
Nokia Lumia 710

Nokia Lumia 800 • Nokia Lumia 710

Both were powered by the Snapdragon S2, one of the few chipsets on Microsoft’s approved list. With a single CPU core, things were looking a bit weak for the end of 2011 considering that the LG Optimus 2X got the Guinness World Records as the first dual-core phone in May. This is one of those occasions where limited hardware support has dragged WP7 down.

Of course it wasn’t WP7 anymore, Microsoft released a new version called Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”. In September it was already rolled out for older devices and the Lumias were ready to go right out of the box.

Flashback: A decade of Microsoft's failed attempts to retake the phone market

This is what the launch version of Windows Phone should have looked like – as we note in our review, it added major features like multitasking and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality, as well as smaller ones such as: B. the ability to select a local file as a ringtone. By mid-2012, the update was practically mandatory as the Windows Marketplace required v7.5 for downloads.

The original 7.0 version was woefully incomplete, but later in 2012 we realized the situation was much worse – Windows Phone 8 was announced in June and it was soon confirmed that older devices would not be updated, so they are no longer on the existing 7 .x branch.

Why? Well, there was a reason WP7 phones were falling behind in the CPU core count race. Despite external similarities, the two operating systems were very different inside – WP7 was based on the Windows CE core (which previously powered Windows Mobile), WP8 was based on the new Windows RT (which powered Windows 8 tablets). This enabled multi-core support, superior graphics with higher resolution screens, NFC and more.

Flashback: A decade of Microsoft's failed attempts to retake the phone market

As a consolation prize, the older phones received the Windows Phone 7.8 update, which polished the user interface but didn’t address the hard core limitations of the operating system.

We haven’t mentioned apps yet, but it’s high time we did. Every new operating system starts with a limited set of apps it can run, which is a pain as smartphones are all about the apps. However, WP8 was so different from WP7 that software developed for the original 2010 and 2011 phones just wouldn’t run on the new ones, forcing the developers to start over.

Flashback: A decade of Microsoft's failed attempts to retake the phone market

In 2013, Microsoft officially announced the acquisition of Nokia’s Devices & Services units. The €5.4 billion deal made Microsoft the leading maker of Windows Phone devices as other brands scaled back their involvement.

The deal was finalized in 2014 and a rebranding to change “Nokia Lumia” to “Microsoft Lumia” began in October. Other manufacturers were still in the game, but only just – Lumia phones made up 90% of phones using the platform at the time.

Flashback: A decade of Microsoft's failed attempts to retake the phone market

Microsoft went ahead and introduced Windows 10 in 2015, which was supposed to be the last version of Windows. Just a day later, it announced the mobile version of the operating system. This has also undergone a rebrand, dropping the “phone” and returning to “mobile” – Windows 10 Mobile.

Unsurprisingly, a long list of Lumias have been heralded as the first devices to update to 10. Microsoft wouldn’t repeat the same mistake and leave its users stranded on an old operating system while it starts over.

Flashback: A decade of Microsoft's failed attempts to retake the phone market

However, the Lumia 1020, a Windows successor to the Nokia 808 PureView, wasn’t invited to the party; that was left at WP8.1. However, the Lumia 930 and the huge Lumia 1520 (a good 6-inch seems compact these days) climbed to 10.

We’d like to go back to the Lumia 920 from 2012 (which was also stuck in WP8.1) for a moment. It was the first phone to feature optical image stabilization, aka OIS, which gave it PureView credibility (at least according to Nokia itself). It also inherited the multiple aspect ratio of the 808, where it could shoot both 4:3 and 16:9 images while losing as little resolution as possible. Incidentally, the promotion for the Lumia 920 got Nokia into trouble.


Nokia Lumia 1020
Nokia Lumia 930
Nokia Lumia 1520
Nokia lumia 920

Nokia Lumia 1020 • Nokia Lumia 930 • Nokia Lumia 1520 • Nokia Lumia 920

In 2015, the Lumia fountain dried up, but it ended with a bang – the Lumia 950 and 950 XL were launched in late 2015. These were the best Windows phones ever made. However, there were only a handful of Lumias that launched with Windows 10 Mobile, the other two being the Lumia 550 and 650.


Microsoft Lumia 950
Microsoft Lumia 950XL
Microsoft Lumia 550
Microsoft Lumia 650

Microsoft Lumia 950 • Microsoft Lumia 950 XL • Microsoft Lumia 550 • Microsoft Lumia 650

Launching in 2016, the Lumia 650 was the last of its kind. In 2017, Microsoft pulled the plug on WP8.1 when Joe Belfiore said bug fixes and security patches will continue, but there will be no new features for the phones, that get stuck on 8.x.

In January 2019, Microsoft began recommending Windows Phone users to switch to Android or iOS. It officially said goodbye in December, promising to only support Office apps for current devices by January 2021.

Microsoft had given up on developing its own operating system for smartphones, but it wasn’t out of the smartphone market yet. In 2020, it introduced the dual-screen Surface Duo. It ran Android, but Microsoft heavily customized the UI with ideas for powerful split-screen multitasking. It wasn’t a foldable phone, but it shared some of the same pros (and cons).

It was followed by the Surface Duo 2, which improved on some early flaws (particularly around the camera, battery, and lack of cover display), but these devices are still niche products and not serious contenders in the market.


Microsoft Surface Duo
Microsoft Surface Duo 2

Microsoft Surface Duo • Microsoft Surface Duo 2

There should be a larger Surface Neo (with two 9-inch displays) that should run Windows 10X instead of Android, but with the same multitasking UI ideas. However, the project was delayed and later quietly shelved. So is Windows 10X itself, for that matter.

For what it’s worth, some of the work done on 10X was released with Windows 11 (10 really wasn’t the last release). Windows 11 can run ARM-based Android apps on x86 PCs and x86 Windows apps on ARM hardware. Microsoft finally has the unified operating system it dreamed of, not that it would make a difference to its smartphone ambitions. Today, Microsoft sees the smartphone market as an opportunity to sell apps and services, not phones.

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