Lessons Learned From Trying Windows Phone


I spent an interesting few days trialling Windows Phone recently, I chose the the highly recommended Lumia 930 hardware to give it the very best chance to wow me into keeping it.  It didn’t stick, in fact while there were a few design features I liked and the hardware was vastly more powerful than my ageing iPhone 4S, I decided pretty quickly that it wasn’t for me.  Deep down I realised that my smartphone is a tool, I’m not seeking a gadget fix, something to occupy me for day while I tinker around with it, tuning it to my life.  I just want the apps that I’ve woven into my life and be done with it.  Windows Phone failed to deliver those apps, so it failed to weave its way into my life, it felt like an annoyance, a glossy, heavy, gadget that rubbed me up the wrong way.

Here’s what I liked about Windows Phone: I loved the deep linking into apps, the ability to put the current book I’m reading right there on my home screen, or my shopping list in Evernote front and centre; and the hardware camera button … but I’m afraid that’s all I really liked.  Here’s what I didn’t like:

  1. The distracting, flickering tiles that tried to grab my attention all the time.  I want peace and calm in my life, I don’t want my phone to remind me of a fun-fair
  2. The lack of an easy way to find apps, Windows 8 lets has simple type down searching (press the Windows key and type), the iPhone has it too, I use it many times a day to get the specific app I need from hundreds
  3. The terrible reliability of the apps that I did find, especially those that needed to sync a lot of data in the background, which invariably didn’t arrive or too ages to sync new data
  4. The poor functionality of the apps that I managed to find. Apps that I love on iOS that really share only the same name, having just a small subset of the functionality (often provided by a wrapped HTML 5 web app).  Many of the apps that I found were clearly abandoned, with no updates for many months, apps that had stopped working, or stopped syncing and not been fixed.
  5. All too often the apps stored data on the phone, not in a cross platform cloud service.  I will rarely use an app now that’s not cross platform and complemented by a cloud service
  6. Apps that exist on Windows Phone but don’t have a companion apps that’s also compelling on WinRT, ie on a Windows tablet.
  7. The horrible shortage of apps, too many of my favourites missing, with no alternatives at all

Here are a sample of the important app gaps for me:

  1. Moves, which automatically tracks where I go throughout the day and then syncs seamlessly into …
  2. Memento, which merges data from Moves, Twitter and Instagram into a surprisingly rich diary with superb searching
  3. MyFitnessPal, which I use to track what I eat.  There is a Windows Phone version of the app, but it’s so slowwww
  4. Tweet Library, which keeps a local searchable archive of all of my Twitter accounts, tweets, favorites, and retweets so that you I find important tweets later. It adds collections and includes custom filters to automatically group or hide tweets – it provides the best interface to my @steveisreading and @steveiswriting accounts and my @steverichards diary account
  5. Overcast, which is my podcast client of choice now.  I did buy and try to use the ‘best’ most highly recommended podcast app on Windows Phone, but it’s just not the same and I listen to a lot of podcasts
  6. GB and Parks, Outdoors app which provides me with a full off-line version of the ordnance survey maps, with excellent GPS support
  7. Instapaper, that I use for all of my reading.  There is a third party app, but it’s very dated
  8. Evernote, which is an extension of my brain, everything that might be important to me goes in there.  There is a Windows Phone version of the app, but really, there’s no comparison
  9. Coach.me that I use for habit tracking, it’s got years of trend data in it that I value a lot

Then of course there are the hundreds of other apps that I use only when I need them, the app to submit my gas and electricity readings, to check the sunrise time, to find out when the next high tide is, to track my walks and cycle rides, to access my bank, to check the train times, to manage my blog, to track my pain levels, and on and on and on, death by a thousand cuts.

The vibrancy of the Apple eco-system is just not present, the buzz and excitement that developers have when they can reach hundreds of millions of potential customers.  I’m hoping that Microsoft has a plan, that they are working hard in the background on developer tools and platform changes that will allow them to fully embrace Android apps on Windows 10, all form-factors, within a year.  As Apple found to it’s cost many years ago, people go where the apps are, developers go where the apps are selling.

I wrote this post sitting in my favourite Caffe Nero in Nottingham,  it opens at 7am and has two excellent clusters of window seats, I got the best one, and watched the city come to life as I typed.  For the picture I chose the beautiful Haweswater, in the eastern lake district, I never consider going hiking without my maps and that means without my iPhone and iPad. 

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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