Hello. My name is Ashlee Vance, and I have a Windows phone.
To own a Windows smartphone in Silicon Valley is to invite ridicule and pity. Every day I pull out the bright yellow Nokia (NOK) Lumia 920, and every day iPhone and Android types look at me with dismay. Why, they wonder, would I subject myself to an app wasteland? Why would anyone take the risk of a Blue Screen of Death interrupting their phone call? Why would anybody opt for the platonic ideal of unhip?
Admittedly, there are times when I too doubt my choice. People with this Instagram (FB) thing, for example, seem to eat really beautiful stuff. And I want to eat beautiful stuff too. Uber is also way less cool when you have to order and follow your car via text message instead of on a map. And then there are those crucial moments you need an app to find an electric car charging station, and once again the Windows phone lets you down because it has no such app, and you’re left standing on the side of the road next to your Tesla (TSLA) holding a solar panel over your head, and it’s so, so embarrassing.
Here, however, is the thing about Windows Phone. It just keeps getting better. On Monday, Microsoft (MSFT)began touting the third update to its Windows Phone 8 software. The revamped code brings with it a bevy of new features, although the most important one may be a new interface for larger devices. Windows Phone can now run on 5-inch and 6-inch screen devices, aka jumbo smartphones and phablets. This mean that consumers can fit three of the signature Live Tiles across the screen instead of just two. Ho-hum, right? Well, no. Windows Phone users can now really go to town customizing their home screen interface.
To me, this is what really sets the Windows Phone devices apart from their competitors. You get large icons that constantly update with new information and that look as if they belong in 2013, unlike the interfaces on so many Apple (AAPL) and Android (GOOG) devices that look as if they belong on the very first smartphones.
Along with the tools for bigger screens, Microsoft added support for superfast chips from Qualcomm (QCOM), a new rotation lock thing, a way to close apps manually and a drive mode that includes better options for configuring Bluetooth devices.
Many folks in Silicon Valley will be still be giggling right about now, or at least mumbling, “Instagram, bro. Show me Instagram.” Microsoft hears you, mumblers. There’s just not much it can do about the problem. “The Instagram thing may be the single biggest piece of feedback we receive,” says Joe Belfiore, the Windows Phone design guru at Microsoft. “We will pay money for apps. We will write them ourselves, and we will work with third parties to get them. In my opinion, we are down to the last few companies that have not come on board.” Belfiore notes that Windows Phone offers many Instagram mimics that work very well. But, let’s face it, taking a picture of a taco with IntagramCloneForWindows is not the same.
Outside the U.S., people seem more willing to give Windows Phone a chance. Microsoft has notched double-digit market share in a number of European countries and has managed to outsell the iPhone in India and much of Latin America. This momentum could continue through the rest of the year with more devices expected to arrive from Nokia at various prices.
As for me? Don’t worry. I’m OK with my decision, and you can find me this winter on a beach in El Salvador, taking amazing 41-megapixel photos and using my Windows Phone with pride.