The tale of the tortoise and the hare isn't one normally applied to smartphones. However in the case of Microsoft, some would argue their 'slow and steady' approach with Windows Phone just simply isn't working compared to the speed and ferocity of the competitive hare(s), Apple and Google. And you know what? I think I agree with that.
However, you should take my opinion with a disclaimer: I still think Windows Phone will be the third dominant platform in the industry, no matter what happens in the following months. I also think Windows Phone 7.5 is a great operating system as it is, otherwise I wouldn't be using it everyday. But I also think Mango is already beginning to be outdated and a delightful piece of software that would've been very aggressive in early 2011 is now about half a year behind the competition. Let's take a look at why.
In hindsight, Microsoft made many key mistakes in the run up to Mango. The most obvious being that they showed their hand too early -- our first look at the software was last February at Mobile World Congress 2011. There Microsoft teased Internet Explorer 9 outperforming competitors' browsers and the cards fast app switching. Then at MIX 11 in March 2011, they divulged even more about how apps would benefit from Mango's APIs to allow impressive new functionality in the browser, background audio support, and multiple tiles. Then Microsoft held their Mango Preview event in May of the same year, talking about all of the features normal people would be able to enjoy with Mango.
If everyone is clamoring for Windows Phone 8 today, what's to say Microsoft won't be behind again six months from now?
In between that May event and the release of new devices preloaded with Mango, Apple came out with the iPhone 4S during the Fall and also managed to undermine any of the hype Microsoft had built up over the year. Shortly after Google announced Android 4.0 and also decimated any excitement for Mango. How exactly did this happen? More importantly, how did Microsoft lack the foresight to expect this and push for some more unique features before Mango wrapped up production? What's passed is passed I suppose, but if everyone is clamoring for Windows Phone 8 today based on their current expectations, what's to say Microsoft won't be behind again six months from now?
A more pressing key problem that Windows Phone has faced post-Mango has been the apps situation. I'm not talking about numbers either, but rather the quality of apps. There are still way too many apps in the Marketplace that haven't used the 7.1 tools and are thus not Mango-compatible. The SDK for Mango has been out and available to download for the past seven months, and all it mostly takes to enable basic multitasking is to recompile the app and publish an update. Yet well known apps like Angry Birds even now and Rowi until recently somehow didn't feel the need to push for Mango support in their apps.
Why can't a new version of Windows Phone spark the same excitement as iOS or even Android?The result is a subpar experience when it doesn't need to be, a common complaint I saw in some reviews of the Nokia Lumia 900. However it's not fair to place all of the blame on developers for this shortcoming. Microsoft is on the right path with the ecosystem and the platform is growing very quickly, but they need to do more to make developers more active in the platform. When Apple releases a new development kit about a month before the new iPhone or iPad comes out, every single developer bursts out in a sprint to update their apps before devices go on sale. Why can't a new version of Windows Phone spark the same excitement as iOS or even Android?
These are questions Microsoft has to address with Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 for phones, or whatever the heck they end up calling the Apollo software. More importantly though, Microsoft needs to prove they can influence the industry enough to get the timeline working in its favor. Because while slow and steady usually wins the race, it's only when the competition slows down. At this rate, I don't see that happening.