Why THAT phone?

We first bought a Windows phone, the Nokia Lumia 920, when it came out in late 2012. I was still using a Blackberry for work, although I had a lot of hands-on experience with both iPhone and Android devices. My wife was upgrading to this phone from an iPhone 3GS, which she liked well enough, although it wasn’t compelling.

She had a iPod 5 (pre-touch) that she liked, although I tried to explain that subscription music was the future and that we shouldn’t be buying songs one at a time. (I had a Rhapsody/Napster account at the time.) As parents of three young kids, we wanted to take great pictures and the iPhone did not deliver. (We’d been into digital photography since the late 1990s.)  The iPhone also required proprietary cables—and really awful software on the desktop.

My impression of iPhones was that they were beautiful but also pretty limited, well made—although the iPhone 4 with its glass back and weird radio problems made a lot of people question that. I thought they were full of lots of lock-in and inflexible. I was really turned off by Steve Jobs’ arrogance and personal style. I was not impressed with the extremely disorganized and rudimentary operating system, and certainly wanted nothing to do with iTunes or the larger Apple ecosystem.

The MacBook Pro my wife used had been the only computer in our family to encounter a virus, and I was generally not impressed with the laptop. iOS did offer good, but basic and decentralized, options for parental controls, something that was important to me, since my daughter would soon be getting a phone. (That also meant that I needed to text and communicate in ways that my work device could not accommodate.)

Android offered a mystifying range of choices, much as PCs did. LG? HTC? Sony? Samsung? I had picked up a Motorola Xyboard tablet running Android. It was great for what it was, an alternative to an iPad, which had been released the year before. At the time, I had a Google “family” account—grandfathered now, the kind they no longer offer—that provided great options for managing Google services.  There was not much at all there in the way of parental controls.

The Lumia 920 was made by Nokia, a company with an unparalleled reputation for build quality (see the video above). It was, if anything, more visually appealing than the iPhone, and better designed. It had a camera button. It was running Windows Phone 8. Microsoft had fantastic parental controls through the Live.com service and on the XBox360. What really sold me was the integrated vision of the Windows Phone operating system and the great camera.

Microsoft designed the Windows Phone operating system around the idea of hubs, built-in system apps that deeply integrated apps and increased productive use of the system. At the center was the People hub, a system app that integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. You could, for example, click on a contact and see their recent social media updates (“what’s new”), or your recent email or phone conversations. You could select a group of people and see and their Facebook updates in one place, never leaving the hub, without FB deciding what posts you should see.

The phone OS was full of innovative features such as rooms for sharing files (integrated with OneDrive, then called SkyDrive) and scheduling (and which enabled the social-media grouping, above)—it even had a built-in “family room”—kids room, which allowed you to share your phone with someone else but limit their activity to approved games and other options. Driving Mode, Data Sense, NFC wallet/payments (which wouldn’t actually be realized until years later when a bank wrote an app to utilize this) and other features were years ahead of their time. It had better multitasking and security other OSes.

2012 was also the year of Windows 8, when Microsoft realized it was missing the boat on mobile and tablet computing, and tried to catch up, getting too far ahead of its customers. Although I loved Windows 8—probably in part because of how well it jived with Windows Phone—most people did not agree.

Still, Windows phones weren’t the market leaders. BlackBerry still was a contender, although in freefall. Android, iPhone and Windows phones were all players, in that order (as they are today). Windows phones had a respectable market share at the time, holding at about 7% IIRC, although Gartner/IDC were predicting that they would grow and eventually overtake iPhones. This was probably based on the assumption that as BlackBerry dried up, corporate users would rush to Microsoft.

In hindsight, what they missed was how little the corporate market would matter, capitulating instead to the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend that enthralled corporate leaders. What the diagram below fails to capture is the incredibly explosive growth of the consumer smartphone market, and that growth was going to Android and to iOS.

Nokia had by far the best and most advanced smartphone cameras, particularly the camera in the 920. The Lumia line had a compelling array of accessories, supporting cool things like wireless charging and NFC, years ahead of Apple and many Android phones. Nokia was by far the leading manufacturer of Windows phones at the time, innovating ahead of Microsoft in many ways. HTC and others were also pushing the platform and making attractive devices for Windows and other platforms. Nokia had bet everything on Windows phones.

We decided on the Windows phone, paying close attention to the pros and cons, since I was expecting to have to give up my work phone the next year and buy my own personal smartphone for the first time.

Coming soon: Google’s fall from grace, and the Lumia 1020


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