Why is it so hard to love Windows Phone 8 for some of us? I mean seriously, there’s really nothing wrong with the operating system as it is. If you watch any of our comparison videos, you’ll notice how obsessed we are with the speed at which a device opens a folder or loads an app, and Windows Phone is champ in that department. It’s fast, it’s fluid, it’s well organized, and it looks very different to anything else that the market has to offer.
I’ve been the type of guy that has always prided himself of not doing what everybody else does, so Windows Phone should fit right into my desire for differentiation. A clear example to that matter is that if everybody in the world decided that the Nokia Lumia 920 was their Windows Phone to get, I got me an HTC Windows Phone 8X around three weeks ago. I did it not really to contradict the trend everybody followed, or because I enjoyed coughing an extra $100 just because I could, but mainly my reasons were focused on the fact that the 8X is the first flagship to reach our market that doesn’t rely on size to show its beauty.
So now that I finally immersed myself in Windows Phone 8, and that I finally met my desired goal of getting a powerful phone that fits the average human hand, all I needed to do next was to enjoy using it. The first couple of days were superb. At times when even the quad-core Android smartphones stutter in basic tasks, Windows Phone 8 is a well-oiled machine ready to do whatever you throw at it, and I mean that literally.
My problems began once those first days ended. It didn’t have anything to do with its feel or its performance, but really in finding things to throw at it. If you’re a first-time smartphone user, adopting a Windows Phone is really not complicated. This is the perfect example where you judge something for what you know, and since you haven’t really tried anything else, you won’t know what you’re missing.
The problem is when you or I use Windows Phone. Yes, I’m clear that we’re not the majority of the market since we’re power users either in smartphone dependency, or in the fact that we go as far as to question what our phone does by rooting it. But even if the other 85% of the market isn’t at a power user level, how many people do you currently know that don’t own a smartphone? Five years ago your response would’ve been staggering, but today most people you know at least have an iPhone, and you guessed it, most of them are using at least Instagram on it.
So even for the average user, that as I mentioned earlier, is not a first-time smartphone owner, adopting a Windows Phone is complicated. Coming form another platform to Windows Phone seriously feels like a step back, and since I’m sure many of you won’t agree with me, let the comments be your voice. For now, I’ll share why things feel this way to me.
Microsoft, open your eyes to reality
I find it funny every time people say that Windows Phone doesn’t have an app problem. Whoever feels that way either moved from Palm OS or Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7 directly, or most likely works for Microsoft, or is an MVP. They boast how they’ve reached 100,000 apps in less time than Apple did, but does that even matter if most of these apps aren’t popular?
Let’s use Spotify as our first example. I remember somebody telling me that they don’t miss Spotify because they’ve got the Xbox Music Pass, and to which I said he might be right. I decided to get the free trial a week ago and at first I was hooked. The service is really great, but that fun lasted little. Surely it’s common for Spotify to not have some of the songs you’re looking for if they weren’t that popular, to which on Android or iOS you end up having to buy them from their built-in music store and syncing to Spotify. The problem with Xbox music is finding songs that the service does have, but that they want you to pay for even if you have the music pass. I’ve found this to be the case with a ton of very popular songs, which is the complete opposite of Spotify. Bottom line, no, this is not a Spotify alternative.
Let’s use Instagram as our second example. It seems that Windows Phone enthusiasts believe that Instagram is just an app we use to make photos look old and keep. Usually what I get told is that many Windows Phones have filters or that I can use tons of their new lens features. I wonder if any of them have noticed that Instagram is actually a social network for photo sharing. Bottom line, I don’t care how many filters are available at the store, or how many Instagram viewer alternatives there are; you won’t get the Instagram experience.
I could go on about almost every single Google service we’ve all grown using, or basics like Dropbox, Nike+ (which is another social thing people in Redmond ignore to understand), and don’t even let me get started with the paid apps. iOS and Android already play Asphalt 7 and Windows Phone customers are still stuck on Asphalt 5 and have to actually pay for it. And to be clear, third party alternatives to third party apps is not the solution.
Metro is inefficient
There, I called it by its old name. My biggest complaint with Metro back in the Windows Phone 7 days is that within the apps that I could find, I couldn’t really make the best out of them. It made sense back then since Windows Phone was stuck at WVGA resolution, but having a 720p display should allow me to make text smaller and still legible in order to fit more things on the screen. As it turns out, I can only make my text bigger. So aside from having my People hub taken by the word “People” in gigantic letters at the top that doesn’t really serve any purpose, I’m also stuck with not being able to at least do something about it at the bottom.
For those of you asking why this is a problem, let’s use Facebook as an example. I consider it bold for Microsoft to build the app that Facebook wasn’t willing to build, and they did a darn great job at it. The problem is that the experience using Facebook on Android and iOS feels far better than on Windows Phone because the screen real estate is used more efficiently. I’m not saying that the experience should be identical to how it feels to use them on iOS or Android, but the experience didn’t feel any better either. Again, it just feels like a step back when you move from one platform to the other no matter how great that useless banner at the top with a photo of me while 23 and drunk looks.
And if we would add Multi-tasking to the mix, is there really a point in being able to multi-task if you’re forced to use the menu? I want to run Facebook from wherever I want and not have it reload again from scratch. As things are, if I don’t return to Facebook from the multitasking menu, that’s an exercise in frustration. Whatever happened to all that extra RAM that Windows Phone 8 now supports?
The bottom line
What was first, the chicken or the egg? Developers blame low sales of Windows Phones for their apathy towards the platform. We blame developers and Microsoft for our apathy. Microsoft seriously did a great job with Windows Phone 8 as an operating system, but if that alone is what they’ll focus on, then their strategy is five years late. As Stephen Elop once said in his “Burning Platform” memo to his Nokia employees before revealing that they’d be adopting Windows Phone, this has become a war of ecosystems. Elop did the right thing in betting the future of Nokia on Microsoft since they had always proven to be one of the best companies in the world at partnering with developers and OEMs. Microsoft was historically the best solution to push Nokia forward with the perfect ecosystem. Sadly, as I’ve said over and over again, I miss the old Bill Gates days when that was actually done and not simply continued.
I want to love Windows Phone 8. Where I live, people have barely even seen a device running the OS, so it really is the perfect device for me to stand out from the crowd. Sadly, being different and standing out aren’t bigger than usability for many of us. I wish that Joe Belfiore and the crew would stop standing on stage telling us about the beautiful live tiles for just a minute, and would focus on what’ll fill those tiles with what we really care about.
Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments down bellow. I’m sure that your experience may vary, or you may not even care about the apps the rest of the world cares about, so be sure to let us know which apps you need or don’t care about as well.