Earlier today I read a great piece in ArsTechnica about Microsoft’s annual actor meeting, where many in appearance bidding their belief to CEO Satya Nadella that Microsoft had finer ceded ascendancy of the smartphone market to Apple and Google, and had ceased to be a austere competitor.

One Windows Phone-using shareholder, Dana Vance, bidding his dismay that Microsoft had appear assertive apps on iOS and Android before Windows 10 Mobile. Vance also brought up the claims that development of the Microsoft Band had been discontinued.

Another admirers member was more blunt, and asked Nadella beeline up whether Microsoft was committed to Windows Mobile.

A slow and steady decline

So, here’s the thing. Eons ago, Microsoft was one of the market leaders when it came to mobile productivity. This was before Steve Jobs had even conceived the iPhone. Back then, the smartphone race was bitterly-fought amid four main players: Palm, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Microsoft. Windows Mobile 6 – Microsoft’s alms – had a admirable market share of around 30 percent.

Windows Mobile did well with busy office managers and financiers who wanted a acceptable way to access their emails and tap out office documents, but its accepted appeal was limited. The vast majority of handsets were just too drab and clunky for most accustomed consumers to even accede buying them.

But in 2007, aggregate went to shit for Microsoft. Apple appear the iPhone, and in turn adapted the smartphone market into commodity that hadn’t been seen before.

webrokThe iPhone was a phone that accustomed people to get shit done while absolutely attractive the part. It was the first truly aspirational smartphone. Everyone from teens to admiral wanted their hands on one. And then anon after Google apparent Android which accustomed companies like Samsung and HTC to offer iPhone-like functionality but at a atom of the cost.

At that point, the final nail in the Windows Phone 6’s coffin had been all but hammered. It started to drain users. Microsoft tried to stem the flow with Windows Mobile 6.5, which worked hardly better on touch-only handsets and had a better browser, but it just wasn’t enough.

By the time the aggregation appear its first real modern smartphone OS – Windows Phone 7 – Microsoft’s all-embracing share had shrunk to a atom of what it was in 2005. This was a greatly base moment for a aggregation that had bedeviled the world of accretion since the early 1990’s.

Despite the consecutive launches of Windows Phone 8, Windows Phone 8.1, and Windows Mobile 10, Microsoft has never recovered in the mobile space.

It shouldn’t have to be this way

The most tragic thing about Microsoft’s unstoppable abatement in the mobile is that it feels absolutely unnecessary.

There’s actually no reason why Microsoft – a aggregation with vast banking assets and some of the world’s most accomplished developers and advisers on its amount – should attempt like this.

Perhaps the better reason why Windows Phone (and later Windows Mobile) suffocated was that there was a vacuum of customer enthusiasm. Nobody really cared about it. What frustrates me the most is that there were things that Microsoft could have done (and indeed, can do) to turn this around.

The disturbing app store

Let’s abode the ten-ton albatross in the room: the app store. Right now, the better reason why you shouldn’t buy a Windows Phone is that there’s a actual aridity of apps. Worse, of the drop of apps that do exist, many of them haven’t accustomed an update in a really long time.

webrokStraight out of the gate, Microsoft should have taken a leaf out of RIM’s book and offered some austere banking incentives to developers.

Yes, I know that in 2013 it briefly offered to pay developers a whopping $100 for each newly-published app. Yes, I know that there were some clandestine (and hefty) banking incentives given to larger companies, like Foursquare.

Clearly, these weren’t sufficient, and they weren’t abiding to ensure that these apps had feature-parity with their Android and iOS equivalents.

Taking ascendancy of hardware

The bygone CEO of Microsoft, Steven Ballmer, has some pretty strong thoughts on this subject. He (rightly) thinks that Microsoft should have gotten into the accouterments game way sooner. Doing so would have accustomed Microsoft to absolution phones where it can exercise ascendancy over every aspect of the device, much like Apple is with the iPhone.

This makes a lot of sense. During the brief advantageous days of Windows Phone, there were a scattering of accessories active the software from a array of manufacturers including Nokia, Blu, HTC, Alcatel, and ZTE.

Many of these were, at face value, pretty identical. In terms of automated design and centralized specifications, there wasn’t much to choose from. Moreover, it’s hard to differentiate amid a Windows Phone device and an Android device because Microsoft only allows a assertive amount of software customization.

From a customer perspective, this was pretty confusing. I brainstorm that many people took a look at the then boundless Windows Phone device ecosystem and promptly gave up, instead allotment to spend their money on an Android or iPhone.

webrokIn retrospect, buying Nokia was a great idea. The Finnish mobile icon made great phones. Their automated design was top-notch, and they were conceivably the most arresting and committed architect of Windows devices.

The better aberration Microsoft made was its apathy to retire the Nokia brand and take ascendancy of the Windows Phone ecosystem.

When it bought the aggregation in 2014, it should have anon chock-full licensing its software and instead have committed to absolution three phones per year: a low-end, a mid-tier, and a exceptional flagship device.

This would have accustomed Microsoft to take a holistic look at how people use its devices, and allow it to take the same detail-oriented access to user acquaintance that Apple takes with the iPhone.

Microsoft can make amazing hardware. This fact has been proven time-and-again with the likes of the Xbox One, Surface, Surface Book, and Surface Studio. Brainstorm what it would be like if the only Windows Phones on the market were a range of enticing, able-bodied Surface Phones?

Microsoft should have put on its absent cap

Over the past five years, Microsoft has acquired from a aggregation bedeviled with making incremental improvements to its software, to one that’s fundamentally adventuresome and is bedeviled with the new and undiscovered. Hololens anyone?

But this hasn’t really embodied on the mobile front.

I’ve got a theory about this. Since 2007, when Apple launched the iPhone, Microsoft has been arena catchup. It’s been so bedeviled with ensuring that things work and that the capital appearance are present, it hasn’t been able to bring its vision for things like aggrandized absoluteness to its mobile product.

From early on, Microsoft should have explored how it can differentiate its mobile alms from Apple and Google. It should have been bold. It wasn’t, and today Windows Phone languishes as an also-ran smartphone OS.

The last hurrah?

There were other things I wanted to mention. I wanted to bring up the confusing, inconsistent branding (note how many times I switch amid Windows Phone and Windows Mobile in this article). I badly wanted to rant about how I anticipation the belvedere was badly marketed. But time is short, and there just weren’t the column inches.

Some of you will read my commodity and angrily type out a animadversion about how I’m “an bias”  and an Apple fanboy. You’d be wrong. Not that it matters, but this Monday I bought a Dell XPS 13, and over my lifetime I’ve owned four altered Windows phones. As a platform, I’ve given it plenty of chances. Conceivably more than it deserves.

But time is active out for Microsoft’s mobile ambitions. Microsoft is accounted to be alive on a Surface Phone. Satya Nadella says that this will be the “ultimate mobile device”. Will this be the company’s last hurrah before it eventually consigns itself to architecture apps and casework for the other two big incumbents?

Maybe. But I hope not.

I’m a abiding optimist, and as a result haven’t accounting Windows 10 Mobile off quite just yet. I feel that if Microsoft somehow manages to argue developers to return to the platform, and if it can build a device that can attempt with the accepted range of adorable flagships, then maybe – just maybe – it’ll have a chance.

Maybe. But I doubt it.