Opinion: Travis’ Windows Phone OEM Bootcamp

It’s been two weeks since we saw some of the unique features Microsoft has in store for Windows Phone Mango. I have no doubt that we all have watched every video, inspected every image, and kept our ears open for every tiny bit of news on what the other 400+ features may be. We’ve seen great additions coming down the pike like LocalScout, and Smart DJ. Our heads have been dizzied by the shear size of what we’ve seen. So what left? Decent hardware. This past week the community got a look at what Windows Phone’s latest OEM, Acer is planning for the fall. My response? Meh. Based in part on this, and their previous work, the hardware vendors seem unable to design quality hardware, so I think we might need to help them out a bit.

Step 1 Be Firm

We begin with one of the things Apple seems to get right time and time again, (iPhone 3G not withstanding). There is no reason on God’s Earth while we should be paying $199 to $299 for a smartphone made of plastic and the fact that HTC, Acer, Dell, LG, and Samsung seem to think we should is outrageous. I understand that there’s a need to balance the quality of materials that goes into a phone’s enclosure and whats inside of it but none of the Windows Phone currently on the market have anything the iPhone 4 doesn’t. If you are going to give me last year’s hardware running Windows Phone it better damn well be made of something other then plastic.

Step 2 Get Appy

One of the coolest things about Microsoft working with the OEMs is the amount of customization they don’t allow them to make. That means no ridiculous skins that we can’t get off, or apps that we can’t uninstall. One of Microsoft’s concessions to the hardware makers was that they would be given their own special place in the Windows Phone Marketplace to sell apps specifically to their devices and help differentiate their offerings. What has Microsoft gotten out of this concession? While LG continues to offer their users unique features and experiences via this area, the best that HTC can provide is the HTC Hub. It’s clear that there’s room to improve. Hell I’ll pay for a quality app directly from my OEM, if it’s worth it.

Step 3 When it Comes to Ports Use Common Sense

The mobile space has been red hot for a few years now, and there are some truths that have come along with this coming of age. Step one: If my USB port isn’t on the bottom of my device, then you blew it. Putting it on the bottom of a device allows people to quickly charge, easily accessorize, and in some cases use the kickstand and charge at the same time. (I’d also argue that the headphone jack should be down there to but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.)

Step 4 Accessorize

I don’t know how many times Windows Phone hardware makers have to hear this before they get the idea, but I’ll say it again. Apple=complete ecosystem. If I buy a Apple handset I know that they’ll be accessories made by Apple and everyone else. When I buy Windows Phone, I know that there will be a small amount of cases and hardware accessories that work with it. Part of the credit also belongs to Microsoft. Would it kill you guys to make a “Works With Windows Phone” program?

Step 5 Build, Design, and When Things Fail, Look at Yourself in the Mirror

I have never been a fan of the Windows Phone Team’s policy of protecting the hardware vendors when things go wrong. If Windows Phone is to differentiate it’s solution from that of Android the OEMs have to either get with the program on testing and execution, or admit that they screwed up. Hey Samsung, and Dell I’m talking about you. There’s no reason for Samsung to be remaining silent on people’s phones being bricked by updates from Microsoft. I get the distinct feeling if you would have tested what you were supposed to test, it wouldn’t have happened. Then there’s Dell. Having owned a Dell laptop previously, I was a bit skeptical that you guys could make a decent phone. As it turns out you can’t, and you’ve got no one to blame but yourselves. Problem is, other then promising fixes for the last six months you could have been getting into the good graces of your users by actually shipping the fixes you keep promising. On a similar note, LG seems to have had “higher expectations” for the launch of Windows Phone. Guys I’ve seen the LG Quantum, and I’m entirely sure you only have yourselves to blame.

Mango is shaping up to be an incredible update, full of the changes and feature additions we all want and need. I can only hope that the actual Windows Phones the OS match it’s quality level. We’ve had a year of so-so hardware, strange bugs created by manufacturers screwing up the update process, and late night web scavenger hunts for accessories that work with our phones. If Windows Phone is to survive we need you to listen and learn from your mistakes. Step up or ship out.

Travis Pope (@harlemS) started ZuneSpring, became a Zune MVP, and recently renamed his blog to EnConnected, where he posts on Zune and beyond, and is our go-to guy on all things Zune (and more!). We want to thank him for stopping by with this guest post!

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