What Windows Phone needs the most (spoiler: It’s not apps)

Microsoft Windows Phone Ads

I try to refrain from writing articles telling companies what they “need” to do largely because it’s a fairly silly and pointless exercise for someone who has no inside knowledge of a company’s inner workings to lecture it on the direction it should take. That said, as a mobile consumer who plays around with a lot of different devices, I do think I’m qualified to advise Microsoft that it actually does need to come up with a reason for Windows Phone to exist other than just being another smartphone platform.

What do I mean by this? Well if someone asked me to sum up the best reasons to buy iOS, Android or BlackBerry devices, I could come up with concise sales pitches for each of them: iOS gives you the smoothest experience of all of them because of the way Apple tightly integrates it with its hardware; Android gives you a much bigger selection of device sizes to choose from as well as integration with Google’s super-useful web services; and BlackBerry is your best bet if you want the ability to securely and quickly hammer out messages on a mobile device.

When it comes to Windows Phone, I honestly don’t know how I’d respond. Not because Windows Phone is a bad operating system, mind you — in fact, it’s a very nice platform. But when it comes to that one thing it does better than any other platform out there, I’m just not sure I have a definitive answer.

Nokia came the closest to differentiating Windows Phone from the pack last year when it emphasized the Lumia 1020′s killer camera as its biggest selling point. However, that was much more about Nokia’s engineering prowess than Windows Phone’s virtues. Another strong Nokia ad did a nice job of making fun of overly devoted iOS and Android fans but again didn’t really do much to tell us why Windows Phone would be a superior alternative.

Microsoft has done a nice job of aggressively pushing out dirt-cheap Windows Phones that offer strong specs for a low price, which is one reason why it’s been surging lately in many European markets where it now holds a market share in the 10% range. That said, the vast majority of phone vendors out there — from Samsung to HTC to Huawei to LG to ZTE — are all still using Android and not Windows Phone for their flagship devices. Most of Windows Phone’s gains have come due to the efforts of Nokia and Microsoft knows that it will need more help to get the platform in more users’ hands.

So between now and the time it launches Windows Phone 8.1 at its Build conference in April this year, I think Microsoft might want to come up with a clear explanation why people should invest in the Windows Phone ecosystem the same way that iOS, Android and BlackBerry fans have invested in their favorite platforms. Because right now I’m having a tough time coming up with a reason other than, “It’s a very nice platform.”

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