Announced October 2010
It’s October 2020 and if you have a smartphone in your pocket it’s almost certainly going to be one of two things: an Apple iPhone or an Android device. It seems like it has been that way for ever, but ten years ago this month rival platforms were duking it out as if they had some sort of chance.
The big news ten years ago was Windows Phone 7. Microsoft had been haemorrhaging market share ever since the iPhone was launched. Earlier versions of Windows Mobile (as it was then called) had been capable enough, but the user interface was a frankly horrific relic from an earlier age. Stung by failure, Microsoft decided to redesign the product entirely and came up with something entirely different.
Windows Phone 7 was a huge critical success in interface design. Clean, responsive, informative and intuitive at the same time, it made Android and iOS look old-fashioned. iOS in particular was wedded to the skeuomorphic design that had been an Apple hallmark for decades, but by contrast Windows looked utterly modern.
Microsoft made the decision to base Windows Phone 7 on the same underlying Windows CE platform that had powered previous generations, rather than the more modern Windows NT platform that could have delivered the same power as Android and iOS. The next-generation of Windows Phone – version 8 – would change the platform while retaining the UI… but that is another story.
There was certainly some buzz about Windows Phone 7 though, and a lot of manufacturers had lined up behind Microsoft to push this new platform. HTC were the keenest with several new devices – the HTC 7 Pro, HTC 7 Trophy, HTC 7 Mozart, HTC Surround and the high-end HTC HD7. Samsung resurrected the Omnia sub-brand to come up with the Samsung Omnia 7, where rivals LG had the LG Optimus 7 and LG Optimus 7Q. Even Dell got in on the act with the Dell Venue Pro.
|A trio of doomed Windows Phone 7 devices|
The operating system was sleek, the phones were pretty good and competitively priced. But of course Windows Phone failed, mostly because it lacked the apps that Android and iOS had. And perhaps partly because… who actually needed another mobile phone OS anyway?
But Windows Phone 7 wasn’t the only doomed platform being touted this month. Samsung had also developed the Unix-like Bada operating system for use in smartphones. The Samsung Wave II was the company’s flagship Bada phone… again it was a sleek operating sytem, competitively priced with excellent hardware. Samsung had tried hard to get apps for the platform and had done reasonably well. But still… it wasn’t Android or iOS. But it did at least feature the somewhat infamous Rick Stivens.
|Samsung Wave Goodbye might have been a better name|
Bada didn’t last long, being folded into Tizen in 2012. Tizen itself was the effective successor OS to a medley of other Unix-like platforms: Maemo, Moblin, MeeGo and LiMo. Tizen found itself ported to a wide range of smartwatches and the Samsung Z range of smartphones up to 2017 when eventually they fizzled out. But Tizen didn’t die, instead becoming the most popular operating system in Smart TVs instead.
Another relatively new kid on the block was Palm’s webOS platform found in the Palm Pre 2. Stop me if you’ve heard this before… but the phone had a combination of good hardware, a great OS, competitive pricing and a reasonable set of apps which sadly couldn’t compete with the market leaders. The Pre 2 was the last smartphone to be launched under the Palm name (apart from the peculiar Palm Palm). But less than a year after the Pre 2 the entire webOS product line was cancelled by Palm’s owners, HP.
|Palm Pray might also have been a better name|
The excellent webOS operating system lingered on, with HP attempting to open source it. Eventually it was picked up by LG who applied it to smart TVs and smartwatches, in a directly parallel to Samsung and Tizen.
Three doomed platforms is surely enough? Not quite.
The Nokia C5-03 was a nice enough, low-cost Symbian touchscreen smartphone. Unlike the others, this had a really good library of apps, it was attractively priced and designed and also Symbian had been around for donkey’s years there had been a process of continual improvement and an established base of fans. But Nokia were on the verge of a spectacular collapse, and Symbian would effectively be dead within a year.
|Inexpensive but doomed smartphone fun with the Nokia C5-03.|
Windows Phone 7, Bada, webOs and even the aging Symbian were all modern platforms that could deliver the sort of experience that customers might want. In comparison, the BlackBerry OS on the Bold 9780 was not. BlackBerry’s efforts at repeatedly warming over an OS that was nearly a decade old had created a device that was pretty good at email and absolutely appalling for web browsing or any other of the meagre collection of apps that were available.
|BlackBerry missed the memo about what a 2010 smartphone should be|
It sold pretty well into corporations that had standardised on BlackBerry, but users hated it – instead choosing to use their own iOS and Android devices which they expected their companies to support, leading in turn to the idea of BYOD (“bring your own device”). BlackBerry did eventually come up with a vaguely competitive smartphone… in 2013, a full six years after the iPhone was announced.
Today, if you want a smartphone without Android or iOS then the pickings are fairly slim. But Huawei – currently the world’s number two smartphone manufacturer – is working on the Linux-based Harmony OS to replace Android. This move is mostly due to trade sanctions from the US, but Harmony is also available as open source, or alternatively Huawei will licence their closed-source version to other manufacturers. Who knows, perhaps this rival OS will be a success?
Image credits: HTC, LG, Samsung, BlackBerry, Dell, HP, Nokia.