Windows Phone struggles to convince smartphone users

Same same, but different.

Okay, time to end this short blog series, read the first two pieces here, First Impressions and App-situation on Windows Phone. These posts of course only brushes the surface (pun not intended) of my experience and opinions on Windows Phone and the Nokia 925 but hopefully I’ve managed to explain my general feelings and motives.

Before this first in-depth encounter with Windows Phone I was intrigued, my impression was that Microsoft was trying to go their own way and actually innovate in the mobile area. In general, I still think this is true!

The idea with Live tiles instead of shortcuts, functioning almost as widgets is a good one. The problem is that so few of the apps have interesting tiles; this might partly be a personal preference, because when I think of it, I normally don’t use that many widgets either. Hard to tell, but in the end the one I found most useful was calendar but would have liked to see content on Twitter, Instagram, Newsflashes. I would have liked the tiles to be my Google Now replacement to put it in Android language.

One area where I wish more innovation would have taken place are the Notifications. They use the same basic idea as Android and iPhone, but not at all as efficient. My biggest annoyance is that the same icon is used for…maybe not all but close to, all occasions. That means that I have to unlock and pull down the notification bar to see if the vibration told me about a work email, Gmail message, text, Instagram like etcetera. Extremely annoying! Not only that, there’s only one instance of the icon – no matter if I have 5 texts and 3 emails waiting or just 1 mail. So, when I went through the process of unlocking and checking what activity the envelope represented this time, new notifications will easily be missed because I think there’s nothing new if I’m already ignoring one. It may sound small but yeeeez this has bugged the hell out of me, and made me miss urgent texts.

Biggest problem for Windows Phone however, is still the apps as I focused on in the second post. Just like it used to be for Android, Windows Phone lags behind in number of apps. This was the case for Android and it isn’t any more so the same journey could be predicted for Windows Phone. I see one difference though, when I started using Android I very seldom had any problems finding an app that did what I was looking for in a good or at least decent way (even if it was not the same app as the big hit on iPhone), this is not the case on Windows Phone. I can only guess as to why, but that I struggle to find good mail apps, chat, podcast (found an okay one!), news reader et cetera is simply not acceptable 2014; the quality is even a little lower even for mainstream apps in general, like Spotify.

All in all I like Windows Phone, as a platform it has interesting ideas, the hardware that I used was solid and I had pretty few encounters with crashing apps and similar issues. It’s also worth mentioning how seamless it worked with my work accounts and office360 subscriptions. Some early version annoyances that will be sorted out doesn’t scare me – but before I’m willing to switch I need more and most importantly better apps. Today, there’s not even close to enough selling points to make it worth the sacrifice of better app supply, I mean office run nice on my Androids as well, and my iPhone synced my Exchange e-mail and calendar into better apps.

I’m still intrigued over what Windows Phone might develop into, but I’m not ready to join the journey, at least not yet. Microsoft’s problem then of course is that users everyday commit to an ecosystem, today that will be Android or iOS and getting customers to switch is much harder than winning them to begin with.

The app-situation on Windows Phone

Post 2, after almost a month of Windows Phone usage. You can read about my first impressions here.

We’ve all heard it before, this or that appstore doesn’t have enough apps, that’s why this or that mobile OS is better. For starters, I have a hard time seeing that matters as long as you find the apps you want or possibly even the functionality you need but of course, more apps often suggests more quality apps as well. In Windows Phone I unfortunately run into problems with both finding functionality I want and specific apps.

wp_desktop
Really Instagram, BETA?!

Many of the biggest apps are waaaaayyyy behind its Android and iOS counterparts. Spotify isn’t bad but slower, with more problems, and less functionality – not a great combination. Same goes for Facebook Messenger that I on Android used as much as Hangouts/Texts, both for messages and calls. On Windows Phone, the conversation is so slow that I often find that I leave and rejoin a conversation to force an update, even after getting a notification! Notifications by the way come and go as they like, but when they arrive I haven’t found a way to silent them (even when the vibration is off together with all sound, the phone vibrates), oh and calling is not enabled yet. More than 6 months after the function was rolled out on Android. Simply not acceptable. and these things together seriously limits my ability to communicate freely. Facebook owned Instagram is the same thing, but almost worse, to be honest it reminds me of how Instagram worked and looked over a year ago. It’s even in Beta. Which leads me to Google. There’s not a single app from Google in the store, not one. Stubborn me, set out to find alternatives, and they do exist! GMail users are apparently raging about MetroMail, so that’s what I’m using but… I can’t answer how much of my feelings are based on being used to other apps but so far every attempt to find functionality instead of the app I’m used to have left me disappointed. No, there’s one exception – the podcast app Casts is great and does exactly what I want it to without too many issues. Not without bugs but in general it works great and if I understand it correctly it shows the iTunes catalog (which means that my catalog right now has the iPhone keynote front and center :) ). But as I mentioned, that’s the one that stands out. In many apps, what makes the OS feel smooth, the small animation while an app start for example that I wrote about in the first post, turns into a small animation and then looking at a blank screen, or the text “resuming…”. The smoothness is at large lost in apps.

  That Facebook and Google ignores Windows Phone is not Microsoft’s fault (well, maybe a little bit but not much). I’m pretty disappointed with both of them (once again, using them as an example for what I feel is a widespread WP problem). when they don’t release apps for Windows Phone, Google is in my opinion not acting according to what would be best for their users, but rather they are thinking of Androids best. One could argue that it’s a small user base but my distinct feeling is that it’s kept small by these big companies that simply feels focusing on another mobile platform is just extra hassle (and for Google, competition).

 No matter who’s fault, this is Windows Phone’s Achilles heel. It doesn’t offer enough innovation or wow-factor, and it requires you to be pretty committed to finding apps that works for you, adjusting how you use your phone and which services (I’m also missing Dropbox and Bitcasa for example). I’m trying here, but the general feeling I got is that anyone that already committed to another platform will have a very hard time switching and not only that, will struggle to find a reason to.

Wrap up and final words in the last post soon!

Trying out Windows Phone

Lucky me have a friend who hooked me up with a Nokia Lumia 925 for a while, letting me dip my feet in the Windows Phone pool. There’ll probably be a couple of posts but let us start with some first impressions after a week of use (though, I will wait a bit with publishing).

nokia925First word that comes to mind, slick! I like the feeling and getting started as well as adding my accounts was a breeze. I was a little bit taken a back by how fast and snappy it feels. I don’t consider my Nexus 5 to be slow or suffer from lag really, but it does take a moment now and then to start a new app for example. In Windows Phone that moment is pretty much hidden behind an animation, works out better than you’d think.

Another difference to Android is how many apps and services are built in. Small things like WiFi sharing (Sense as it’s called), Podcast player, Battery Saver (not part of stock Android), Office suite, all makes getting of to a smooth start easier. This of course gives a pretty consistent experience but it also put the pressure on Microsoft to drive its own product development. Looking at the Store, Podcast, Calendar and Explorer I can’t say that I’m entirely convinced. All of them lacks some functionality that I seek and I often feel that the strive for simplicity has won over functionality or even the wish to be intuitive. I just don’t find it simply that often.

To be fair, I’m almost to be considered biased, I’ve been using Android for many years and are of course set in my ways of what apps I use and how I want them to work. I therefore decided to be hard on myself, and I’m really trying to adapt to a Microsoft world, using my Windows account more, Here Maps et cetera. As I’m pretty heavily invested in my Google account and use a lot of their services I figured this switch could be…less convenient, more about how it turned out in the next posts where I write more about apps!

Windows 8 first impressions

Almost time for a new version of Windows! Microsoft has decided to stick to the numbering they started with Windows 7 so this time it’s simply Windows 8. If the name is something along the lines what we expected the new interface however isn’t.

I installed the Consumer preview a while back (perfect timing, the winter did an encore while my partner was out of town). Installation is really simple and you shouldn’t need any instructions there though it might be worth mentioning that it will require you to reinstall all programs and possibly some drivers as well. Personal files will be left untouched if you choose it but make sure that you have a back-up just in case.

First thing that greets you when you start Windows 8 is a new login screen. A nice update that looks good but it’s still just a login screen. What happens behind it is more exiting however. In Windows 8 you can add your MS Live account, just like you would add your Apple-account to your iPhone/Pad or Mac or your Google account to your Android device. This is actually quite cool and will probably do a lot for Microsoft in their struggle to have an eco-system just like Apple. Windows is the most installed computer operative system in the world and what they are trying to do (in my humble opinion) is to establish a feeling that you really should get a Windows Phone device to go with your computer (and a tablet of course…) instead of going to your local carrier and buy the new iPhone or Android. It’s to early to predict exactly where this will lead but already in this preview you can start synchronizing settings, installed apps (from the Windows Store) and more will likely follow.  Next step here can be very exiting with even more information being accessed in the cloud  .

Now, the new UI: Metro. We can call it the new Start-menu but that wouldn’t be enough, we could call it the new desktop but that would be very confusing since you still have a desktop. We should compare it to the UI on Windows Phone but since that won’t tell you much (unless you happen to be one of the early adopters, it’s interesting but not a big sale success yet). To me it’s a logical evolution, from Windows Vista with the Sidebar, Windows 7 and its widgets, iOS app concept and Androids desktop.

You get a tile-work consisting of normal shortcuts and active shortcuts which works a bit like widgets, displaying information from the app (latest e-mail or message and such). This takes some getting used to and I still find myself looking for the start-menu from time to time when I want to launch something but as soon as I stop using an older version at work I’m guessing that this will change. It looks a bit more modern, should adapt very well to touch screens (tablets anyone?) and more than that: Microsoft actually tries to bring something new, they don’t act on the competition from Apple by making glossy icons and changing the taskbar to a dock, they try to evolve how you work with your computer. Kudos! This won’t necessarily give them praise from the standard customer but in the end it might be exactly what Microsoft needs to dodge another “but why should I have to update again” debate. Somehow there is still something missing, it feels not beautiful. Some work to do yet for Microsoft.

The new Metro UI
The new Metro UI

All in all, my first couple of weeks with Windows 8 has been quite nice. I find myself using small clever functions in the UI (like the Alt+Tab similar feature of the top left corner) that didn’t thrill me the first time I found it. Much can and probably will change before Windows 8 is released in the end of 2012 but I already look forward to it.

However, Metro is not without flaws and I have found myself quite annoyed a couple of times. One thing that bugs me is the decision to make the setting entirely context based. That means that depending on the app your in at the moment you get different options from the settings link. Just like when working on a mobile device. Not only a bad thing but even on my 13″ laptop screen I can spare room for a link to the Control panel regardless of  which app I’m in. By the way, you find it if you select settings in the “activation area” when your in the regular desktop.

Active area
The active area is shown on the right

Annoyance number two, the gap between desktop and Metro sometimes feels huge. Searching after the app or program you want to run is not very intuitive and finding the same app in the regular desktop as in Metro is not always simple. More than that, some apps can work differently in Metro and desktop for example Internet Explorer hides the address bar and navigation buttons in the Metro view. Not only that, IE will run in different instances if you start it both in Metro and desktop, Chrome also acts a bit weird and tends to start double instances now and then if I started it from Metro. So far I haven’t found a lot of Metro-fied apps that works great with mouse and keyboard but that can change well before release.

A lot of first impressions :)

If you’re running the preview and want the normal star-menu back:

Run -> regedit; HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\ Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer and change RPEnabled from 1 to 0