Now that the Lumia 2520 is available, we’re starting to see how Windows RT shares some of the same pain points that Windows Phone 7 did when it shipped. While iOS and Android both have vibrant GPS mapping communities, with GPS choices for just about every task… Windows RT has nothing.
See, while Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 share the same core APIs, WinRT as it’s known (
not to be (endlessly) confused with Windows RT itself), the two aren’t binary-compatible.
Meaning, you can’t just run a Windows Phone app on Windows RT. It’s not like running an iPhone-only app on iPad, and it isn’t like running an Android phone app on an Android tablet. The developer has to rewrite the entire user interface, from scratch. If you’re wondering why Windows RT has so few apps, this is a big reason why.
Windows RT 8.1 was a huge opportunity for Microsoft to turn the tide, and implement a Windows Phone app runtime inside Windows RT. It didn’t happen. Worse, the feuding, warring teams inside Microsoft apparently didn’t give the concept much thought even. Microsoft internally, sources tell me, felt it would be better to force app developers to rewrite apps from scratch, and focus on ensuring every app on the Windows Store for Windows RT was top-tier.
BlackBerry tried this approach with BlackBerry 10, and exhausted tens of millions of dollars before deciding the best route was simply to flood the market with emulated Android apps. Why Microsoft thought it would work, is beyond this player.
But, there is a silver lining for Microsoft. The Lumia 2520 has prompted Nokia to port Nokia HERE Maps (previously Nokia Maps, previously Ovi Maps, previously Nokia Maps… you get the idea). Nokia, owners of map giant NAVTEQ, arguably has the best map data in the world. And, thanks to Nokia’s mapping deal with Microsoft, they’ve agreed to port their map apps to other, non-Nokia devices, even before the Nokia acquisition is finished. This first bore fruit in Nokia HERE for Windows Phone 7.5 and beyond, so Windows RT is a natural next step.
Just one problem: Surface doesn’t have GPS.
Microsoft made the conscious decision to buck the Google trend of incorporating GPS in Wi-Fi-only tablets, and mimicked iPad, excluding GPS. As such, HERE Maps won’t do much more than Bing Maps on Microsoft’s flagship Windows RT device. The biggest (in sales) tablet that would benefit, is the ASUS TF600T, a device ASUS has thrown in the towel on.
But, there is a fix, if Microsoft wakes up enough to save themselves. A USB GPS add-on for Surface that clipped to its side USB port, could easily add GPS and GLONASS in a form-fitting manner. Microsoft could take advantage of Windows RT’s unique driver profile, and code the accessory to only work on Surface family products – thus limiting people lifting the product and using it for other devices.
Surface could then run Nokia HERE and function providing turn-by-turn GPS on the $449 device. Seriously, why would you pay $449 for a tablet that couldn’t do GPS navigation today? Apple may want to ask themselves this question, too.
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a competitor here. I
work for run an Android device startup, so this is technically giving advice to a company that is very much a frenemy. But, at the same time, we are working on Windows solutions for our upcoming product… so I’m feeling in a mood to give a bit of pity, and lend a company a hand when they clearly need outside help.