Windows Phone 7, You Were Supposed To Be Great… So What Happened?

“Windows Phone 7 is the most aggressively different, fresh approach to a phone interface since the iPhone.” We published those words half a year ago, hoping WP7 would be a radical firebrand in phone land. But it’s stalled. We’re disappointed.

Our reasons for cheering WP7 were (and still are) manifold. No really. It’s pretty great. But last year’s great isn’t going to cut it.

It’s beautiful – superflat, minimal, modern, refreshing. Its aesthetic purity stands out in sea of turgid gradients, UI tromp d’oeil and fragmented Android hideousness.

It’s thoughtful. Rather than taking the Microsoft philosophy employed since tech time immemorial, the WP7 team flushed everything and began anew. Windows Phone 7 doesn’t play design catchup (which can’t be said of its desktop cousin). No cues from Android, no theft from Apple – the clean, tile-based UI is as functionally refreshing as it is visually pleasing. It’s simple, and simply good – intuitive and intelligent. The menus are without bloat, responsive and present information you want without flourish. Bottom line: WP7 required a lot of brain sweat, and not for nothing.

It was also, simply, an alternative. We like iOS – a lot! And Android has a lot of fantastic things going for it. But a two horse race is only good for the horses – a robust, lovely OS like WP7, with a fleet of good phones to carry it, could have shifted the whole smartphone brawl. Hooking up with Nokia will give WP7 the rocksolid hardware it needs, but Microsoft still needs to pony up the rocksolid software Nokia deserves. Without it, Microsoft (and its users) will continue to be spectators—Apple and Google have continued to duke it out while Microsoft sits ringside and puts on nail polish, gloves dangling idly at its side.

Get. In. The. God. Damn. Fight.

WP7 doesn’t have Angry Birds. Angry Birds – a game so worn out and ubiquitous that there’s a board game version of it. Many WP7 owners still don’t have copy and paste – an update promised in February that has yet go universal. This same lagging update is also supposed to fix slow app performance – an annoyance that’s bothered us since day one. And, really, it’s this, not the absence of stupid Angry Birds, that’s hamstringing WP7. As great as it was six months ago, that was six months ago. If Microsoft thinks Apple and Google are going to slow down the pace, well, they’re obviously wrong – Android and iOS are miles ahead in terms of functionality, performance, and community, while Microsoft struggles to squeeze out the fundamentals.

They need do what we told them to do last year:

Update. A lot. And quickly. Do you remember how truly shitty Android was two years ago, when it launched? Can you believe Android 2.2 is what it looks like now? Especially when you compare how much iPhone evolved in the same period? (A lot, but Android’s gone way further, since it had to come from waaaaayyyyyy behind.) Guess what? Windows Phone is the one lagging now. It’s the one missing stuff that iPhone, Android, WebOS, even BlackBerry and Symbian have. So Microsoft needs to play like Google. Fast, constant updates, every couple of months until it’s caught up or surpassed everybody else. You’ve got the resources. Use them. (I’d bet $US20 there were far fewer people working on Android than on Windows Phone.) Don’t blow this.

It was good advice then, and it’s dire advice now. Less advice than a shot of adrenaline into the moribund, overdosed Pulp Fiction Uma Thurman that is WP7 right now.

Microsoft: you have the head for this, or else you wouldn’t have something so great to neglect in the first place. Christ knows you’ve got the money. Whatever’s in your way – customers, carriers, anything – knock them aside, because Apple (and increasingly Google) aren’t letting anything block their software march. You’ve got Nokia on your side – a big fat Finnish bargaining chip. Leverage your way through whatever’s holding you up with this new ally. Make a Microsoft Nexus One. Deliver. Above all – get off your ass – because we really want to see you kill it.