How I failed as an early adopter

Warning: The following rant is full of bitters, like an old fashioned.

This rant begins with the ZuneHD. An object of love. “One day it will be a sweet phone!” I’d say to anyone who’d listen. Then Windows Phone 7 came out and made a liar out of me.

Instead of improving WP7, Nokia and Microsoft switched focus to Windows Phone 8 without providing an upgrade path to early adopters. As a result, a few million well-meaning people are suffering from premature obsoleteness.

6 months ago I switched from Android to WP7

It was a hard decision to switch.

If you live in NYC, you don’t just ditch Verizon, with its nice grandfathered-in unlimited data plan, its $90/mo phone service, and best no-drop call quality in the city. You don’t just go to AT&T’s $110/mo service with its dropped calls and weaker signal. And you don’t just leave an established phone OS with Google Maps to be that guy with the weird device with Bing Maps (“subways? what subways?”). Not unless you believe that Microsoft is going to be loyal to its developers and early adopters. And I believed. I believed hard.

I believed in the platform because the tools for building WP7 apps are the best. Literally. I still stand behind that.

Visual Studio is the tool of choice for hardcore programmers. Kinect, Unreal Engine, and Battlefield 3 were not programmed in Ruby on Rails on a pretty little Macbook. No they were built using Visual Studio. And you can download it for free and use it to build Windows Phone apps!

Doesn’t the idea of using the same tools as world famous million-dollar budget AAA Game Studios give you goosebumps?

Programmers know: with the right tools you can make anything.

So I hopped into a cushy heated seat in Microsoft’s bandwagon. Being that guy at the party always apologizing for Microsoft to GNU/Linux, Google, and Apple fans, the seat had my name on it. Clearly, I go to awesome parties.

In the spirit of getting a new phone, I grabbed my significant other and ran around NYC trying to find an AT&T store that actually had the new pearly white Lumia 900 on its launch day. After 2 or 3 stores, I finally found it!

The fanboy-bandwagon-beer-googles protected me from fact that most AT&T stores didn’t even know there was a Lumia 900 release. It didn’t faze me at all. I was buying my new shiny phone that I could program and make awesome apps on! I could use 3 years of WPF/XNA skills to build awesome stuff! Yeah!

As I started paying for my inevitable mistake by taking out a credit card, the phone marketplace walked up next to me, personified by a young professional, and traded in her Blackberry for an iPhone.

What are you paying for?

When I bought the Lumia 900, I didn’t pay for a random model number, a brand name, a pretty color, or a shape. I paid for an actively supported phone with a platform that will be around for a while. I paid for a dream.

Over the next few weeks my excitement for making WP7 apps waned. When going out I’d ask someone with an iPhone to take a picture or lookup directions (using their well implemented Google Maps.) I also learned that the apps built by big-names (like that with the books and the faces..) were, in the spirit of big companies launching new platforms, subsidized by Microsoft. A quick lesson for platform builders: You can pay a third-party software-vendor to port their application to your platform, but you can’t pay them to care.

6 months and $760 ($110/mo * 6mo + $100 phone price) later I find myself with a dead-end phone that is obsolete to me as a user and a developer. Microsoft has “shifted direction” and is going all-in on their Windows 8 bet. This bet is a large package: Windows 8 desktops, a new line of Visual Studio products, Windows Phone 8 phones, and Windows 8 RT Tablets. Its an all or nothing deal and everyone with a Windows Phone 7 can, apparently, suck it.

On a side now: from now on if you want to develop apps for the Windows Phone 7 or Windows Phone 8, you need to upgrade to Windows 8. This is Microsoft taking cue from the Apple playbook of forced upselling.

This phone and its 2 year contract with AT&T is going to cost me $2700. That is $500 more than total cost of ownership of an Android or an iPhone device with Verizon. And for what? To be on an obsolete platform? I bought this phone with the expectation of it lasting 18 months and being able to develop apps for it.. knowing there will be a growing audience.

A $1400 PC lasts at least 3 years. A $250 Xbox 360 provides great value 7 years later. So what is this phone doing for me? At least the previous Nokia phone I owned, a certain unbreakable blue candybar, could dance.

Call up AT&T and see if they can help.

AT&T gave me three options: $250 early upgrade fee + $100 phone upgrade price, $240 for an extra line with a new 2 year contract + $100 phone upgrade price, $365 termination fee to go back to Verizon,  or buy the phone straight up for $400. So they basically spun the same scam 4 ways: pay another $350 to buy the phone and service you thought you were getting.

Neither of these are appealing options, since I’ve already invested $220 premium over a Verizon Android phone. (I know: sunk costs are irrational, etc)

Another guy managed to get the early upgrade fee waived. But I guess I’m just not as convincing!

Avoiding Beta Microsoft products.

To be an employable programmer it helps to stay up to date. All my GNU/Linux boxes (media center, virtual machines, and webservers in datacenters) run the latest kernels and server stacks. Back in the day I had an MSDN subscription which came with a thick binder of every Microsoft product ever released. I’ve used Microsoft’s CTPs (Community Tech Previews) of .NET, SQL, Visual Studio, the early Windows Phone SDKs, early Surface SDK, you name it. So I understand that upgrading can be rough.

But I didn’t know the Lumia 900 was going to be a beta phone. I just didn’t see it coming. The early adopters that invested in Microsoft’s WP7 got screwed. Some just don’t know it.

Is this wrong? It’s just a few hundred bucks who cares.

Some won’t know that their phone is a dead-end. Or that developers don’t wants to make apps for it, that the API will not evolve or be a priority, and that compatibility will be a mere afterthought.

Just as some people will never know their diamond ring is actually a cubic zirconia. They will live happily thinking they have a beautiful 1.0ct stone for which they rightly paid $5000. But they were hustled. And that is wrong even if they don’t realize it.

Should I believe Msft this time? Is Windows Phone 8 the real deal?

I think the amount of marketing invested into a product is proportional to how long the product will be around (to recoup on investment.) So maybe Lumia 920 won’t be worthless after 6 months.

Solutions

Wamsille had a neat idea of AT&T/Nokia/Microsoft offering a subsidized trade-up program to compensate all those that didn’t get their moneys worth with their beta-phones. It’s a great idea!

Given the outrageous prices you pay for wireless service, you should always have a phone that is supported, has an active community, and an actively developed app marketplace. A huge factor in buying a phone is the promise of quality apps — and manufacturers and marketplaces don’t make this easy for developers either. But that’s another story.

One thought on “How I failed as an early adopter

  1. The problem is you weren’t really an early adopter. You were as late as an adopter as possible. You literally bought the last of the WP7 line, several months after it had been announced by Nokia. My 2 year old WP7 by LG had a good run and now that its over 2 years old it even got an update to WP7.8. It got over 6 OS updates, that’s a hell of a lot more support then any Android device gets and despite being a 2 year old device its also faster then a lot of new age Android devices in terms of speed using stock apps. (Android is faster at running 3rd party apps). I do agree with everything you have said about the WP marketplace though.

    I currently have an Android phone, and although its only 6 months old, it is already two Android versions behind. Despite the delays, I know it will upgraded to Jelly Bean eventually, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that update is released when Android moves to v5.0 (Key Lime Pie)

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