Is It The End of the Road For Wileyfox?

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Things are looking bad for Wileyfox, as a little over a month ago the company went into administration. For those who don’t know, Wileyfox is a rare beast, a UK based smartphone manufacturer. Wileyfox’s strategy was to product low-end handsets but give them a premium feel. After a promising start, things went downhill fast. Here’s how.

Wileyfox launched two handsets in 2015, the Storm and the Swift. The Swift the lower end model of the pair, sold for a little over £100, but it was the Storm that personally caught my eye. A large 5.5” screen which was bright and bold, a big device that still felt comfortable in the hand. It was plastic-based but the textured backing ensured it didn’t feel cheap and the brass coloured metal surrounding the camera gave the phone a classy look. The camera looked great on paper, too, boasting a 20 megapixel camera, but the tech and convoluted software behind it ensured pictures taken with the device looked disappointing.

I paid around £200 for a Storm and was very happy with it. People who know me know that I like to support the underdogs and the ‘other guys’. Previously, I had supported the Nokia Lumia devices and Windows Mobile OS, which by the way, is not as terrible as people would have you believe. I moved from Lumia after experiencing the Microsoft Lumia, which wasn’t a patch on its Nokia predecessor and genuinely one of the worst handsets I’d ever used. This posed a problem for me.

Few other companies were developing Windows handsets, and the Windows 10 Mobile OS seemed inferior to its 8.X counterpart. Not wanting to pay the ‘Apple tax’ or to get into bed with Android with its insecurities and Google’s shady data practices, I instead researched alternative operating systems and found Cyanogen OS.

Now, I’m no fool: I know Cyanogen OS is built from Google’s Android OS, and was still susceptible to the Play Store’s issues with security, but I liked the idea of supporting an alternative operating system and finding that Wileyfox came with Cyanogen already loaded onto it solidified my decision to support Wileyfox. In 2015, Cyanogen Inc’s Ceo Kirk McMaster said “We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head.” However, he would soon be coating his words in gravy, as he prepared to consume them.

Suddenly and unexpectedly on Christmas Eve 2016, Cyanogen Inc announced that they would be ending support of Cyanogen OS, and the final update would arrive on New Year’s Eve. This only came as a surprise to me, as it would seem that Cyanogen Inc had a poor track record when it came to treating its partners. Cyanogen went behind their partner Oneplus’ back and signed a deal with a Indian phone manufacturer, meaning that the Oneplus handsets created especially for the Indian market were essentially banned. Wileyfox lost its operating system with a weeks notice, and things were beginning to go terribly wrong.

In all fairness, Wileyfox were defiant. Just after the New Year, it announced that it would be switching to Android, and would be preparing the updates themselves, something which seemed pricey for such a small firm. The updates came fairly quickly, within months of Cyanogen’s end of support, but I was personally unimpressed. I didn’t like Android anyway, but the Storm suffered under the update’s operating system. The aging phone had become laggy and sluggish, as well as suffering from sudden crashes, which the Storm had rarely done before. Add to that an annoying Yandex news app was added to the home carousel, and the camera performance was worse under Android. Eventually, I begrudgingly moved away from Wileyfox.

Updates continued throughout 2017 — I’ve no idea how much it must cost to continuously develop updates for a number of handsets, but it can’t be cheap. Wileyfox, to their credit, tried something new, a brand new, non-Android smartphone. They announced the Wileyfox Pro, a Windows 10 Mobile powered smartphone. We all know what happened next, Microsoft announced they were ending support for Windows Mobile OS, although that wasn’t exactly true.

Microsoft didn’t announce the end of Windows Mobile, it merely announced it was stopping support for Windows 8.1 Mobile, which didn’t stop online news sources gleefully announcing the end of Microsoft’s smartphone ambitions. Engadget ran with: Microsoft officially ends support for Windows Phone, while The Verge went with Windows Phone dies today, all totally ignoring that Windows 10 Mobile was still alive and well. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Windows phones were long gone by the end of 2017, ignoring a few new handsets last year, including the Wileyfox Pro, which received decent reviews for a low end model.

But all of this wasn’t enough to save Wileyfox, despite shifting 600,000 units in their first year, the company went into administration at the start of February. The company is still active and you can still buy the devices from their official website, but for how long, who knows. It’s sad to see such bright beginnings for a small company turn to this, but it just goes to show that it’s not easy to be a phone manufacturer in 2018, especially if you don’t want to shake hands with Google.

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