Mobile Phone Buying Guide: October 2014

Mobile Phone Buying Guide: October 2014

Since we all the know that the big news over the last month was the iPhone 6 release, this month’s buying guide will have plenty of information about choosing a new iPhone. As I did in July’s buying guide, I have split the guide into an iPhone and Android section. If you’d like to skip directly to the Android recommendations, click here.


iPhone buying recommendations

In the July edition, I suggested that it was not the time to upgrade your iPhone. Well, now is the best time to upgrade your iPhone. The new models have just come out, and you can rest assured that a new iPhone will not be coming out for another year.

Apple made good on just about all the rumors surrounding the new iPhone 6 devices. They released a 4.7-inch version, the iPhone 6, and a 5.5-inch version, the iPhone 6 Plus. The phones are thinner with rounded edges, much like the old iPod models. I’ve been test driving an iPhone 6 for the last two weeks, and the thin design makes the increase in size much easier to handle. It also performs faster than last year’s iPhone 5s. You can get a more complete rundown on all the improvements in this summary I wrote about the iPhone 6 launch event.

In any case, there are now three viable options when selecting an iPhone. You read correctly – three. Here’s my recommendations for making a choice:

iPhone 6

iPhone6-6Plus-HomeThis is the flagship model, and the one most people should choose. It is the right balance of size and portability, meaning it’s not too big to fit into a pocket, and you don’t look ridiculous handling phone calls with it.

iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone 6 Plus does not mean that it offers extra functionality. It’s just bigger. Unless you need the extra real estate, I’d be careful before rushing off to order one. It is noticeably larger than the iPhone 6, and significantly larger than an iPhone 5s. If you’re coming from an iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6 Plus, prepare to be shocked by the size difference. In fact, I’d highly recommended trotting down to your local carrier or Apple store to get a feel for the size before buying. In lieu of physically trying it out, you can print out this graphic to get a side-by-side size comparison of the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

iPhone 5s

I don’t normally recommend year old iPhones, but this year is an exception. If the size of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is too much too handle, then the iPhone 5s is still an excellent phone choice. Just be aware that you will miss out on Apple Pay and Wi-fi calling if you choose the 5s. On the other hand, you’ll also save a few dollars on the phone, but I wouldn’t make the price the deciding factor. Spending a little extra money on something you use everyday, and multiple times a day at that, is worth it.

A note on the iPhone 5c

The on-contract price of free makes the iPhone 5c sound very appealing. Don’t fall into the price trap. The iPhone 5c is the iPhone 5 wrapped in colored plastic, which means you are getting a two year-old device. Plus, it uses an older processor that has a 32-bit architecture vs the latest 64-bit architecture. The translation of this technical babble is that the 5c may not survive the next iOS upgrade cycle. In other words, the phone may only last you a year.

The only exception I would make is getting one as a backup device, a replacement device to hold you over until your eligible for your on-contract discount, or buying one for a teenage child. Since kids are pretty hard on phones, you won’t feel as bad if they lose or break it. I find it happens often with kids, and my kids say it’s never their fault. It just “happens”.

More helpful articles

Here are some additional articles that you may find helpful regarding the iPhone 6 and iOS 8:


Android buying recommendations

When it comes to Android phones, big is in. It’s hard to find a strong, flagship device, that doesn’t have a screen under 5-inches. For whatever reason, we’ve entered the SUV-era of smartphones where everyone wants to drive around with the biggest screen they can find. Hopefully, some balance will come back to the market, but until that happens, here’s my recommendation for on-contract and off-contract devices.

The phones in each section are listed in the order I would recommend them. However, in most cases, there isn’t much difference between the devices. It’s really a matter of personal preference, so check out the devices in person before making a choice.

On-contract devices

Samsung Galaxy S5Moto X – 2nd generation

The second generation Moto X is Motorola’s follow-up to their vastly underrated Moto X, which is one of my favorite Android phones. They took a good thing and made it better, although I wish they would have kept it the same size. Instead, it has grown to 5.2-inches in size. The thing I like most about the Moto X is that it runs a nearly pure version of Android which Motorola updates quickly when new Android versions come out.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung is also in the game of taking a good thing and making it better. The S5 is just an enhanced version of their popular S4 model, which was an enhanced version of their popular S3, and so on. If you’ve been using the Galaxy S series and like it, then you don’t waste too much time looking around. You’re going to end up getting the S5.

HTC One M8

Another vastly underrated Android device is the HTC One M8. If you like some of the extra gingerbread the OEMs through into Android, then the M8 is a strong alternative to the Galaxy S5. It has a great, elegant aluminum uni-body design that gives it a solid feel and unique look. If you want something a little different than the norm that performs just as good, if not better than the others, then the M8 may be your phone.

Nexus 5LG G3

In general, I’m not the biggest fan of LG devices, but I’ve heard good feedback regarding this phone, although it has been second hand. If the first three phones don’t meet your needs, then you should consider the G3.

Off-contract devices

Nexus 5

Yes, it’s been out for a year now. Yes, its specs aren’t quite a good as the flagships listed above. And yes, it is still the best off-contract device you can buy. For an off-contract price of $350 from Google for the 16 GB version (currently showing out of stock, so you may need to spend an extra $50 for the 32GB version), it is the best value in the market. In addition, it runs a stock version of Android, which is the best way to experience Android. Once you experience Android this way, you’ll have a hard time using any other type of “skinned” Android experience.

Moto G - no contractMoto G with LTE

For the budget conscious, I would recommend the Moto G with LTE, which you can buy direct from Motorola for $220. You get a powerful device that is not only lighter on the wallet but also smaller in the hand at 4.5-inches. There are some performance trade-offs you have to make, and the camera isn’t as good as the top-end models, but it’s hard to pass up at this price point. By the way, I would recommend the 1st gen model with LTE until they add LTE functionality to the 2nd gen model. The difference in network performance is huge.

If you want to save even more money, you might want to check out the Moto E. It’s a great entry level device, particularly for a child. I recently picked up one as a first phone for my youngest child. It’s been working out great. It gives her all the basic smartphone functionality she needs. Plus, unlike an $800 iPhone, I don’t worry about her dropping it or losing it. The replacement cost is under $150.


Windows Phone

Unfortunately, I still cannot endorse Windows Phone. While the hardware options and operating system is getting better, there are too many gaps in available apps that will hurt your productivity and diminish your smartphone experience. In addition, the market share is too small to be a priority for developers. New apps are geared toward toward iPhone and Android devices due to shear volume, and because of that, some apps never make it to Windows Phone. As I mentioned in the last buying guide, until there is a compelling reason to buy or switch to Windows Phone, I wouldn’t.

(I’m planning to revisit Windows Phone towards the middle of 2015 to see if things have improved.)

One more thing – this is the last month that I mention anything BlackBerry. If you’re in the market for a new BlackBerry, my advice is to buy an iPhone or Android. Don’t ask why, just do it.


Carrier recommendations

Since carrier quality varies significantly by region, I generally stay away from specific carrier recommendations. That being said, if you are looking for a carrier or want to make a change, check out my article, Choosing a mobile carrier, for tips and guidelines.


If you have questions about any devices, feel as though I left one out, or have personal experience with any of devices, please share in the comments.

 

Mobile Phone Buying Guide: July 2014

Since the smartphone market is dominated by the iPhone and Android devices, I’ve reorganized the buying guide a bit this month to provide recommendations depending on which device type you are looking for. I’ll start by providing recommendations for people looking to upgrade or buy an iPhone. To go straight to the Android recommendations, click here.


iPhone buying/upgrade recommendation: DON’T

Why DON’T?

Because the iPhone 6 will be available soon, really soon.

Here’s what we know, or should I say are projecting, at this time.

  1. The next iPhone will have a bigger screen. It’s pretty much set that we will at least see a 4.7″ screen size (compared to 4″ today). It’s possible that there could be a 5.5″ version, although rumors indicate that Apple is having quality issues producing the 5.5″ device (see here).
  2. According to Bloomberg’s sources, production has started this month in anticipation of a reported launch date at the end of September.
  3. The phone design is expected to be more iPod touch like, which means it will be thinner with more rounded edges.
  4. As you would expect, it will have a new processor meaning it will be even faster and more capable than the iPhone 5s.
  5. To improve durability, Apple is supposedly switching to sapphire glass technology. Rumors are that the new sapphire screens can resist scratches and all sorts of torture, except being run over by a car. Given how hard my teenage kids are on their phone, they (and I) will appreciate the improved durability.

I suspect that an announcement regarding the phone’s release date will be coming sometime during the second half of August, once most people are back from their summer vacations. I’m sure that lines outside the Apple stores will start shortly thereafter.

If you’re interested in seeing what the new device might look like, here is a video showing a comparison of an iPhone 6 mock-ups to existing devices. You can also check out this link for a lot more pictures and videos.

If, for some reason, you absolutely cannot wait until September because your iPhone decided to go for a swim or went MIA, then do the sensible thing and get an iPhone 5s. Do not buy the iPhone 5c, it’s based off of the iPhone 4s which is almost two years old at this point – an eternity in mobile time.


Android buying/upgrade recommendations

For Android devices, I’m going to break things down into on-contract and off-contract devices. My personal preference is to buy devices off-contract for the flexibility and freedom to choose the best available plan, but it does require more up front investment. If you like the discount and don’t mind the commitment a two-year contract requires, then on-contract may work better for you.

Best on-contract Android devices

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung’s latest Galaxy device has one of the best cameras out there, and it’s features are the most polished given they’ve had four prior generations to perfect them. If you’re currently using a Samsung Galaxy device, say an S2 or S3, then I would definitely recommend the S5 for the smoothest and easiest upgrade path.

HTC One M8

The HTC One is my personal favorite due to its superior build quality and construction. I’ve always been a fan of HTC’s devices. They just don’t have the same name recognition as Samsung due to inferior marketing. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the HTC One M8 or Samsung Galaxy S5.

Best off-contract Android devices

Nexus 5Nexus 5

Even though the device is about a year-old, it’s still a great device, and a virtual steal at $349 without a contract. In addition to a lightweight, thin design, Google is really good about getting all of the latest Android updates onto the Nexus 5 really fast since it uses a stock Android build. That alone is enough to highly recommend the device.

Moto X

I’ve been using the Moto X for my daily driver for the last 6 months, and I would highly recommend it. It is very close to a stock Android experience, and Motorola has been very good about updating the device quickly with the latest Android improvements. It also has a lot of design options, including wood covers, and it’s a good bargain at $349. It’s also not nearly as big as most Android devices, making it a little easier to carry around in your pockets.

Moto G - no contractMoto G

If you’re looking for a great budget device, get the Moto G. For $219, I’d even recommend keeping a Moto G around as a back-up or loaner device, especially if you use AT&T or T-mobile as your carrier. Its specs won’t match up with flagship devices from Samsung or HTC, but as a starter device for a first-time smartphone user or for kids, it’s a great bargain. I’d still contend it’s one of Android’s best kept secrets.

By the way, if you’d really like to go cheap, you can check out the Moto E, which is only $129 off contract. I’d only recommend it as a backup device in case you lose or break your primary phone as it compromises a few too many specs, including connection speed (no LTE) for it to be feasible as a daily device.


Windows Phone and BlackBerry

I would stay away from both of these devices, and if you’re currently using one, I would advise switching. There are too many gaps in available apps that will hurt your productivity and diminish your smartphone experience. In addition, the market share is too small to be a priority for developers. New apps are geared toward toward iPhone and Android devices due to shear volume, and because of that, some apps never make it to the Windows Phone and BlackBerry platforms.

I know Microsoft is trying hard to make Windows Phone relevant, but until there is a compelling reason to switch, I wouldn’t. As for BlackBerry, their best days are behind them. For loyal BlackBerry users this is a tough pill to swallow, but the sooner you accept it and move on, the better off you’ll be.


Carrier recommendations

Since carrier quality varies significantly by region, I generally stay away from specific carrier recommendations. That being said, if you are looking for a carrier or want to make a change, check out my article, Choosing a mobile carrier, for tips and guidelines.


If you have questions about any devices, feel as though I left one out, or have personal experience with any of devices, please share in the comments.

Mobile Phone Buying Guide: April 2014

As projected in the last installment of the Buying Guide, we’ve entered one of the prime buying/upgrade seasons for Android devices. Both Samsung and HTC have released their latest flagship device which are making their way into stores this month. There’s more on both devices below.

On the other hand, now is not the best time to buy an iPhone. Apple is preparing production for the next generation iPhone, which is expected to hit the market between June and September. As always, rumors are starting to build. Here’s what I think we can expect in the next generation iPhone:

  • Larger screen size
    Yes, I believe Apple will relent and produce a larger screen version. It’s unclear what size it will be, but I expect it to be around 5 inches, with most analysts predicting a size between 4.7 and 5.7 inches. Some have even suggested Apple will release two larger sized devices. To put things in perspective, the iPhone 5 has a 4 inch display, and the iPhone 4 has a 3.5 inch display, so the increase will be significant.
  • Glass
    Apple has been making significant investments in sapphire crystal glass technology, which has led to rumors that the iPhone 6 display will be made of it. It is supposedly more durable than today’s leading glass technology, termed Gorilla Glass. Anything that makes the phone more durable is a welcome addition.
  • Faster processor
    As happens with every generation, it is expected that the iPhone 6 will have even more processing power than its predecessor.
  • Design
    The look of the phone is Apple’s most closely guarded secret, so it’s hard to trust any rumors until Apple makes its formal announcement. However, that won’t stop me from speculating. The prevailing rumors are that the bezel around the screen will be thinner and that the overall device will be thinner and lighter. I’m a bit skeptical about the latter, since making the device thinner will come at the expense of battery life, which I don’t think any of us want Apple to compromise on.

There are all kinds of other rumors around camera improvement, bio-metric features, atmospheric sensors, and wi-fi radio support. If you’re interested in all of the details, I would suggest you take a look at MacRumors comprehensive review of all of the iPhone 6 rumors. In any case, if you must purchase a new iPhone now, because you’ve lost it, broken it, or dropped it in the toilet, just be aware that it could be out of date within the next three months.

And now, for this edition’s recommendations.


On Contract Devices

If you’re looking to buy a subsidized device on a two-year contract or to enter into a payment plan, here’s the recommended devices. These devices are available at all four major carriers.

Best all around Android device(s): Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8)

Samsung Galaxy S5I know, I should just step out and pick one, but these two devices are so closely matched in terms of specs, that it really comes down to a preference of which one you like better.

If you’re looking for the device with the best camera and most extra features, then you’ll want to go with the Samsung Galaxy S5. If you want a device that is more unique in terms of styling and made with higher build quality, then you’ll lean more toward the HTC One (M8). In terms of performance, app availability and display, both devices are nearly identical, so those shouldn’t make a difference in your selection.

If I had to choose one, I’d go with the HTC device. I’ve always liked their build quality, and I’m not particularly into all the extra gingerbread and don’t use the camera enough for it to matter to me.

Runner-up Android device: Moto X

If size matters to you, meaning you don’t like carrying around or holding up to your ear a 1970’s size cell phone, then take a look at the Moto X. I’ve been using one for the last six months and like it, a lot. It has a nice blend of features and styling, and it’s easy to carry around thanks to its smaller size. It also has the added feature of customization so you can order it in whatever colors you like, including wood grain backs and college colors with logos.

HTC One (M8)I would highly recommend buying the device outright directly from Motorola, which you can do here. It’s possible to buy it for as little as $350, which is a great price for a fully featured device without a contract. It will allow you to pair it with a more aggressively priced data plan on your favorite carrier.

The Moto X is one of the best kept secrets in the Android device landscape. I’m surprised it isn’t more popular.

Best iPhone device: iPhone 5s

As mentioned above, I wouldn’t recommend buying the iPhone at this time, but if you must, get the iPhone 5s. Don’t fall for the allure of the iPhone 5c. It’s a repackage of the original iPhone 5, so most of it’s specs are approaching two years old. It’s very likely that certain apps and features of iOS may not get ported to the iPhone 5c beyond the middle of 2015. In other words, the iPhone 5s will last much longer and should survive at least two more iOS upgrade cycles.

There’s more detail about the difference between the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c in January’s buying guide.

Best “phablet”: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

For those looking for even more screen real estate on their phone, the 5.7 inch Galaxy Note 3 is the best choice. Samsung has put a lot of interesting features into their Note product line, including a stylus, called the S pen, for better input control and even handwriting recognition.


Pre-paid, Bring-your-own, Off-contract Devices

If you prefer the flexibility of owning your own device so you can choose between the best service or pricing among carriers, including prepaid options, here’s the devices you should consider.

Best phone: Nexus 5

Although it’s starting to show its age, the Nexus 5 is still a great deal at $349 outright. You read that right – you can purchase it directly from Google for $349. There’s isn’t a 2-year contract commitment and no early termination fees, meaning you can shop around to multiple carriers, including prepaid options, to find the best deal on a service plan.

The only reservation is that Google typically announces new Nexus devices during the summer, so keep that in mind if you device to pick up a Nexus 5.

Best budget phone: Moto G

Moto G by MotorolaIn addition to the Moto X, Motorola’s other best kept phone secret is the Moto G. For as little as $179 direct from Motorola, you can buy a fully featured Android phone that runs the latest Android OS. Given the low price, it’s a great phone to purchase as someone’s first device, particularly if you have kids. It makes it easy to add on to an existing plan, or to use with a prepaid service, without having to shell out a ton of cash for a top of the line device. I purchased one as a Christmas gift for a member of my household and haven’t received any complaints. By the way, if you do decide to purchase one, I would suggest spending the extra $20 for the 16GB option and purchasing a bumper case, as it can be a bit fragile when dropped.

Two additional points if you decide to buy one of these devices:

  • Do not purchase one of these devices if you’re under contract. You’ll want to pair one of these with an off contract plan at T-mobile, AT&T, Verizon, a prepaid service provider, or add it to an existing family/shared plan.
  • Get aggressive when looking for plans. There are a number of prepaid plans that offer unlimited voice, text and data for as little as $45/month. There are also plans available from T-mobile for as little as $30/month if you’re OK living with limits on number of minutes, number of texts, or amount of data you consume.

Windows Phone and BlackBerry

My recommendation from the last buying guide have not changed. I would stay away from both of these devices, for now.

BlackBerry has lost all momentum among consumers, businesses, carriers, and more importantly – developers. Outside of email, you’ll miss out on a lot by using BlackBerry, which means if you have one, switch to an iPhone or Android device, please!

Microsoft is trying hard with Windows Phone. They just released a new update – Windows Phone 8.1. Windows Phone is different, but in a good way. The problem is that developers have not fully embraced it yet, so there are a lot of holes when it comes to applications, or what I call the “app-gap”. Unless you like tinkering with your phone to figure out how to synchronize emails, contacts and calendar along with finding workarounds for missing apps, I’d stay away. I’m going to do another experiment with Windows Phone at some point over the next three months and will have an update for the July buying guide.


Carrier recommendations

Since carrier quality varies significantly by region, I generally stay away from specific carrier recommendations. That being said, if you are looking for a carrier or want to make a change, check out my article, Choosing a mobile carrier, for tips and guidelines.


If you have questions about any devices, feel as though I left one out, or have personal experience with any of devices, please share in the comments.

 

Mobile Trends and Predictions for 2014

Since I managed to do a decent job with predicting last year’s mobile trends, I figured I’d give it another shot this year. Here are the biggest mobile trends I see in 2014, along with my predictions.

  1. Apple releases a bigger iPhone
    I’ve seen a couple of die-hard iPhone users switch to Android this past year specifically to get a larger screen. Even high profile bloggers are starting to explore Android. Apple can continue to be stubborn for only so long.

    My prediction: Apple relents and releases a 4.7″ screen with 1080p resolution for its iPhone 6 launch in the Fall. As with other iPhone launches, it will be wildly successful.

  2. Android and iOS continue their OS dominance
    I still believe there is room for a third operating system, but it will be a niche play. Android and iPhone have become too dominant for anyone else to gain traction at this point.

    My prediction: Microsoft will continue to try to buy market share, but Windows Phone will continue to lag a very distant third at less than 10% market share. Unless they try some different approaches (a few of which I suggested here), don’t expect much change in mobile OS market share over the course of 2014. (If you’re curious about BlackBerry, don’t be. You can stick a form in them.)

  3. Apple and Samsung continue their smartphone dominance
    I’m surprised that the smartphone handset market became a two horse race between Apple and Samsung during 2013. There are lots of people trying to nose their way in, but, if anything, Apple and Samsung seem to be strengthening their hold on the market.

    My prediction: 2014 will be more of the same. HTC seems to have fallen into a rut, and my favorite upstart challengers, Huawei and ZTE, are struggling to gain traction in the US. Motorola seems to be the most aggressive. Out of everyone, I give them the best chance of making a comeback if they can figure out how to promote their Moto X and Moto G models, as well as follow them up with another strong offering.

  4. Chrome OS appears on mobile phones
    When former Google Android lead Andy Rubin was pushed aside, I figured it was only a matter of time before Google merged their Android and Chrome OS developments. Everything I saw Google do in 2013 merely reinforced my view.

    My prediction: Chrome OS will appear on a phone in 2014. Expect it to be a Nexus model that is announced around Google I/O or around the iPhone 6 launch. The smart money says that it will be built by Motorola as well, which may stir up controversy that Google is playing favorites among the Android handset makers.

  5. Amazon enters the mobile phone market
    Quite honestly, I thought this was a slam dunk prediction for 2013. Oh well, I’m going to take another run at it for 2014. Amazon has been very successful with the Kindle product line, and I’m confident that they want to do the same with mobile phones.

    My prediction: Amazon releases a phone in time for the holidays with one catch, it comes with the phone service included and delivered on a pay-as-you-go, no-contract basis. I also expect they will offer two phone types – a high-end model style to compete with the last iPhone and Android models, and a mid/low range Moto G style device.

  6. Nokia explores Android
    There’s already rumors abound that Nokia has a low-end phone with a custom version of Android being developed. The question is whether that device will see the light of day once the Microsoft acquisition closes.

    My prediction: Microsoft makes a big mistake and refuses to allow Nokia to release a low-end Android-based handset, severely limiting their ability to dominate the low-end of the market. In other words, while Nokia will be the largest Windows Phone manufacturer, it’ll be small potatoes compared to stalwarts Apple and Samsung.

  7. No contract and prepaid plans go mainstream
    T-mobile showed this past year that consumers do not like subsidized contracts. Since they launched their “un-carrier” initiative, T-mobile has started adding subscribers. They’ve been so successful that AT&T launched their own set of no contract plans in December.

    My prediction: T-mobile’s continued success with no contract plans will force Sprint and Verizon to join them with no-contract plans of their own in 2014. By the end of the year, it will be more common for people to buy no-contract plans rather than the way it used to be.

  8. The phone connects to the car
    While it’s getting easier for your phone to connect with your car, it’s still not completely seamless. Based on recent announcements, I’m pretty convinced that’s going to change, and soon.

    My prediction: Look for iOS and Android to become integrated in the 2015 models that come out toward the second half of the year. It will be easier than ever for your phone to integrate with your car, and I suspect it’ll be the first step to true mobile connectivity where your phone will completely control your car’s infotainment system, whether it’s an iPhone or Android device.

  9. Mobile payments gain traction
    It seems like everyone has been working on mobile payments for years, but I believe we’re on the edge of a breakthrough. Especially with the recent credit card leaks at Target, people are ready for a new, more secure way to complete their transactions.

    My prediction: Payment processes that are attempting to bypass cards are not the answer. I believe we should be using our phones as a security token that works with our cards at the point-of-sale to verify the user’s card and identity. In fact, I’m surprised Visa, Mastercard, or American Express haven’t done this already.

  10. The new design buzzword – mobile-optimized
    The web design world revolves around buzzwords. The buzzword for 2013 was responsive web design. It was the chic way to design websites so they sized themselves based on screen size. Unfortunately, it leaves out the most important of the mobile user experience, context, so many responsive sites were simply reformatted versions of a bloated desktop site.

    My prediction: Mobile-optimized becomes the buzzword for 2014. It will be important for a website to not only scale based on screen size but also detect a user’s context and deliver content based on a variety of factors, including whether they are on a mobile device or not.

Of all things predicted, there is one I know for sure. The mobile landscape continue to shift and move at a rapid pace, one that is always faster than we think it’s moving. I don’t see it slowing down in 2014, which means that the market will once again look much different at the end of 2014 than it does now.

If there are any trends in mobile you are keeping your eyes on in 2014, please let me know in the comments!

Windows Phone’s biggest problem and how I’d fix it

Nokia Lumia 925Windows Phone’s biggest problem isn’t the software. It’s not the hardware either. The biggest problem is momentum, meaning the lack of it.

Sure, they’re overjoyed that they’ve moved into third place in smartphone market share, but that’s like being happy you finished third in a three person race. In other words, they’re basically in last, and worse yet, they aren’t showing any signs of gaining on the leaders.

In a market that’s heavily consumer focused, perception is everything. The market share numbers are a clear indicator of it. Android and iOS are dominating the mobile market, with combined market share numbers topping 90% and showing no signs of letting up. These two platforms have so much momentum that their sales are growing without even trying.

On the other hand, Windows Phone isn’t going anywhere. There’s little to no buzz in the tech blogs regarding Windows Phone, there’s no mainstream media mentions of it, and I see very few ads marketing it. On the other hand, the iPhone and various Android devices, particularly Samsung’s Galaxy S4, HTC’s One and Motorola’s Moto X, are getting a lot more attention. If you’re in the market for a new device, you’re way more likely to gravitate towards those devices before checking out a Windows Phone model.

So if I was in charge of Windows Phone (which thank goodness I’m not), here’s what I would suggest be done:

  1. Accelerate feature development and OS releases
    I would find a way to work outside of the normal bureaucratic confines of the Microsoft machine and start releasing more OS updates. Instead of shooting for big monumental releases, I would focus on more point releases to bring key features to the platform faster. In other words, give the tech people something to talk about and demonstrate through actions, not words, your commitment to accelerating product development. Windows Phone needs to close the feature gap between it and the leaders and start pulling ahead.
  2. Heavy does of advertising and promotion
    I would make a more concerted effort to be seen and heard, and I don’t mean at the tech conferences. I’m talking about lots of prime time advertising, online viral videos, and strong media spots. I would get permission to go outside of normal Microsoft marketing agencies and channels in order to inject fresh ideas into the mix. I would also make sure our campaigns were different. In other words, don’t copy the Apple formula – do something bolder to differentiate the product.
  3. Create handset buzz
    I’d get more vendors than Nokia on board and provide incentives for doing so. Sure, Nokia makes a good handset, but there needs to be more flagship models out there. There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to Windows Phone, and the choices that exist aren’t compelling.
  4. More developer enthusiasm
    Because of how far behind Microsoft is in the market, there’s not a lot of excitement among developers to jump onto the platform. My colleague Carl has been trying out a Lumia 925 over the last month, and even he says that the lack of app support makes it really tough to recommend the device. The same issues I had with app support in Windows Phone 7 over a year ago still haven’t been addressed in Windows Phone 8. Somehow, someway, I would get developers excited about developing for Windows Phone.

I’m still of the opinion that the market can support a third mobile operating system. Microsoft certainly has the resources at its disposal to take a run at it, and Windows Phone 8 is a well designed operating system. However, the longer they languish at the back of the pack and celebrate meaningless victories, the harder it will get to be relevant. Why? People are getting more and more locked into iOS and Android services, and unless the reason to switch is really compelling, Microsoft won’t win those users back.

The only solution for Microsoft at this point is to create more buzz and market momentum, and to do it quickly. Time is not on their side. They need to start shaking things up, and fast. Otherwise, they’re going to not only slide further behind in market share, but worse yet, they’ll become irrelevant in the mobile market.