I admit that I like shiny things. I also admit that I don’t like the iPhone very much. I also have looked forward to owning this phone for quite some time. So I knew what I was getting into.
However, as a v1.0 product, I also knew that there would be some warts. After all, it’s v1.0. But, did Microsoft learn from Windows Mobile 6.x? Could it match Steve’s app phone thing and Google’s mobile thing?
A short bit of background
The only phones I haven’t used for over a few months WebOs and Symbian phones. They both looked alright, but I wasn’t in the position to ditch what I had to try them out.
However, I have used Windows Mobile since the very first incarnation in 2003. Wow, that was not great. Though, I did like the Motorola clamshell form factor at the time. It also did so much vs. the other phones, it was OK to overlook the warts. But, WM2003 basically remained the same until WM6.5.
The phone I stuck with, and modded the heck out of, for 2 years was the HTC Kaiser / TyTn II / AT&T Tilt. It got flashed with every new Windows Mobile 6.x that saw the light of day.
And then, some wonderful people at XDA Developers put together a few builds of Android for testing. And while that phone’s CPU wasn’t the strongest, I did use Android 1.x and 2.x for several months as my primary phone OS.
As my Tilt’s battery just couldn’t hack it anymore, and new batteries were basically dead on arrival, a good friend of mine loaned me his iPhone 3G for use. So, I used that in iOS 3.x and 4.0, 4.1, and finally 4.2.1 for several months.
So, have I used enough of the available market to be informed? I hope so.
What I like about Windows Phone 7
It’s different. And not just arbitrarily or just because it’s shiny and new. It’s different in that someone thought about how to use a phone to do their job, and took a good stab at it.
Android was geeky and sort of cool in a different way than the iPhone. It let me get to the “bare metal” if I wanted to, but by and large, it was very similar to the iPhone’s metaphor. It was very much more “connected” to the Internetz than Windows Mobile ever could be (like the iPhone). It “just knew” when to do things. It used data intelligently to get where I needed to go.
The iPhone did this at times as well, but it may have been TOO reliant on a data connection (more on that later).
But the Windows Phone 7 OS takes that to a new level, but not debilitatingly so. I thought that the linking of contacts across different sources might be weird or lame. But the Facebook integration is actually handy at times. I wish I could update contact information (merge) between sources now!
The way the UI updates its live tiles (where available) is very useful… and consistent – if a tile has a number in it, it is live. Unlike some iPhone icons which might have a live number in it, and others which do not (I’m talking to you Weather icon!).
The Metro interface, for me, is far superior for the user experience. The flowing metaphor with the hints at either side that indicate more stuff awaits me to the left or right helps me get around.
This is a huge departure from any other phone form factor, but if you’ve used Windows Media Center, the Zune, or the Xbox, then you’ve been trained already.
The UI is responsive, which of course is aided by the hardware specs. And while that seems like a cop-out, Microsoft’s specification of the hardware really fixed some of the Windows Mobile 6.x issues. Hardware manufacturers make bizarre, stupid, inconsistent, user-hostile decisions at times. I only wish Microsoft had specified the location of the stupid USB charging port! That is really aggravating and shows exactly WHY you do NOT let manufacturers make decisions like that.
But, the biggest feature I like about the WP7 gets its own section…
The WP7 “Back" Button is the MVP of the OS
Wait, hardware gets the MVP award for the software? Sort of… it’s all about me.
An iPhone (
and perhaps the Android an Android user should be familiar with this depending on their device – see comment below!) user will have no idea what I’m talking about until they use this. They have been trained not to expect this type of behavior through years of conditioning. However… this is, I think, the MOST valuable feature of the phone.
The Windows Phone 7 preserves my “context” to the best of its ability.
This isn’t a question of “multi-tasking”. WP7 doesn’t technically do that right now. But you can go out of an app, and then go back to what you were doing before and “remain in context”.
Let me give you the simplest example of performing the same tasks on an iPhone vs. WP7.
On the iPhone:
- Open your email app
- Read a new message
- Click on a link in the new message
- Safari opens and displays the page you requested
- Read the page
- You finish reading, click the Home button
- Open your email app
- Find the message again
- Delete, reply, or whatever you intend to do with the message
- Open your email app
- Read the new message
- Click on a link in the new message
- Internet Explorer opens and displays the page you requested
- Read the page
- You finish reading, click the BACK button
- You are back in the message, so reply, delete, or do whatever you intend to do with the message
You save 2 steps. So what? Multiply this by how many times you bounce from app to app. The worst example is doing a search in an app that takes you to Safari. Once you’re done, you need to re-start the app and re-do the search, and pick the next set of results.
Every iPhone user I show this to basically loses their faith in Steve. They want to touch the back button and see how it works. It’s a case where Steve Jobs’ jihad against buttons is a disservice to users. A soft-key could work, but phone real estate is tough to consume. Though, I must admit that the “vibrate” switch is great.
Note that the Back button can also be evil – if you hit it many many times, you can cycle through many apps which may need to start back up. Also, the Back button’s metaphor can get mixed in some apps. In Internet Explorer, it does move backward in pages until you reach the first page. Then it goes back to where you were before.
iTunes. I guess I don’t hate the iPhone as much as I really hate iTunes. iTunes is the bane of my existence on the PC. It interferes (well, used to I guess) with EVERYTHING, tries to install QuickTime, Safari, Bonjour, and basically acts like a pig. People that switch from PC to Mac often cite how much better iTunes performs… well, that’s software… I wonder if it’s intentional.
And you CAN’T use an iPhone without it (try activating it). On the contrary, I was able to do everything on my WP7 without plugging it into the Zune app. I finally did it out of curiosity.
Modal dialogs. How many times do you need to be asked about joining wireless networks? In WP7, an minimally obtrusive notification appears up at the top of the phone that indicates WiFi Networks are Available…
If you tap that, it takes you to the WiFi control panel. If you join a network, and then tap the BACK button, you’re back to what you were doing. If you swipe that notification to the right, it goes away. If you ignore it, it goes away. It doesn’t stop you from doing what you’re doing.
If you are doing something that has a shortcut available, WP7 tells you. This doesn’t happen super-often, but when I tapped the “bulk delete” icon for some emails, and started checking boxes next to several emails, WP7 asked “Do you do this a lot? Just tap the are on the left of the message to do this action quickly”. So, now I just take that shortcut.
For some reason it took me a couple weeks to find the “swipe right to delete 1 message” in the iPhone. And that just deletes 1 message.
More? Tiny details – like, in the iPhone, if I read a text message, and then want to call someone, I need to scroll to the TOP of the entire conversation to get to the “call” button. In WP7, I just tap their name and the choices come up. When the call is over, I go back to the text message.
Or, if I get a text message notification in another app, I can open it (or dismiss it, or it will go away), reply, call, or whatever, then hit the back button, and be back where I was in the app. Or, start the call, and get back into the app by hitting the back button. And, when I’m in the app? I get a little notification at the top of the screen that lets me jump back to the phone application (the iPhone does that too if you accept a call while in another app, but once you go to the phone, it dumps the other application ENTIRELY – not cool when you’re in a GPS app looking for directions).
Oh, and “Reply All” isn’t the default setting for Group MMS messages.
How about pinning contacts, apps, web page shortcuts, etc. to my home screen? Admittedly, the home screen can start to get way too cluttered… so I do that sparingly. But I also find that it’s easy enough to put an Internet Explorer shortcut on the home screen for a little while, and then remove it when it’s no longer relevant.
The keyboard is really really good. I have the hardware keyboard too, but I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. The iPhone keyboard infuriated me. It’s word suggestions were limiting, but WP7’s word suggestions are actually helpful and scrollable.
The Pictures app is really cool. I forget how cool it is. It aggregates my Facebook albums, plus SkyDrive, plus Zune pictures, plus on-phone pictures. As a photographer, this is very helpful. I wish it integrated my Facebook photography page pictures and my Smugmug account pictures (but there is an app for that actually).
Connectedness… I took a trip with the iPhone to a place with NO connectivity. No WiFi, no cell service, etc. But, I wanted to queue up some emails and send them when I got online. Guess what? No way. Not possible.
What else? The iPhone does NOT actually download your mail when it syncs. It downloads a 2 to 4 line “preview”. When you tap the email, it goes and gets the message (again). So, if you ever use the iPhone on a satellite network, you are in for a real treat of a user experience.
WP7 behaves a bit more like a real email app. It gets the message when it gets the message. It will queue up a message in the outbox and send it later. Done.
WP7’s online Office integration with SkyDrive / Live has made me re-think my entire Windows Home Server and Office / OneNote architecture. It just syncs to the cloud.
Where Microsoft needs to pick up the slack
A major update for WP7 is coming sometime soon. If AT&T doesn’t block it, like they did with EVERY Windows Mobile update, then maybe some of this would get addressed.
Clarify the Back button a little more. Maybe I need to get warned that “one more tap and I’ll leave the app”. But DON’T make it modal (like the Facebook app – which at least allows me to turn that off).
Internet Explorer is great. I mean, you wouldn’t recognize it. But, it really needs to seamlessly use all the iPhone / Safari-specific web sites out there. Web developers built special pages for the iPhone, just like they did for IE6 back in the day… so get over it and get “compatible.”
Microsoft needs to reject more apps in the marketplace. We only need so many dice rollers, random number generators, car locators, flashlights (that don’t use the built-in flash of the camera? WTF?), unit converters, etc. The dice roller is the fart app of WP7. Reject reject reject. The marketplace looks a lot like the Amiga shareware scene in the late 90’s.
Microsoft needs to sponsor apps. Quality apps. Yesterday.
Like go over to TomTom or Navigon (note – their site uses the Windows Phone logo, but their app says Windows Mobile… so perhaps they are of their asses) and hand them a WP7 dev team and get a real GPS app on the phone. The same goes for Pandora, Mint.com, New York Times, Google Maps / Earth (yeah, I said it), HopStop, and get friggin’ transit directions in Bing (I like Bing, but people like choice too). Get these companies off their asses and get an app going. People like these apps. The iPhone sucks as a phone (my experience) and as an email / texting device. It’s a great app thing. The iPad sells well because it’s a bigger app thing that doesn’t make calls. So people are used to it! OK, I kid… I kid…
WP7 needs a “Task Manager”. The Marketplace app itself crashes. The only recourse is a reboot. Microsoft’s marketplace search also needs lots of help – Don’t return results for songs when I’m in the Apps store.
WP7 also needs a “remembered word deleter”. I bet there are a lot of typos that it remembers as real words in its adaptive keyboard dictionary.
There are lots of “enterprise” shortcomings. WP7 can’t join hidden WiFi networks. It can’t do certificate-based WiFi authentication. It can’t search Exchange 2003 central contact databases. It uses a Live ID as a primary contact and calendar store (vs. an Exchange ID). And I bet there are more. I just don’t happen to encounter them.
And there are many more. Paul Thurrott’s got a few listed on his blog, and I agree with a lot of them (like copy and paste… yeah, need that a lot actually).
These aren’t the apps you’re looking for
So there’s no Pandora, Mint.com, VNC or Remote Desktop (a few paid remote desktops exist, but get poor reviews), or Angry Birds (ok, but there are lots of games). And the Weather Channel app sucks, kinda like I thought it sucked on the iPhone. But there are other things out there.
There are some things to try (SL page) that might slake your desire for a few of these things (many links are Silverlight Bing pages which I marked with “SL”, so beware):
- There’s no Pandora, but there is Slacker, Soundtrckr, Last.fm, and a couple others. Nope, not the same.
- Podcasts! (SL) is a great app, as is TED (SL). NPR Listener (SL) is good, but doesn’t play under the lock screen. Plus, most TED and NPR stuff can be gotten from Podcasts. Podcasts doesn’t download them to Zune though. It streams them.
- There is no Mint.com, but if you can live without the “accounting” and expense classification feature, then try PageOnce.com’s app. It gives you much wider visibility to a whole host of financial things (FYI – beware of special characters in your password… the WP7 app doesn’t like them, but they work on the site. I filed a bug.)
- Working Time (SL) is a great time tracker.
- Weather.com sucks. I thought it did on the iPhone too. Use Weatherbug (SL) instead.
- Flickr Manager (SL) is very nice. Tap the icons at the bottom to get started. It integrates well with the Metro UI.
- There are 2 Smugmug apps, Smug Seven (SL) and Smugmug Viewer (SL) that are both good.
- AP Mobile and News360 have a nice Metro UI experience for news
- If you’re in New York, 2 Subway apps can really help because, usually you don’t need routing… you need a map, and late at night or on weekends, you need to know what’s broken! These apps do that: MTA Information (SL), and My Subway NYC (which appears to be hard to search for – maybe got yanked due to NYC’s stupid mapping rules).
- Wooter (SL) gets you your Woot.com fixin’s
- Seymour (SL) is a Pandora-like experience for restaurants. I’ve been trying the trial… it’s interesting, but I can’t say for certain how it works yet. It seems really cool.
- WordPress, Twitter, and more are also ready for use! Now, if WP7 just had a Bluetooh keyboard profile, I could use my Stowaway keyboard. I bet iGo wishes they didn’t discontinue that once the iPad came out…
So, that’s a list of “productivity” apps. No, the selection of apps like the iPhone just isn’t there. However, many of the usual suspects are there already. Facebook, Yelp, Netflix, Flixster, and a few more. They left off the Chuck Norris Facts (SL) app in that list. And that’s really a shame.
I’m still happy. It’s not an iPhone or an Android. And it’s certainly NOT Windows Mobile anything And I’m not happy because of those facts. I’m happy because it does what I need it to do – which is email, texting, and generally acting like a phone. Plus it does apps, shows off my photos really well, checks my Facebook stuff, and gets on the web, Bing etc. quickly. It needs better apps. But it’s v1.0.
WP7 had to be this good. It’s the minimum it could be. WebOS was probably similarly revolutionary for Palm users. So, Microsoft needs a super strong v2.0 and to incentivize their ISV community to astroturf WP7 into self-sustaining relevance.
Follow-through is the most important part of the game… so don’t Kin it up!