Until Windows 10 Mobile is ready, consider the 950 XL and 950 as 'developer devices'?

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When Microsoft explicitly stated that they were making new flagships for "Windows fans", they weren't kidding. With the current state of the Lumia 950 XL and 950 in terms of stability, you'd have to be a real fan, a genuine dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast with the patience of a saint to appreciate the new devices in terms of suitability for day to day use. Not for the first time, parallels to Google's Nexus line spring to mind - surely the Lumia 950 and 950 XL should have been pitched as 'developer devices' from day one? It would certainly have headed off much of the current criticism in the tech press.

The current state of Windows 10 Mobile on the 950 and 950 XL is somewhat lamentable. I really do think that Christmas got in the way, and it's going to take a few weeks before momentum on the OS is regained.

I reported on PocketNow's big 'No' verdict here, and the guest on my Phones Show Chat podcast this weekend, Richard Yates, was damning in his criticism of the 950 XL - which he bought with his own money and then returned because he felt so insulted by the product. He called it, "Microsoft's N97", referring to the unstable, ill-equipped ambitious mess that was the Nokia N97 about six years ago. In fact, things aren't quite that bad, I contend, since the N97's principal failings were in the under-specced hardware (slow processor, low RAM, low internal flash storage and resistive touchscreen) and no amount of software tweaks could fix those. The 950 range's hardware (a little creaking aside, fixed by the use of a Mozo back) is pretty decent in terms of component choices, the main current failings are in the firmware, the OS and the applications. OK, so that's quite a lot, but still - it's all just bits and bytes, which means that it can all be fixed up.

This is what I wrote in the conclusion to part 1 of my review of the Lumia 950:

Although not perfect or bug-free yet by any stretch of the imagination, I'm giving a pass to Windows 10 Mobile - it's a known quantity and anyone who's stuck with Windows Phone so far has probably already settled on a range of applications that work well for them. And Microsoft will be patching and tweaking the OS for many months, if not years, just as on the desktop - this is Windows 10 'as a service'. So every week your phone will hopefully work better than it did the previous week!

Of course, from the point of view of someone with an iPhone 6 (onwards) or Galaxy S6 (onwards) or Sony Xperia Z5 (onwards, you get the idea, I could extend this list quite a way), the Lumia 950 hardware isn't as exciting as it perhaps needs to be, plus it's absolutely true that the third party application ecosystem for Windows 10 Mobile has gaping holes in it when compared to iOS and Android.
Microsoft's aim though, as already discussed, isn't to sell tens of millions of these things. The Lumia 950 XL is their 'Nexus', their demonstration device of how Windows 10 can work in a mobile context. So Office, Outlook, Continuum, Hello, and so on. The hardware itself is very capable but there's no real 'halo' effect.

For the dedicated 'fan' then, the AAWP reader if you will, with the patience of a saint and probably several other phones to host their SIM if it all gets too much, there's the current woeful state of Windows 10 Mobile but there's also the excitement of weekly improvements. I can live with this, even enjoy it (in a certain macabre way), so can you, but it's a shame that Richard, PocketNow and many other publications and end users are having to suffer and deliver verdicts on what it still a 'beta' OS. 

Christmas and the Lumia 950 XL

What should Microsoft have done?

  • Label Windows 10 Mobile as a 'beta', explicitly and...
  • State that the Lumia 950 and 950 XL were developer devices (along the lines of Google's Nexus), at least for the next few months, perhaps with a sticker saying 'Preview' on every box(!) Then, when the OS, firmware and applications are all stable, marketing of the devices for the mainstream could have begun in earnest.

Although first impressions have largely already been made, supply of the Lumia 950 and 950 XL to the mainstream hasn't really happened yet. We've heard of numerous retailers pushing back availability dates well into January, so I suspect that Microsoft itself has been throttling supply levels to a degree, limiting the devices to those who are really, really keen to get them, 'warts and all'. The likes of Amazon have also halted direct sales of some variants in some markets while problems are investigated and this will also work to the same end.

Of course, this isn't ideal. Or unexpected. Given Microsoft's track record, that Windows 10 Mobile would arrive slightly late and with 'issues' is almost par for the course. It's too late, way too late, for dominance on mobile on its own, but Microsoft is playing the long game. I've got rather tired of batting down comments on Twitter along the lines of "Microsoft should give up on Windows Phone" - the next line, from me, is "But they did already, it's now part of the Windows 10 juggernaut, which spans down to the phone." I don't think many people in the mainstream understand this yet, but hopefully the message will sink in during 2016.

Comments welcome then on my 'Preview' sticker idea - does this, and the idea of a 'beta' OS and 'developer devices' sound about right to you?

950 XL 'preview'?

PS. Thanks very much to Clove for the loan of the retail devices used in these features!