Windows phone has gotten a lot of great updates lately. We’ve seen things like Cortana, folders on the start screen, backgrounds. Windows Phone 8.1 has been written about often and the theme is always the same. It really brings Windows Phone up to par with its current competitors – iOS and Android. Which is really great. It’s nice to not have features so obviously missing from your phone’s operating system. It’s great that new smartphone buyers can now consider Windows Phone as a legitimate option when out shopping for smartphones. But with Windows Phone 8.1 comes a number of sacrifices that makes us wonder if maybe Microsoft maybe taking too many pages out of Android’s playbook. In trying to catch up with its competitors, Microsoft as almost turning into its competitors; and “Android Lite” if you will.
When you look back at Windows Phone’s history, one of the really attractive things about the operating system, philosophically, was its ability to create a seamless flow that altered the paradigm of the day, but still made a ton of sense. It’s not easy to create new ways of doing things that people have been doing for years. It’s not easy to change that which is ingrained into our culture. Yet Microsoft did just that with the concept of live tiles that were also buttons. Sure Android already did that with widgets, but it was also at the mercy of its developers and OEMs being so very open sourced.
Windows Phone also sought to bring a consistency to the platform that was missing from Android – this is where the ellipsis will be, this is how you will exit an app, etc. It was just different, but not so different as to be inconceivable.
These days, Windows Phone has a lot in common with its competitors. The Action Center, resizable live tiles, folders for grouping apps together, apps that let you browse the file system, move files around, etc. All of this is bringing a lot more control to Windows Phone, which is great for some, but are we treading a very dangerous line?
I’ve said it more often than I can count – I don’t want to micromanage my phone. I just want the darn thing to work. With Android, you have the freedom of choice for just about every aspect of the experience. Some people love that. I kinda don’t, but that’s me. What we see Windows Phone creeping toward ever so slowly is that same kind of control/micromanage everything philosophy. It hasn’t nearly gotten to the extent of Android, but now I have to decide what apps I want to group together and why. I have to decide what apps are going to have small, medium, and large tiles, and if they’re in folders, I guess there’s an option for extra small too.
The Action Center is another aspect of Windows Phone that is both a blessing and a curse. The Action Center is accessed by pulling it down from the top, just like every other phone in the world. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I don’t want to go all webOS on you or anything, but swiping up from the bottom, or using Blackberry’s Peak/swipe in from the left side of the screen makes a ton more sense than just doing what Android does. It rankles.
Just because the whole world swipes down from the top doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things. Apple and Android got to where they are today because they showed the world what was possible and tried something different. Just because you’re playing catch up, doesn’t mean you have to run on the same race track. Microsoft had some opportunities to blaze some new trails and it simply didn’t. Maybe that’s because the paved trails are easier.
Go along to get along
I don’t want to sound like I don’t like how Windows Phone works today. When you’re the 5% and the 95% are dictating terms, it’s probably better to go along. There are benefits to that. If people are used to swiping down to get to notifications, then maybe that’s where they should be. But tradition can very quickly become old habit. And just because your grandfather used a hammer doesn’t mean you can’t invent the nail gun. Sure, you’ll sell more hammers in the short term with the former, but you’ll revolutionize an industry with the latter.
Windows Phone could have reached for the stars in this case, but it didn’t. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People will be more accepting of a platform if it adopts certain design styles and habits. But personally, I’ve always felt it’s better to stand out and be remembered than to blend in and be forgotten.