Digital A-List 2012

Ad Age Digital A-List: Windows Phone

Outside-the-Box Software Offers a More Proactive User Experience -- Trouble Is, Users Aren't Seeking Out the Experience

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Windows Phone is the coolest phone you may never own.

Even if Microsoft's revamped software for smartphones doesn't put Redmond back on the mobile map, it's the only glimmer of hope that the mobile market won't always be locked behind an endless grid of apps.

Microsoft doesn't get any points for being very, very late to the smartphone party -- Windows Phone was introduced in 2010 -- but recent software updates point to its product's being a strong rival to Apple's iPhone and Google's Android.

It takes only a second to see that Windows Phone doesn't look like any other smartphone software. The startup screen features a colorful stream of tiles constantly updating with the latest posts from social networks, weather reports and other data-feeds you pin there. Where checking social networks on an iPhone or Android device means opening and closing app after app to get the most recent information, Windows Phone presents it all as one stream. Even the contacts aggregate not only phone numbers and email addresses, but Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

Microsoft didn't set out to make mobile software that looked dramatically different from Android or iPhone, said Jeff Fong, a principal user-experience designer on Windows Phone. But that 's exactly what happened when the company unwrapped all the content buried in apps.

"We want to bring information to our user, rather than having our users go look for it," Mr. Fong said.

The problem is that consumers haven't gone looking for the phone.

As market share and momentum climb for iPhone and Android, Microsoft's continues to fall. The company partnered with global handset-maker Nokia -- another ailing giant -- to develop and distribute Windows Phones, but there are no signs that the fruits of that union will be able to gain ground on the reigning smartphones' massive lead.

The first devices from the partnership appeared in Europe and Asia during the holidays, but, as expected, sales were not sufficient to prevent a further decline in Microsoft's smartphone market share, according to research firm Gartner.

The Nokia Lumia 900, coming to the U.S. on AT&T this spring, was a design darling of the Consumer Electronics Show, but consumers will only see the device only if they know to look for it.