Mobile Talk: Windows Phone 8 is no substitute for Android or iOS
Windows Phone 8 is definitely not for me, says Richard Goodwin
Excited about the prospect of Windows Phone 8? I was too – but after a week of using the platform, I’m now convinced that Windows Phone still has a long way to go before it can be considered a viable alternative to iOS and Android.
Android and iOS have many advantages over Windows Phone 8, but perhaps the biggest is the length of time they’ve been available. The first Android-powered handset – the T-Mobile G1 – came out in 2008 and Apple’s first 2G iPhone landed in 2007. Since then both platforms have evolved significantly.
Windows Phone, by comparison, is a newbie and is still very much finding its feet within the space. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s always good to have new ways of doing things. But it does pose problems for certain types of users invested in other platforms.
Coming from Android 4.2 to Windows Phone 8 was an odd experience, almost like stepping back in time. On the surface Windows Phone 8 looks ultra-modern and fresh. The UI is snappy and navigating around the phone is simple. I also really liked having the ability to re-size live tiles.
Microsoft’s vision for how you interact with a mobile device is also very bold, it dares to try something new – and that’s highly commendable. But in a world where most people are used to Android or iOS’s way of doing things, switching to Windows Phone presents quite a few problems.
My main gripe with Windows Phone is the lack of applications. It’s way behind iOS and Android. And it’s not just big name games and mobile specific apps I’m talking about here, it’s things like Dropbox, Google Drive, Chrome, Google Reader – stuff you take for granted on iOS, Android and even desktops.
Apps like these, particularly Dropbox, Drive, Chrome and Reader, are integral to my day-to-day working life. Windows Phone 8 supports none, which causes all sorts of problems for a user like me. I need these things. And if they’re not available, I'll go elsewhere.
Microsoft’s SkyDrive is thoroughly excellent, offering all the functionality of Dropbox and top-notch syncing between mobile, desktop, and tablet, which is great. Thing is – I don’t use SkyDrive because I'm committed to Google and Dropbox’s way of doing things years ago, and I’m not switching allegiance now.
I do get why people like Windows Phone 8, though. It looks pretty, has lots of cool things like the People hub, which aggregates all your social feeds into one place, and it powers some of the best hardware currently on market like Nokia’s Lumia 920, Lumia 820 and the HTC 8X, for instance.
I also love Xbox Music, which is by far the best music service available on any platform, absolutely wiping the floor with iTunes and Google Music in my opinion. I’d like to say it’s a big USP for Windows Phone, but it isn’t because it will soon be available on iOS and Android, as will Office Mobile.
This is great news for Android and iOS users, potentially bad news for Apple and Google’s business models, and a stupid move by Microsoft as it’s effectively offering over its platform’s USPs to its two biggest competitors. God knows who signed off on that one.
I also struggled getting basic things done with Windows Phone. During the week I had the Lumia 920 I tweeted less, hardly went on Facebook, and barely browsed the web.
The reason? I don’t like using aggregated services for things like Twitter and Facebook. Dedicated apps work better for me, despite the inventive nature of Windows Phone’s People Hub. I’ve also lovingly maintained an extensive collection of bookmarks in Chrome, which, of course, isn't available for Windows Phone and the bookmarks aren’t supported in IE10.
But the thing that really annoys me about Windows Phone is the waiting. It just goes on and on and on. Open an application, it doesn't matter if it’s native or third party, and you have to wait a few seconds too long for it to do anything. This irked me when using Windows Phone 7 and I’m disappointed that Microsoft hasn’t sorted it out in Windows Phone 8.
By the end of the week I’d grown so tired of staring at Microsoft’s loading-beads that I switched back to my Note 2 a day early. I’d like to say a lot of the above can be put down to the learning curve associated with Windows Phone, but it can’t – I used Windows Phone 7 for months, I know Windows Phone quite well.
And I think the fact that Microsoft is launching a lot of its services – SmartGlass, Xbox Music, Xbox Live – cross-platform shows that it doesn't have total faith in its operating system either.
In fact, I’d argue that Microsoft doesn’t even need a mobile phone operating system. Just do Windows 8/RT-powered hybrid devices instead, focus on further developing services like SmartGlass and Xbox Music, and leave the phone space to Google and Apple.
I wanted to like Windows Phone 8, and I do love certain aspects of it, like the way it looks and the built in Xbox services. But in practice, as an every day phone, it lacks so much of what’s now taken for granted inside Android and iOS, So much so that anyone switching from an iPhone or, say, a Galaxy S3 will be horribly disappointed.
Perhaps Windows Phone is best viewed by someone who's never used iOS or Android? At least that way you wouldn’t miss either platform. It’ll be interesting to see how Windows Phone stacks up against RIM’s BlackBerry 10 platform, which is scheduled to launch on January 30.
2013 will be an interesting year for both companies. At present, though, my money is on BlackBerry 10 stealing the third spot. Sorry, Microsoft.