At BUILD 2012 Microsoft gave me a Nokia 920 Windows Phone. Ever since then I’ve been using as my primary cell phone. It has had ups and downs, but in general I enjoyed very much.
Originally, I was using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. That phone had served me well for many months before I switched to the Nokia. I wanted to give the Nokia a fair shot, because I really believe that Windows Phone can succeed. Although it was a good run, there were several things that made the switch back necessary. Let’s start with the good things first.
First, the phone is truly beautiful. I don’t just mean well-built. I mean everything about it is truly amazingly beautiful. The device itself, the screen, the applications, the start screen. Everything. It’s a joy to use.
Second, the integration with Microsoft products is a very impressive. The office tools work very well. Skype and Messenger are very good. The Xbox integration is truly incredible. Microsoft has done a very nice job of making the Windows Phone platform part of the full Windows suite of products.
Third, despite what people say, the selection of applications is very impressive. I have yet to find more than one significant application but I need that isn’t in the window store. The only thing I ever found that was missing was Wuala, but with the weaknesses in Java I switched to SkyDrive anyway.
Despite the fact that the user interface is very smooth, the whole phone updates very slowly. It takes a long time to update the applications. Text messages come in the wrong order. E-mail takes a long time to synchronize. In general, network activity is less than wonderful. When the phone goes to sleep, it forgets a lot. A lot more than it should. Every time I wake it to use it have to wait for it to remember what network it’s on, what wifi I was using and what I was doing last.
All of those same lines, and synchronization is very weak. Trying to get service driven applications to get new data and refresh the cache is very difficult. If the application developer fails to give you an explicit synchronization option, you’re often out of luck. Often, I had to restart the phone to get things updated.
While there are no lack of applications in the store, developers are not keeping up with new trends. For instance, there’s no Pebble app for the windows phone. Windows Phone is still the last in line to get an app for a new online tool, if it ever gets one at all. I’m not really an early adopter so this isn’t a huge deal for me, but occasionally I’d like to see some of the new stuff that’s out there. It’s frustrating that I never seem to be able to.
One more thing. The phone is absurdly heavy. I know that’s a small thing but after a while it gets to you. It’s amazing how six ounces matters. Makes my pants fall down. Nobody needs to see that.
The phone reboots 10 times a day. This is a not the huge problem for me it is for some people because I am not a heavy phone user. It can get frustrating when I sit down for short ‘break’ (you know what I mean), launch Angry Birds, and immediately get to watch the phone reboot. Where it really becomes a problem is when some call comes in, and the phone reboots. This happens to me least once a day. I have more than a few uncomfortable moments having to call somebody back and explain that my phone reset.
A huge problem is the lack of S/MIME support. There is just simply is no way to send secure email using Windows Phone. Yes I’m aware that I could write an application for S/MIME. But that’s not really my area of specialty in programming, and I have other things I need to write more. It seems like S/MIME is something that should be supported out of the box on any platform these days. I mean come on, even Windows Mobile 5 supported S/MIME.
The real nail in the coffin for me is the lack of integration with other e-mail platforms. Many moons ago I used Microsoft’s online office tools for my business. The product flopped, and I went to Google Apps. I very much enjoyed using the Google product since then. I don’t mind paying for Google Apps, I think Gmail is a fantastic product. The spam filtering, certainly, and threaded messaging are just too good to leave. The domain level integration, document storage, search and sharing, and ease of use are just better than anything else out there. Plus, it supports two-factor authentication.
For whatever reason, Windows Phone 8 is horrible running Google Apps. Email synchronization is awful. Google Talk barely works at all. Notifications don’t work. None of the other applications are available. Google has decided that they are going to beat Microsoft on at least this one thing, and this is a pretty successful way to do it. They have not wanted to make their tools available on the windows platform and I can’t blame them. Microsoft on the other hand has made most of the tools available on Android. Thus if I want to use a Microsoft tool, it is probably available on the Android platform. The reverse is not true.
So there you have it. The problem is not the app store. The problem is not the lack of the phone’s popularity. The problem is that in making the phone easy to use and easy to develop for, they have closed the door to too much innovation and integration. It’s really easy to do the things we wanted to do yesterday, and really hard to do the things we need to do tomorrow.
I still think the Windows Phone is an excellent consumer device. I would recommend it to anybody. Not too many people worry about A/MIME support, or integration with their business’s Google Apps. The application selection, games, and Microsoft integration is really very good. The phone draws stares everywhere I use it. But it just isn’t right for me, and I can’t make it right for me. Therein lies the rub.
I’ll still develop for the windows phone. I’ll still use it as a standalone device. It just doesn’t work for me as a primary phone, and I can’t imagine that it does for anyone else with specialized needs. Microsoft has made their decision, and they’re shooting for the 80%. Unfortunately, the 20% are the folk with loud voices. That might be the platform’s downfall.