There is an interesting rumor that's been floating around within the Windows Phone community since yesterday, but I decided to hold off reporting on it until I had some of my thoughts collected.
WPCentral received a tip from a reader who pointed out a coincidence on all of the (leaked or otherwise) Windows Phone 8 hardware from the past few days: they all have their micro USB ports centered at the bottom of the phone. Everything from the Samsung Ativ S, to the HTC Accord, to the leaked images of a Nokia Windows Phone 8 device, and even the Nokia Phi patent design drawings have all featured the data/charging port in the same exact location. Here was the tipster's explanation to WPCentral:
“Miss not having all the accessories that iPhone users enjoy like speaker docks etc?. Fear not as all Windows Phone 8 devices will have a standardized location of the charging port which allows third party accessory manufacturers a brand new market to tap into, thereby increasing WP8's appeal for not only the manufacturers but also consumers as well. This is something that drives a lot of users to iPhones and Microsoft felt this was something that may have been missing with wp7 but now hopes to remedy that with the new requirement in all WP8 handsets.”
I mean no disrespect to WPCentral (easily the top Windows Phone site), but I don't buy it. And if it is true, I don't like it.
The problem? No two phones are the same.Let me straighten one thing out: I do believe that Microsoft could be making it a standard to have the data and charging port on the bottom of the device. This is probably done in an effort to simplify it for every Windows Phone customer from here forward, making it almost as easy as an iPhone since you know where the most important part of your device is located despite it being a Samsung, HTC, Nokia, Huawei or other device.
I also do believe that there is some truth to the tipster's claims that Microsoft is doing this to help create a new universal accessories market. The problem? No two phones are the same.
The reason the accessories market is so lucrative in Apple's hardware ecosystem is particularly due to the shared design between the iPhone 4 and 4S. Despite swapping out the innards, the phones are the exact same. The same width, depth, and speaker/buttons placement that you expect from an identical twin. However in the case of Windows Phone, the area around each phone's data port could vary radically in thickness and width.
For example, the only official Windows Phone 8 device so far — the Samsung Ativ S, pictured above — is approximately 8.7 mm thick which is insanely thin even by today's high-end smartphone standards. What guarantee is there that HTC will produce a similarly sized device with the same thickness or even hoirzontal width? It's doubly true for Nokia, who doesn't traditionally compete on the thinness side of the smartphone race.
Accessory makers may look at this universal port factor as an excuse to not create device specific add-ons for these Windows Phone 8 devices, and thus to not innovate in the same way they have in the iPhone market.One could argue that this wouldn't be an issue with some carefully though-out universal accessories like a dockable alarm clock, which could have an opening wider than the widest device being sold to make sure it's compatible. But if I were to argue against myself for a moment and believe that this universal port rumor is true, then you run into another issue: the quality. Accessory makers may look at this universal port factor as an excuse to not create device specific add-ons for these Windows Phone 8 devices, and thus to not innovate in the same way they have in the iPhone market.
What makes iPhone accessories so enticing to normal everyday people is because of how well-made some of them can be. The iPhone case market in particular is laudable because of what it's enabled manufacturers to dream up. One of the coolest I-wish-I-could-have-that moments I've had with a friend's iPhone is when his battery was low, and then he pulled out a case that doubled as a backup battery. It fit perfectly snug onto the device and immediately began to charge, without wires and without hassle. That moment made me a big believer in the power of an accessory done right.
Don't get me wrong, it would be awesome to have one accessory fit perfectly on your Nokia Lumia 920 and just as well on a friend's HTC Titan III (just made that up), but the skeptic in me thinks that's a pipe dream. If it is true, then what we're more likely to receive are accessories that never quite fit right on any phone and don't bring anything new or innovative beyond basic functionality. Like I said before, no two phones are the same.