Windows Phone in 2011: a year in review

Windows Phone 560x403 Windows Phone in 2011: a year in review

With 2011 coming to a close, we thought we’d look back on Windows Phone’s first full year on the market. Things started out a bit rocky, but Microsoft and its partners managed to accomplish some impressive feats over the last twelve months.

At the beginning of January, with just two months on the market, Windows Phone had approximately 2,500 developers and a library of just over 5,000 apps. Now, the platform has swelled to more than 13,000 developers and 50,000 apps. Of course, early on, the marketplace browsing experience needed a bit of work. Thankfully, the “NoDo” update, as it was codenamed, fixed these issues and added a few minor features like copy and paste.

Unfortunately, the update roll-out was not without difficulty. Wireless carriers began delivering the update on March 22. Many devices received it within a month-and-a-half, but it took nearly three months to arrive on all handsets. Throughout the entire process, there was much confusion as to when a particular device would receive the update.

While customers were waiting for “NoDo,” Microsoft made a few major announcements. On February 12, the Redmond software giant announced a surprise partnership with Nokia. It would take nearly a year for the devices to be released in the United States, but this agreement radically changed the course of the Finnish device manufacturer. The other major piece of news was the first details about the Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” update, which was tentatively scheduled for the fall. It was around this time that Sprint finally joined the formerly GSM-only Windows Phone family with the HTC Arrive.

The month of May brought with it even more major Windows Phone progress. Microsoft announced its $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype–which, as of this writing, still has yet to be released on Windows Phone–and provided further details on the “Mango” update. The Redmond software giant didn’t detail each and every one of the 500 new features, but it did provide an exciting glimpse into what the company had in store. The Must-Have Games promotion also kicked off in May, adding such wildly popular titles as Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and Doodle Jump. And finally, after more than six months of waiting, Verizon customers were able to get their hands on the HTC Trophy, the Big Red’s first Windows Phone.

The following summer was filled with Mango leaks, rumors, and announcements. Developers spent the time creating Mango-ready apps with support for multitasking, improved live tiles, and much more, all while playing with multiple pre-release versions of the update. It was an exciting time, but nothing compared to the actual release of the update, which incremented Windows Phone’s version number to 7.5.

The Japan-exclusive Fujitsu-Toshiba IS12T was the first Mango device to hit the market in August, sporting a waterproof design and 32GB of internal memory. Many other devices launched around the world over the following few months. The HTC TITAN‘s massive screen certainly lived up to its name, while the HTC Radar proved to be an excellent little device that could fit anyone’s budget. The Samsung Focus S and Focus Flash were also great handsets, perfectly complementing the first-generation Samsung Focus. Acer and LG also released second-generation devices, as did newcomers like ZTE.

But what people were most interested in, however, were Nokia’s first Windows Phones. Finally announced in late October, the Nokia Lumia 710 and Lumia 800 proved that the manufacturer had excellent design smarts. Unfortunately, the devices only launched in a select few European markets. US customers and others around the world are still waiting to get their hands on a Nokia Windows Phone.

The most impressive feat of the year, of course, was Microsoft’s buttery smooth roll-out of the “Mango” update. The Redmond software giant learned from the troubled “NoDo” update and gave “Mango” to the wireless carriers and manufacturers in late July. This allowed all parties involved to prepare for a simultaneous global roll-out. Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” went live on September 27. It was initially limited to 10% of devices to insure a smooth roll-out, but those who wanted it right away were able to force the update using a simple trick. Microsoft quickly ramped up the pace, and the update was available on nearly all devices by October 19. One troublesome version of the Samsung Focus remained, but it represented a very small subset of devices. Customers and journalists alike praised Microsoft for the fast and flawless update process, which managed to put Google to shame; 50% of Android devices still haven’t been updated to the latest version more than a year after its release.

Of course, it wasn’t a perfect year. Windows Phone users are still waiting for high profile apps like Skype and Audible (although some, like Spotify, were released) and sales could certainly be a lot better. Windows Phone’s market share has remained small, despite all of the advancements the platform has made. These problems should, hopefully, be solved next year. But as it currently stands, Windows Phone had one heck of a year. Here’s to 2012.

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