Gone but not forgotten: a brief history of failed smartphone operating systems

Windows Phone

Like the tech equivalent of a slow mo trainwreck, Windows Phone was headed towards failure right from the start, and all anyone could do was sit back and watch in horror. A pattern of bad decisions and mismanagement managed to turn one of the most compelling OS concepts in the past decade into a convoluted and unfinished mess. While the OS technically lives on to this day, pretty much no one uses it anymore, making it a strong contender for our list. Which is a shame, since Windows Phone could have been so much more, had its core tenets not been diluted by time constraints and gimmicks.


Windows Phone’s most interesting feature is undoubtedly its striking visual design, which at the time of its release was like nothing else on the market. Well, almost nothing – the design language, then known as Metro, actually predates the mobile OS by a few years, first emerging on Microsoft’s Zune line of portable media players, where it gradually evolved into something resembling what Windows Phone offered at launch. Another thing WP borrowed was the Windows CE kernel, which proved problematic down the road, as it rendered the next version, Windows Phone 8, incompatible with existing devices. While initially there weren’t many compelling devices, that problem was soon remedied by Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, which managed to successfully produce a few good high-end phones, along with a number of okay mid-to-low-end ones. Despite the extensive marketing efforts for the OS, especially overseas, customers remained unconvinced, prompting Microsoft’s buyout of Nokia’s consumer device business, which it then quickly ran into the ground. As of now, the Windows Phone name is no more, replaced by what is now known as Windows 10 Mobile, a secondary version of the company’s primary operating system, while app support is still mediocre at best.


First off, let’s get one thing straight – while Windows Phone was never a perfect OS, its looks are unique, even today. Microsoft managed to successfully differentiate itself with a simplistic interface in an era of screens buzzing with unnecessary information, which was a bold move rarely seen in the industry. And this was far from the only good idea Microsoft had for the OS – during the early WP days, there was a concept, dubbed “Hubs”, whose purpose was to aggregate similar types of content in a single, easily accessible place. Live Tiles, a somewhat polarizing feature, combined the functionality of widgets and app shortcuts. The built-in touch keyboard is one of the best ever made, and for a while it actually held the world record for fastest typing on a touchscreen. Later versions of the OS also introduced Cortana, a digital assistant similar to iPhone’s Siri. With time, multiple other, smaller features were implemented to bring the OS on par with its competitors, though they ultimately had little impact on the public’s perceptions.

What went wrong

Ask anyone the above question and you’ll get pretty much the same answer: “it had no apps”. While that is true and widely documented, it isn’t the real reason for the platform’s failure, but rather just a symptom of it. In reality, Microsoft consistently made terrible decisions regarding the OS, starting from way before it was even announced. First off, its first incarnation, Windows Phone 7, was built on top of an aging kernel, Windows CE, the very same that had powered its Windows Mobile platform for more than a decade (an OS’ kernel is its most important chunk of code, which controls all operations taking place on a given system). Threatened by Android and iOS’ success, Microsoft rushed Windows Phone’s development, dropping many essential features, including backwards compatibility with WM, which rendered the choice of Windows CE unnecessary. 

The list of functionality missing at launch includes, but is not limited to: copying and pasting, a notification center, multitasking, tethering, VoIP, custom ringtones, and so much more. While those features were all eventually implemented, their inclusion came at the cost of others’ removal: for example, Hubs – once a main selling point of the platform – were nerfed and eventually removed entirely, with their crippled replacements suffering from bad performance and bugs. Instead of implementing better APIs that are on par with their competitors’, Microsoft chose to add unnecessary new features, such as the (soon to be removed) Kids Corner, further alienating developers already disheartened by Windows Phone’s small install base. And all of this is just scratching the surface – there’s a ton of other factors, like the carrier-dependent software updates, flagships becoming progressively worse in terms of quality, the sabotage tactics employed by Google and a handful of app developers, and more, but those are a topic for another day.


Windows Phone’s main success was in its visual design – the combination of flat, bold colors, simple shapes and typography seems to have struck a chord with many people: first off, there’s Microsoft itself – Metro was heavily integrated into the desktop Windows 8, and subsequently Windows 10, though that change was widely criticized for being forced and unnecessary. Secondly, there’s WP’s competing platforms, most of which have since adopted simpler, flat user interfaces – whether this shift was in response to Metro or not is debatable, but Microsoft undoubtedly had the first major platform to feature such a design. Cortana, the digital assistant which debuted with WP8.1, is now available on most major platforms, with Microsoft planning to expand it to third-party developers. As for the OS itself, there have been a few rumors of new devices coming out in the future, but past failures have left us somewhat skeptical.

Jump to: WebOS | MeeGo | Windows Phone | BlackBerry 10 | Firefox OS

Additional reading



1. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

I've always wanted to collect smartphones with those exotic OSes.

6. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

They forgot to mention Tizen. :D

16. Ray.S

Posts: 457; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

This one is not dead yet! Hang in there buddy!

24. GreenMan

Posts: 2697; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

I can say the same about Windows 10 Mobile, Ray... The latest preview 1703 (10.0.15025.1001) was released just a day ago on 2 February... Look it up if you don't believe this old oak tree... And that's pretty far from dead in my book... And if you mean to point-out at Windows Phone 8.1 then sure its dead, just like Android Gingerbread or iOS 5... Don't be so biased against Windows... Sure it can't hold a candle against The Nougat, but its pretty respectable, usability wise, when compared to the likes of feature-phone OS like the Nokia Series 30+ that currently grace the Nokia feature-phones... Oh well, W'Day!

46. Master_Oogway

Posts: 104; Member since: Oct 06, 2016

But atleast they forgot Bada OS from Samsung...

47. aldridhl

Posts: 76; Member since: Feb 12, 2011

It's funny/sad how PA loves to s**t on windows phone. It's still alive, despite not being a high priority for MS or a roaring success like the big two. IMO it's still a good alternative in terms of usability.

70. phonearenarocks

Posts: 606; Member since: Mar 26, 2015

You agree with 69?

75. SemperFiV12

Posts: 949; Member since: Nov 09, 2010

Neither is Windows Phone... Buddy. But who cares about being objective :)

17. Mxyzptlk unregistered

And BlackBerry 10 and Blackberry OS.

26. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

Right after Windows Phone and before Firefox OS.

23. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

Don't forget Ubuntu Touch and Bada

69. phonearenarocks

Posts: 606; Member since: Mar 26, 2015

It is one of the finest smart watch OS and it is used in their Smart TVs, Refrigerators, and all other electronic appliances. Success in smart watch industry could pave for more apps to be developed making way for third competitive mobile OS.

19. HugoBarraCyanogenmod

Posts: 1412; Member since: Jul 06, 2014

BB10 still significant despite being dead, at least 5 out of 100 users in some Africa if I'm not mistaken

20. meanestgenius

Posts: 22035; Member since: May 28, 2014

Very true. There is still a significant user base for BB10 in Africa and Indonesia, despite what some uninformed people think.

29. Mxyzptlk unregistered

I can count the number of BlackBerry users on my fingers, despite what some ignorant people will think.

30. meanestgenius

Posts: 22035; Member since: May 28, 2014

There aren't enough fingers (and toes, and eyelashes, and eyebrows) in the world to count the amount of times you made an ignorant troll statement and tried to pass it off as an informed opinion.

33. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Boy someone is cranky. Let me get the butthurt report form. Again. The problem you seem to have is understanding someone else's opinion.

34. meanestgenius

Posts: 22035; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, looks like I offended snowflake up there with some cold, hard facts. I could understand if your "opinions" were backed by experience and actual knowledge, but they're not. They are chock full of ignorance, especially when you comment on devices that you have never used before, like BlackBerry Android devices and BB10 devices. And hey, do you ever come up with anything new? You just recycle your same old inbred troll comments from post to post. Then again, I shouldn't expect too much from an idiot that spends the majority of his day trolling what he doesn't like and applying "anal soothe ointment" for when he gets repeatedly bumburned because of his trolling.

50. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Apparently you were the one who was offended. Why else would you react the way you did with my blackberry comment? You just can't seem to get over it about the BlackBerry thing. BB10 is dead and the only blackberry android phone that is worth taking about is the DTEK60. But don't let your butthurt get in the way of a good point. I could ask you the same thing with you constantly calling me an inbred Apple worshipper. But I don't expect much from a butthurt guy who is fighting the good fight.

53. meanestgenius

Posts: 22035; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, there you go projecting again. People like you that project so much usually do it because they seething with anger all of the time over others factual comments about them. You just can't seem to get over that there are other operating systems that are more capable than iOS that others like, like BB10 and BlackBerry Secured Android. If BB10 were "dead", it still wouldn't receive updates and it wouldn't still be supported, with a full OS upgrade on the way in 10.3.4. But don't let the facts get in the way of your rage and blind ignorance. No, you can't ask the same of me. You're an inbred trolling Apple Shill that attacks anything that's not Apple, and everyone here knows it, that's why so many people besides me say that you. But I don't expect much from a willfully ignorant idiot that admits he trolls other OS's "becaus others troll Apple" and that has admitted to making willfully ignorant comments "because he let his feud with me get the better of him".

59. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Oh get over it. You're always so sensitive about blackberry comments that you disagree with. I guess you were right when you said you were aggressive when it comes to defending blackberry with your other aliases. If BB10 was still alive, why haven't they released another device with it yet? As far as being more "capable" well that's subjective even if your delusional mind thinks otherwise. Pot meets the motherfcking kettle here. You have no room to call anyone an inbred shill. Remember, you're an inbred blackberry apologist, someone who thinks blackberry still has a chance when they don't. You have also admitted to trolling the trolls and fighting the good fight. And I'm not sure what you're trying to get at with me admitting I make ignorant comments.

60. meanestgenius

Posts: 22035; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, pot meets the motherfcking kettle here, as you always cry like a btch when someone says something about Apple that you don't agree with, as well as when someone proves you to be the ignorant troll that you are. You were absolutely correct when you admitted that you do indeed make ignorant comments on BlackBerry articles because of out little "feud". If BB10 was dead, then why is BlackBerry working on another OS update, 10.3.4, as we "speak"? And yes, operating systems like Android and BB10 are more capable than iOS. That's a fact, and it's evident in the limited functionality of iOS, despite what an inbred trolling Apple shill like yourself thinks. I can call you an inbred trolling Apple shill because it's what you are. I don't attack other OEM 's and OS's that aren't from Apple, and I don't make ignorant statements about other OEM's and OS's like you admitted to doing. And BlackBerry doesn't have a chance at what? Being the top EMM/MDM player in enterprise? Or having the most market share in the auto-infotainment industry? Because they're the top dog in both. My comments are based on facts and my own user experience. You run around deflecting for Apple like captain America's shield deflects bullets. And yes, I troll the trolls that make ignorant statements about devices they have never used, which is why I troll YOU, especially since you already admitted to trolling Android because "Android fans troll Apple", as well as you admitting to making ignorant comments about BlackBerry devices that you've never ever used just because of our little feud.

71. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Oh look, you can tell you hit a nerve when you start rambling. BB10 is dead. If it's not being released on new devices, then it's dead. That's a fact whether you want to admit it or not. So get over it. I'm not making ignorant comments. You need to get over it and stop being aggressive on blackberry articles. You admitted to it on that podcast and you get a hissy fit every time I point it out. I don't care what an inbred blackberry shill like you says. You're just mad ios killed blackberry even though blackberry tried to make an iPhone killer and compete against the iPhone and Android despite what your dumb @$$ says. I don't care what you do or don't do. You're too busy kissing the bum of blackberry and Chen because that's what you do best. And there you go using the usual blackberry is a player in niche markets scapegoat answer. Lol come up with something that isn't so predictable, alpha. Your comments are full of bullsht, but I guess that's expected from a blackberry shill. You're a troll in denial who just can't get over it.

72. meanestgenius

Posts: 22035; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, Mxy obviously still needs my attention after 3 whole days. It definitely must be because of all the space that I'm occupying in that teeny tiny brain of his. If the current devices are still getting fresh OS update and not just patches, it means the platform is still alive, whether you want to admit it or not. You need to get over your ignorance and stop trolling so much and crying like a little baby every time you get called out on your willful ignorance. I was never on any podcast, idiot. If I was, post a link where it says that Meanestgenius was on one proving so. Don't worry, I'll wait. But if your past links that you've posted as proof are any indication, you'll fail miserably once again. You're just a childish little btch that thinks that I'm concerned with silly little OS wars. Only immature brats are concerned with that. I just like trolling the trolls like you and proving your ignorance, especially about platforms that suit my needs that your ignorant @$$ has zero experience with. If you didn't care what I do, you wouldn't still be seeking my attention after three whole days. But I guess that inbred trolling Apple shills like you are too dumbfounded by the RDF that Apple produces to know any better. And there you go, trying to deflect from the fact that EMM/MDM and auto are markets that BlackBerry is number one in, while Apple isn't even a figment of the imagination in them by providing your usual scapegoat answer. Lmao! Come up with something original for once, batmite. YOU are full of bullsht, but that's to be expected from an inbred trolling Apple shill that spews willfully ignorant comments about platforms and devices he's never used, all while denying that he's the biggest troll on this site and everyone knows it.

2. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

You forgot about Nokia Anna-Belle, Kaloyan C. (The name kinda reminds me of a famous cursed doll)

3. Ray.S

Posts: 457; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

I don't think Symbian was a fail; it was just discontinued. Maybe another one of those bad decisions over at Nokia/MS at the time.

5. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

Good point sir, hmm... but what about Symbian UIQ which is completely different OS from the rest of Symbian variations?

7. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

It's a forked version of Symbian available on several Sony Ericsson handsets. The P8s and P9s and other Walkman phones were quite popular. Symbian was discontinued coz it can't progress anymore. They have to work up from zero but no funds available coz license fees from SE and Nokia was on its low. If only crowdfunding was available in those years.

9. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

Even though it's a forked version of Symbian, it looks like a completely different OS. But yeah it's still Symbian, your point is still stand. l apologise if my english is bad, and thanks for the answer anyway.

48. 47AlphaTango

Posts: 729; Member since: Sep 27, 2015

Discontinued? There are still manufacturers out there like samsung, nokia, and other third party phone vendors out there that still sells symbian powered phones. Just because both android and ios dominates the mobile market doesn't mean that there's no room for users who would buy secondary or third mobile phones. If the symbian was truly dead. How come nokia is still making symbian phones till now? Not everything should be thrown at the android and the ios. If there's still a room for the symbian to function such as: 1. Thermometer 2. Compass 3. Altimeter 4. Barometer 5. And Radio+Television And the reason why I chose these function is because, not all of these functions found on the smartphone(Except for TV) is being used.

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