That Time I Bought A Windows Phone
In yesterday’s quarterly earnings report, Microsoft articulated just how badly they had burned themselves with the acquisition of Nokia; specifically, to the tune of $7.5 billion. Tens of thousands of layoffs later and the handset wing of Microsoft is a ghost town compared to what it was when the Finnish smartphone company was absorbed into Redmond’s welcoming embrace. In so doing, Microsoft conceded what most folks seem to have known all along: that in the smartphone “war”, Microsoft never really stood a chance.
This does not surprise me much in the least. Not because I am in deep with the goings-on of the tech world (I own a Pebble. I watch Silicon Valley. That’s about it.) but because, for a solid fourteen months, I used a Nokia Lumia 925 every day.
It was a considered choice that was made when my iPhone died in an unfortunate panic-attack-related incident. I love few things like new OSes (i.e. new ways to play with and to interact with technology). So while I could’ve gone for whatever the then top of the line iPhone looked like at the time or something something Android, Windows 8 just looked too damn pretty against the black bezel of the Lumia. Too… friendly. Too fun. The way the Live Tiles would spin to refresh their information was completely unnecessary but I absolutely loved it.
When my phone arrived, I was derided at home for the decision I had made. “You use Windows exactly zero times in a given day,” it was pointed out to me. “How’s it going to sync with your Mac?”
(The answer is, of course, “it won’t” and also “not even a little” but I didn’t care at the time.)
Using it, I instantly fell for the industrial design of the piece. Apple gets all the love in this regard, but despite running fundamentally broken software (more on that in a minute), Nokia/Microsoft really put together a beautiful piece of hardware. More than that, I fondly remember how it felt. In my hand, waiting for text replies for example, I would roll the thing up and over again and again in my palm. It felt perfectly weighted and balanced. If I dropped it, the damn thing would bounce and I’d catch it on the way back up (not entirely accurate but still — the infamous Nokia toughness made it into the Lumias, for sure. If I drop my iPhone now, the dread that fills my chest is new and strange).
At parties, I would happily show my phone off to anyone who caught a glimpse of the weird spinny tiles and ask about them.
“These weird spinny tiles?” I’d say. “They give me the weather, sports scores, and today — they’re orange.”
“Does it work with iTunes?” they’d ask.
“This tile is just a picture from Adventure Time that I pinned to the screen to make me smile,” I’d deflect.
One time, walking home from work, I got caught in a lightning storm. It had been a slight drizzle that gave way at about the half-mile mark to the cover of a British heavy metal album. I was sprinting up-hill trying to make it to my apartment. A guy in a Prius doubled back down the road for me and yelled that I get in, “DUDE! YOU SHOULD NOT BE OUTSIDE,” he yelled over the thunder. “MY PHONE IS FROM THE FUTURE AND YOU’RE ALL FOOLS,” I responded. Truthfully though, it was one of maybe five times I’ve actually been terrified out in nature. And the whole way up to the apartment, I was thinking of a) not getting struck by lightning and b) how doubtlessly fucked my phone was.
I made it to my complex’s clubhouse and immediately marched into the bathroom. Pulling my phone out, a gush of water came off of it and collected with the puddle forming at my feet. But, triumphantly, the screen was on! For a minute. Before it flickered, flashed the Windows logo in cobalt blue, and then powered down. I walked outside just as the sun came out. Like some sort of reverse Charlie Brown, I headed up to my apartment in the hot, bright day and proceeded to do the dance which we will all one day tell our grandchildren about (“We used to put our wet phones in rice! Rice!” we’ll say. “Grandpa, rice hasn’t been able to grow for more than a decade, now put on your HVAC pack again or you’ll die.” they’ll say as they tighten their own Mad Max-style battle armor and steel themselves for another supply run).
The battery cannot be removed on a Lumia for reasons, so I sheepishly poured all that rice back in its bag. Then I spent about half an hour siphoning water out through the charging port. Which actually worked. I was getting like, mouthfuls of coppery water and spitting them into my sink. In time, I was able to get the screen to power back on and for all functions to resume. I was beyond ecstatic.
The point is — I loved that dumb, dumb phone. But still, a few months after the resuscitation, and it was enough for me to notice that the once-vibrant online community of Windows Phone users was trickling to a noticeably stagnant gaggle of folks who were largely waiting for their upgrades to come up again. I would boot apps and be greeted with a notification explaining that WP support would be removed in x weeks. Over and over. I’d read about a thrilling new mobile game and just became totally used to expecting to never see it.
The app store, on that note, was, when I left it, a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than the Mos Eisley spaceport where you can download such instant classics as “Flippy Bird” and “Instagrim” (where you can post photos of people your witchly premonitions tell you are soon to die). When I, check in hand, saw that Bank of America was pulling their Windows Phone app, I called AT&T and cried until someone in the Trauma and Counseling department sent me an iPhone.
That was maybe six months ago and having a phone that behaves like a phone is astounding. It is also boring. The cradle of iOS seems so safe and dummy-proof these days. Siri doesn’t have the soul of Cortana (moot point as you can now download that as a stand-alone on any platform). Coming back to it, iOS is all so entirely familiar, and that’s nice too. But I still miss flipping that 925 in my hand.