The Windows Phone 8.1 update from Microsoft is a clear demonstration of just how central mobile phones have become in how we live our lives. When we need to get directions or check if our train home is running on time, where do we look? But the role of smartphones runs much deeper. It has become a natural extension of ourselves; both in the way that we think and act. Microsoft has acknowledged this trend with Windows Phone 8.1, delivering new levels of personalisation and enhanced access to information. Cortana, in particular, brings together the very best of a personalised PA service with speedy search results, to support anyone to navigate their busy life. Of course Microsoft isn’t alone in trying to innovate in this space. HTC, for example, has been pushing personalisation for a while through its BlinkFeed, which intelligently sifts through social media updates and internet alerts, while also delivering messages and calls at a time that is appropriate.
Unique levels of personalisation, it seems, is what consumers crave. And delivering that experience better than anyone else is what Microsoft believes will sell more handsets. We’re talking more than a pretty cover and a new visual for the lock screen. The drive for personalisation is pushing handset and software manufacturers to innovate at pace. The challenge is to offer this personal experience without over-complicating matters. There is a fine line between a handset packed with new features and a handset that has so many complicated features that it’s impossible to navigate without sifting through a 200 page manual. And that’s where Microsoft hopes an intuitive platform comes in, and early reviews suggest it’s delivering against its claims.
Personalisation is not saved exclusively for the top-end devices, however. Microsoft has opened up a wider customer base by filtering the experience down into its mid-range handsets. Some may be fascinated by the Cortana experience, amazed at its ability to constantly learn and adapt to deliver a service that they grow to rely on. Others may never use their device in such a sophisticated way, but will appreciate the small improvements that allow them to better navigate the social feeds and apps that they already love using.
Smartphones are fast becoming the most personal purchase you’ll ever make. Retailers play an essential role in supporting both the manufacturers and the consumers to ensure the potential of these devices is fully explained and understood. By matching the best phone and deal to the customer’s individual needs or interests, we get the best result. This requires a level of expertise both in-store and online that goes beyond knowledge of handset specs and tariffs. As phones become more sophisticated and easy to personalise, so should the advice. The need for simple, honest, customer-centric advice is a wider industry challenge that can’t be ignored.