In Memoriam: Farewell, Windows Mobile

Was Windows Mobile simply misunderstood or was it just a mistake?

Windows Phone

This past December saw the end of what was, at one stage, the third most used smartphone operating system, behind iOS and Android. While it was considered by many to be the black sheep of the smartphone OS market, I actually found it to be pretty darn good, which is why I am mourning the loss of Windows Mobile.

I must admit I have not used Windows Mobile for some time. I owned one of the first Nokia smartphones to be powered by Windows 7 Mobile, then later owned the Nokia Lumia 925. I should also point out that many companies built hardware for Windows 7 Mobile, including HTC, Samsung and LG. Unfortunately, the quality of the Lumia smartphones diminished great following the Nokia sold its smartphone business to Microsoft, and I didn’t continue supporting the system from that point on.

Despite this fact, I really loved Windows Mobile. I was a little late to the party, only picking up my first smartphone in 2011. This phone was the Nokia Lumia 710, an entry level device, and the little brother to the Lumia 800. Even thought this was a low end device, it was still a great phone. iOS had been going for a few years and had been built upon in that time, making it a little cumbersome in places, while Android was a former digital camera OS rejigged for smartphones. Windows 7 Mobile, having been created later than these two, was able to seamlessly work features in that their predecessors had to tack on.

The Windows 7 Mobile UI was very simple to use. Utilising design choices based on the Windows Personal Computer operating system, it featured two main screens. The home screen featured shortcuts to your apps, much like the desktop, and a swipe from the right opened up the app drawer, which listed your apps alphabetically.

Windows Mobile also had one feature that I loved and has not been bettered on other smartphone OS’, live tiles. Each app shortcut takes the form of a tile on the home screen. Tiles throw up information about the app, so for instance SMS will show message previews, weather will show you a weather preview, and the photo gallery shows pictures from the camera roll. It was a minor feature but it really separated Windows Mobile from the crowd.

The system was smooth, and quick. The Lumia could take a half decent picture too — while it wasn’t the greatest snapper on the market, it did me proud. I should also note that the Lumia 800 took a fantastic picture, and also featured a superior build, being a much more solid, rugged phone. One downside is that many of the earlier Lumia handsets would not be upgradeable to Windows 8, meaning that any apps bought and not ported to the newer version would be lost, including the fantastic adaptation of the board game ZOMBIES!!!

This led to me eventually upgrading to the Nokia Lumia 925, and boy was it an upgrade. The 925 was a beast of a phone, and what everyone thinks of when you talk about the older Windows smart handsets; the phone that would break your toe should you dare to drop the phone without shoes on. The type of Nokia phone that people made memes about.

The Lumia 925 was a solid handset with an aluminum unibody, which made it sleeker than older Lumias such as the 800 or the more recent 920, which had thick, polycarbonate casings. Its secret weapon was the camera. Even at only 8 megapixels, it could capture detail in a way that only Samsung and Apple could dream of, thanks to the Karl Zeiss lense. As the brand new Windows 8 Mobile, it was performing significantly better than its desktop counterpart.

The 925 is probably the best phone I have ever had, but it wouldn’t last. While Microsoft slowly fixed issues with the Windows 8 desktop, the opposite seemed to happen with the mobile version. Each major update would add more features, but would seem to destabilise the platform. Each update appeared to bring more and more freezes and crashes.

When it came time to upgrade my Lumia 925, there had been a changing of the guard. The Lumia range had struggled, mostly down to its focus on the Windows Mobile platform, and a general lack of uptake vs the likes of Android. Microsoft purchased the smartphone arm of Nokia’s business, and had released the Microsoft Lumia. Early reports weren’t great, but how bad could it be?

It was bad. The Microsoft Lumia (with Windows 10 Mobile) didn’t offer any of the advantages of the Nokia Lumia. It wasn’t tough or rugged, it was flimsy and toy-like. The camera was hugely underwhelming and miles behind the competition, and even the Lumia 925, released two years prior. The battery was weedy, the system tried to tie the Windows 10 desktop and mobile stores together and failed, and even some websites would cause the entire phone to freeze and reboot.

It was a real mess. Windows always seemed to lack behind the competition with its apps; they often felt more akin to much older Android and iOS versions, missing modern features and such. But I always had the fantastic build quality of Nokia to fall back on, which was now gone. I sold the handset in the end, and moved to the Cyanogen powered Wileyfox Storm, which was surprisingly good for a cheap smartphone.

In the end, I ended up using Sailfish OS as my favoured operating system, although of late I’ve bit the bullet and purchased an Android powered Honor smartphone. It’s weird to feel nostalgic about something as trivial as a smartphone operating system, but I do really miss the old Windows Mobile. Those live tiles, the simplistic setup.

And I miss the (Nokia) Lumia. What a device, years ahead of the competition but with few buyers. I tried one of the new Nokia smartphones, they’re nice, but not the same. More to the point, we’re back to the old duopoly again. Will a third system ever enter the market in a major way? Yes, I think so, but I expect it to be from either Apple or Google.

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