Before Apple came along with the iPhone, carriers had a huge influence on the (useless) software that came on smartphones. Also, manufacturers of said phones often got heavy handed with customizing the OS and installed software, too. The experience was terrible (at least looking back we now see that). Apple changed that with iOS by removing the carriers’ option to burden our phones and our lives with poorly designed, performance sucking apps.
Android sings a different tune in that it is free and open, and allows carriers/manufacturers to do whatever they want to the OS. An Android phone from HTC looks completely different from an Android phone from Motorola (and so on and so forth).
Meanwhile, Windows Phone is the newest and most relevant competitor to Android and iOS. With Windows Phone, Microsoft took some of Apple’s close-knit, locked down features and combined them with a more open environment ala Android. The end result is an OS with lots of potential just waiting to make it in the big leagues.
Building on that last paragraph, part of what makes Windows Phone leaps and bounds better than Windows Mobile ever was is consistency. Microsoft doesn’t really allow much interference of the core OS by manufacturers or carriers. Skins are more or less simple color changes of the Live Tile home screen and perhaps a few custom apps being forced to the top of your homescreen/app list. We can deal with this. But a new report (Google Translated) by WPDang warns of trouble ahead.
Lenovo, a long-time Windows partner, reportedly had several executives of their Research and Development division visit Microsoft’s headquarters. The main gist of their visit was to request permission to customize the Windows Phone UI and install several custom apps on a new line of Windows Phone 8 devices the company wants to release next year. All we can beg of Microsoft — don’t do it.
Our own personal desires sincerely hopes Microsoft doesn’t break down and become another Android. That is, we don’t want Microsoft cheapening and de-valuing the Windows Phone experience with skins made by people who aren’t UI/UX designers at heart and applications that are written by people who shouldn’t be programming. Pretty much every single such app on Android is, at best, awful. The first thing we tell any newcomer to Android is to try and remove as much carrier/manufacturer bloat as possible. On Windows Phone, hacker community (who provides us with all of those awesome custom ROMs) isn’t anywhere close to the level’s of the Android ecosystem. Because of that, you’re more-so left to the mercy of Microsoft and their various partners. So far, Microsoft has done a great job of keeping the Windows Phone experience pretty consistent from manufacturer to manufacturer and carrier to carrier. Giving Lenovo an inch will only cause them to take a mile, and in the grander scheme of things, essentially be opening a massive can of worms.
If we step back from our own personal thoughts and look at the other side of the story, it makes a tiny bit of sense for Microsoft from a business perspective. Windows Phone isn’t the runaway success Microsoft had hoped. Update is still a snails pace and popularity in the public eye pales in comparison to Android and iOS. Microsoft seriously needs all of the attention and support they can get. In that context, we can understand Microsoft bending a little to let Lenovo have what they want. While it might not be the pure Windows Phone experience Microsoft has set out to create, a tweaked Windows Phone experience and happy 3rd party partner is better than no 3rd party partners.
In reality, it’s a fine line that Microsoft must walk; they must give customers the best end-to-end, consistent experience if they really want to compete. At the same time, Microsoft needs more hardware partners (unless they pull a Surface move on phones, too). Hardware partners all want to “differentiate” from their competitors. As of late, differentiation comes not only in the form of hardware (and it’s arguable that there’s really any meaningful differentiation there) but software and services, too.
Lenovo’s request to customize Windows Phone is hardly the first, nor will it be the last. Our only hope/wish/knees-on-the-ground-begging of Microsoft is that if they do go ahead and give Lenovo the drivers seat, that they preserve the stock Windows Phone experience as it is and don’t allow some crazy, non-Metro skin that looks more at home on Android than Windows Phone. While doing so might make Windows Phone more popular with hardware manufacturers, it will ultimately hurt end users as the tight vision of Windows Phone will crumble with each new (terrible) terrible skin.
Is this can of worms really worth it?