The tale of Flipboard: Why Windows Phone is still struggling to catch up

It took 449 days for Flipboard to shuffle its way onto Windows Phone. Ever since its announcement with the Lumia 1020 (that old thing that runs on a Snapdragon S4 Plus), Windows Phone users have been waiting eagerly for the app to arrive on the platform. Well it’s finally here after four hundred and forty nine days, and guess what? It doesn’t flip.

Of course, Windows Phone users shouldn’t be surprised. They didn’t have Temple Run 2 until December last year, or Instagram, or Vine. They still don’t have Facebook Pages, or Plants vs Zombies 2, or Google+. And the list goes on.

And this is a pity, because Windows Phone is an amazing operating system. I’ve been using the platform since the days of 7.5 Mango. At that time Android was still in its Gingerbread days, and every sorry machine that ran on Android grinded and stuttered to keep the OS going. It was easy to see why I fell in love with Windows Phone at that time; it was just so fluid. And now, with Windows Phone 8.1, all of the pressing limitations of Windows Phone have been addressed. It can even be argued that the operating system is now on par with Android and iOS in terms of design and functionality. Not in terms of apps though, and that’s the final problem.

Well you see, Windows Phone just doesn’t have the support from developers. Sure, they have great 3rd party developers, like Rudy Huyn, who has single-handedly filled up the app gap in the Windows Phone ecosystem with his 3rd party alternatives, but it’s the official support that’s lacking. Google has boycotted Windows Phone by refusing to develop any apps for them other than a rather useless Google search app, and the Facebook app had to be developed by Microsoft alone (though now it is in collaboration with Facebook). So when new Windows Phone users are shocked when they realize that their shiny new smartphone has no YouTube, or Candy Crush, or that Instagram on their phone is still in beta, really, there’s nothing to be surprised about.

To be fair, once upon a time Windows Phone did have a very solid official YouTube app from Microsoft. It won everybody’s praise due to its slick design and great functionality (though mostly because the app didn’t support video advertisements). But Google obviously didn’t like it when Microsoft refused to pull down the app, so they disabled it remotely. Yeah, they just disabled Microsoft’s official YouTube app 2 days after it was re-launched, plunging Windows Phone users back into their sorry state of YouTubeless-ness.

Microsoft has fought hard to bring apps to the platform though. Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 made it easier for developers to make apps both for Windows Phone and Windows, since they had the same kernel. Obviously Microsoft was hoping that Windows Phone would ride on the success of Windows 8, but we all know how that turned out. When Windows 8 failed, developers saw no reason to support both the platforms.

Yes, the app catalogue is growing, and Windows Phone has some great apps on its own, including Xbox Live supported games. Microsoft has also boasted countless number of times that its store has majority of the top apps on iOS and Android. That’s good for them, but the reason why people just aren’t switching to Windows Phone isn’t because of the lack of apps. It’s the fear that new, great apps will take a long while to arrive after they’ve already been on Android and iOS for over a year because of the lack of developer commitment. And when they finally do arrive, they won’t have the same functionality as their counterparts on the other platforms (like the Flipboard that doesn’t flip).

I’m still on Windows Phone because honestly, I don’t need all those apps to survive. Basic apps like Whatsapp and Facebook will keep me satisfied, and the games on Windows Phone are really not that bad. I am a fan of Flipboard though, and that long agonizing wait was simply frustrating.

But perhaps there is hope. Microsoft has just revealed Windows 10, and while it is still in its early stages of development, we will be able to see smartphones running on Windows 10 some time late next year. Hopefully one unified operating system and store will sort out this mess once and for all, so naysayers can finally stop dissing the truly intuitive operating system that is Windows Phone.

Meanwhile, I’ll be here, whiling my time away on my Lumia 925, picking up Android phones along the way to meet my (occasional) app needs.

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