Not that long ago, if you were to bump into me on the street, you’d see a guy decked out with love for all things Microsoft; a Lumia 1020 in my pocket, a Microsoft Band 2 on my wrist, a Surface Pro 3 in my backpack and an Xbox One back home. I was entrenched in the ecosystem, and I loved every second of it. I was backing up my photos with OneDrive, asking Cortana for directions, and clicking away on OneNote for school.
Today, things are different. While I still have the Surface Pro 3 and the Xbox One, I ditched the 1020 in favor of an Android phone, and I almost never wear my Band 2 anymore. Today, I’m rocking the Pixel XL, saying “OK, Google” instead of “Hey, Cortana”, jotting notes down in Google Keep, and backing my photos up on my Google Drive. Essentially, the only thing I swapped out was my phone, but it made a massive difference in how I interact with the rest of my devices.
Microsoft’s biggest failing, in my opinion, is that they did not take into consideration how important a user’s mobile device is in regards to adopting the rest of the ecosystem. Microsoft dreamt of a “One Windows” world, where the same operating system that powers your laptop also powers your tablet, your phone, your smartwatch, your video game console, your wall hubs, and your holographic headsets. This is all fine and dandy until you take away the availability of a truly remarkable flagship phone. Suddenly, you’ve got a “One Windows, and my Android phone” ecosystem.
Prior to the Lumia 950 and 950XL coming to market, Microsoft’s flagship phone was the Nokia Lumia 1520, released in January 2014. It wasn’t until very close to two years later that they dropped the 950 and 950XL. For some, the 1520 was not enough of an improvement over the Lumia 1020, so they didn’t upgrade and had to wait over three years for the first official Microsoft flagship.
During that time, other manufacturers and operating systems were lapping Windows Phone 8.1 to the extent that it became pointless to remain stuck in a very outdated system. That’s why I left. The Android offerings were too enticing not to jump aboard, and as I made the leap, so too did mine and Satya Nadella’s dream of a “One Windows” ecosystem.
Google Now was light years ahead of Cortana, and showed no signs of slowing down. Screens were bigger, brighter, and better. Cases were made from high-end materials like brushed aluminum and glass. These felt like devices from the future. Sadly, the Lumia line did not feel that way. Everything was matte black plastic that creaked and popped with even slight pressure. Back panels that were great for easily swapping out a battery got so loose and warped with time that they hardly stayed on most of the time. By the time the 950 came out, I was convinced. The grass was greener on the other side. I had already swapped my Lumia 1020 for a Samsung Note Edge, and traded that for a Google Pixel.
Of course, the Pixel works better with Google services, so I had to give them a try. I started with a Gmail account, which opened up Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Assistant, Daydream, and even Google itself. I was no longer “Binging” things, I was Googling them.
With how far I’ve gone into the Google-verse, you’d think it impossible that I’d go back to Microsoft, but that isn’t the case at all. The sad reality is that Microsoft puts out some of the best devices the market has ever seen, but companies like Apple and Samsung have been overly successful in painting the company as “lame” and “behind the times”. As someone who has used most everything that Microsoft (and Apple, and Samsung) has put out, I can tell you definitively that the Surface Pro 3 is the greatest tablet that has ever been made, the Band 2 is the greatest fitness tracker that has ever hit the market, and Windows 10 Mobile is actually very, very good. The alleged “app gap” is meaningless. Most people use 9 to 10 apps 90% of the time, and chances are pretty high that the Windows App Store has them, or at least has good quality supplements.
But I think the thing that pulls me back into the Microsoft universe more and more is the realization that with devices like the Pixel XL, Daydream View, Android Wear 2.0, I find myself being drawn in more and more to my digital life and taken out of my real one. I never used to look at my phone as much as I do now, let alone strap it to my face and go on adventures. And while that sounds like technological improvement, I’m fighting with the fact that it’s more isolating than it’s ever been before. Microsoft’s goal with the Band 2 was to create a device that worked while not taking you out of your real life, and with that, they succeeded. I’m struggling with what I want versus what I need, and Windows Mobile, coupled with the Windows ecosystem, gave me everything I needed while allowing me the opportunity to sit in front of my Xbox with my wife and binge watch a season of The Big Bang Theory. I was connected to nothing but her. And in this world of technological connection but interpersonal isolation, I miss that.
Microsoft created a One Windows ecosystem, and it truly is remarkable what they’ve accomplished. I disagree with them shelving certain products, but that’s the way the corporate cookie crumbles. Since the original Xbox, Microsoft has worked on creating a digital world that connects real ones, with experiences not just to be had, but to be shared. It’s not about an app count, it’s about which ones are important so you can stay connected to what you need to, but get back out and rejoin your real life.
For now, I’m wearing my Band 2 a little more, and remembering why I fell in love with Microsoft in the first place.