A Discussion of the State of Windows Phone

This article has been a few months in the making. But every single time I sit down to write what I want to write here, I end up descending into some sort of angry fanboyism and mention every single thing I hate about other platforms, making me question the reason for the article and even question whether I really like the platform for the right reasons. Then I go back to my phone, use it for a few more days, play with the iPhone 6 and a few Android phones in my local electronics retailers, and continue to realize how little I feel like going back to Android or picking up an iPhone. Then I forget about the article. And then I remember the article, and manage to make myself feel like a dirty hipster who just wants to be different.

But Window Phone, or WinPhone as I like to call it, has had a particularly tough couple of months. Many fans have already left the platform because of a variety of reasons, including Microsoft’s seemingly reliable support of other platforms and ignorance of its own, the lack of any flagship successor to the 920, 1020, or 1520 coming to the states, Verizon’s discoing of the Lumia Icon, slow carrier updates, the continued lagging of the Windows Phone app store, etc. Even the most ardent supporters of Windows Phone are jumping ship. Tom Warren of The Verge has ditched WinPhone for an iPhone 6. Ed Bott of ZDNet has also moved to an iPhone 6. Mary Jo Foley has mentioned discontent from time to time on Twit’s Windows Weekly. Paul Thurrott’s always been critical of Microsoft despite also being one of its most ardent supporters, but he seems to be getting grumpier with Windows Phone. I recently saw a Reddit thread responding to Tom Warren’s departure in their r/WindowsPhone thread, and it was filled with dozens upon dozens of people reporting that they jumped ship because of one reason or another.

In other words, those of us poor folk who have stuck around this long are getting inundated with negative opinions and negative news all the friggin time. I’m not someone who normally cares much about peer pressure, but even I’m starting to wonder if I’m just being stubborn about my unwavering commitment to Windows Phone.

But I don’t we WinPhone fans can be pitied. You see, I still love the platform and I think it’s great on its own merits. And I’m going to prove it in a bit by talking about what WinPhone does right, and I’m going to do it without disparaging any other platforms. Is it perfect? Hell no. But no platform is. And this is where I’d like to go first. Let’s talk about the WinPhone talk.

What You Like Is Your Decision

So here’s the thing. Tech journalism is a bit of a façade. It used to be about weird tech geeks who were absolutely in love with technology and just talked about it for the fun of it. But now, tech journalism has matured so much that you have giant news companies like Engadget dedicated to tech journalism. These people deal with a different phone every week or two. Sometimes they deal with multiple phones and devices in a week. They’re on every social network possible because you have to be when you’re a journalist these days. They typically work 12-18 hour days or more, all deal with tech. It’s a really tough career and one that I don’t envy, but these people have demanding jobs that require them to be constantly connected and in touch with all the newest trends and devices and apps and services etc.

Then you’ve got a company like Google who has literally built an empire on these people. Apple may have started the smartphone revolution, but Google built the infrastructure necessary to power an always-connected world. They built an OS that you can crack into, tweak, modify, and generally geek out about. They made free apps marketable, which arguably made Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, etc. possible. They bought YouTube and let the developers make it the platform for tech enthusiasts to make their name. They built Gmail, Google Maps, Google Voice, Google Hangouts, and Google docs, all the tools that bloggers claim to be unable to live without. And most of all, they built a massive ad empire that is frankly subsidizing the entire blogosphere.

These people are not normal. In fact, many of them say this. They are not normal. They have a special use case that literally nobody else on the planet has. The type of tech that appeals to them may appeal to others, but really should appeal to them for the same reasons. There is literally no reason for the average American to have a Twitter account except for delusions of grandeur, which isn’t a real reason. There is no real reason that the average American should prefer one search engine over the other, or one e-mail client over another, or needs Google Voice or needs Google Hangouts or needs Google + or even Facebook for eff-sake. I say American, but that’s just because I am an American and I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I’d imagine the same is true of most people around the world. This crap that we think we need because the rest of these tech bloggers talk about it all the time, yeah we don’t need it.

So when Ed Bott or Tom Warren or even if Mary Jo Foley or Paul Thurrott one day were to say “I’m giving up on Windows Phone,” you shouldn’t give a shit. These people don’t matter. The only reason Paul or Mary use Windows Phone is because they’re covering Microsoft. The only reason Tom Warren switched to an iPhone is because he runs the biggest iPhone shilling cross-platform tech site on the planet, The Verge. The reason these guys use the tools they do is because they are the tools they need to get the job done. Frankly, I’m surprised anyone’s even using Apple in the tech field, since Google and its OEMs have done such a great job at building a platform designed specifically for tech bloggers.

So while tech blogs are still a great source for news, when you see opinion pieces from these people, take them with a heavy grain of salt. Ed Bott and Tom Warren ditching WinPhone AND THEN ANNOUNCING IT TO THE WORLD 5 weeks before Microsoft unveils their plans for Windows 10 for Phones is just petty and stupid, and frankly, it does nothing but ignite these stupid mobile OS wars even more. It gives fuel to the Android and iOS fanboys who love to bash WinPhone users and it makes WinPhone users feel awful. For fuck sake. We all know these people are going to switch to another phone next week anyway. I don’t care what they think, and neither should you.

Subjecting Myself to Torture

So why the hell should you care what I think? Well, honestly, you shouldn’t. But then again, I’m not here to convince you that your platform is dumb and mine’s better. That’s not even true. I love that Android exists. I love that iOS exists. It doesn’t fit me, but that’s fine. iOS and Android have made Windows Phone better. Windows Phone has made iOS and Android better. It’s all good, guys, relax.

All I’m here to do is tell you that it’s okay to love the things you love, if you love Windows Phone in this case. If you’re on the fence about your choice, maybe my arguments will be the thing that moves you from one side to the other. Even if my arguments show you that Android or iOS the one you actually want, that’s cool dude! I respect your decision, and you should respect mine. We all need to calm down and enjoy the majesty and brilliance that is technology. I agree that we should hold these companies to a higher standard and criticize them when they do something wrong, but blanket vitriol is not helpful, as I’ve discussed previously.

But this article is an exercise for myself as well as to tell you something. I need to prove to myself that WinPhone is the platform I love. For that reason, I’m subjecting myself to an experiment starting at the end of the month.

I’ve been wanting to switch from Verizon to T-Mobile for a while now. I’ll probably discuss the reasons in a later article, but this month, T-Mobile created a deal that I simply can’t refuse to take up. However, with new Lumia phones possibly coming up next year, I had to decide whether I want to dedicate $500 to an HTC One for Windows that I’m only moderately interested in, or put down $170 instead and pick up the compromising but still great for the money Lumia 635 and then be able to pick up another awesome Lumia in the Spring or Summer or Fall or whatever.

I have decided to ditch my Lumia 928, which I absolutely love, for a Lumia 635. I mean, consider all the things this thing lacks that my current phone has. Glance. Wireless Charging. NFC. A freaking front facing camera. A camera flash. A camera that doesn’t suck. A resolution higher than 480p. More than 512 MB of RAM. A friggin light sensor. Seriously, I’m going to have to set my brightness manually. Weird.

But here’s the thing, as compromised as the hardware is, this phone still has that legendarily great Lumia screen quality, and that legendarily great Windows Phone 8 performance. Even with a Snapdragon 400 and 512 MB of RAM, this phone is still supposedly buttery smooth.

But the reason I mention this now is that I am taking advantage of this time period to have an experiment. Does the reason I love Windows Phone have to do with the hardware or the software? Will I still love Windows Phone, even when the hardware I have is colorful but otherwise not exciting at all? I know that a phone experience is absolutely a marriage of hardware and software, but if I come out of this lusting after the next Lumia instead of wanting to pitch it out the window and run to Android, I think that will proof for myself that the platform is what I love.

Why The Heck Do I Do This to Myself

Okay, so this is where I finally talk about what I like about WinPhone. But I’m going to do what I do best and describe this in the form of a story. I’ve personally owned a total of two Android phones before I picked up Windows Phone. I was always a bit of a hold out when it came to smartphones. In the age of iPhone and the Blackberry Storm, I had an LG Venus. One of the stupidest phones I’ve ever owned.

Then I got a Motorola Droid X. They say that people are heavily influenced by their first smartphone, and I would totally agree. That phone was awesome. I loved the freedom that Android afforded me. I loved having apps, downloading apps, trying apps, playing with home screen configurations and widgets. I kept up to date on all the latest Android news and yelled at Verizon about slow updates along with everyone else.

And then after about a year, maybe 15 months or so, the phone started to lose its luster on a software level. I loved the build quality and just how solid it felt in my hand. But it was slow. Laggy even. I stopped using widgets because the paltry 256 MB of RAM couldn’t handle widgets with the newer builds of Android. I rooted and flashed my phone for the first time. It helped, but only a little. Now with an unofficial build of Android, my phone was completely unstable. Apps would crash. Google Maps would freeze in the middle of navigation, which is a huge problem by the way. I would have to restart my phone a couple times a week. The battery life got so bad that I had to plug in at work just to get through the day.

After 2 years, I replaced my poor Motorola Droid X with a Motorola Razr Maxx. Sucked in by the promise of great battery life, I grabbed it and initially liked it. I was disappointed in the cheap plastic and how not-premium the Kevlar felt compared to the hefty polycarbonate of the Droid X, but it was a fine phone. I only had the phone for about 8 months or so, but even within that time, it was already feeling aged. I did get to see it get Ice Cream Sandwich, which seemed to bog down the OS even more than it already was. I’d already given up on using widgets and was just using Android primarily as an app launcher, but I did enjoy the ability to automatically schedule actions like turning on and off WiFi or the ringer, which was a Motorola specific feature. I’ve heard that since then, the Razr Maxx did get Jelly Bean with Project Butter, but that it created more problems than it solved. But whatever, that doesn’t matter.

See, what happened is that I was at a party, forgot my phone was in my pocket (I’d kept it out of my pocket for the entire party but had just grabbed it as I was about to leave), and jumped into the pool for a reason I’d rather not specify. Turns out, Kevlar’s not water proof. I did all the things I’m supposed to with rice and stuff, but it was dead. Simple as that. The battery got fried and I didn’t feel like sending it off for repair. So I took on a 3rd $10 / mo. Line, got the free upgrade, and picked up a Nokia Lumia 822 pretty much as soon as it came out.

Learning to Like WinPhone 8.0

When I went into the Verizon store, I didn’t expect to buy a new phone right then. I’d resurrected my Droid X, put on some weird hacked version of Ice Cream Sandwich on it, and was miserably using it as a daily driver. I was interested in Windows Phone 8 because I saw the reveal and got excited about a new user interface. I’d gotten so tired of the endless app grid style and the Android bugginess and slowness that was inherent to Android phones that weren’t top of the line specs for the day that I was really interested in trying out a new UI.

But as my wife (girlfriend at the time) had an upgrade available, and we’d decided to open up a new line for me before then, we were mainly just investigating phones to see our options. I was still hoping for a 920 equivalent to come to Verizon, but I’d resigned myself to the interesting but not as great HTC 8x should the moment never come. I’d never even considered buying a mid-range phone like the 822.

But then I saw them next to each other. I saw how amazingly vibrant and beautiful that Nokia AMOLED ClearBlack panel looked up against the Super LCD 720p panel that HTC had. The 822 was ugly in every way, except for the screen. I remember seeing reviews afterwards talking about how much the 822 sucked in comparison to the 820, but it didn’t matter to me. This was the first time I’d come into contact with a screen that looked so amazing. And truthfully, 480p vs. 720p didn’t make a damn difference.

As time passed, I grew unimpressed with the hardware. I loved the screen, but that was about it. The polycarbonate used for that phone in particular felt rather cheap. That horrible Verizon branded chin at the bottom made me cringe. The camera was an improvement but only because I’d had a Motorola phone before it. And back in those days, Windows Phone 8.0 on a 480p panel was really blocky and kind of ugly.

Despite all that, I fell in love with the interface. I love customizing my home screen and live tiles. I love unlocking the phone and seeing my live tiles giving me weather information, calendar information, call, text, and email alerts, Twitter information, Facebook information, etc. In a way, I felt like Glance and Go was the natural evolution of what Android widgets were supposed to be, but never managed to accomplish. Microsoft had created what I wanted out of widgets, but made it work quickly and fluidly. Swiping to the right and left within apps felt natural. Due to the nature of the API’s, apps are built around a consistent design language that is both minimal and looks great. Sure, there are terrible apps out there, but even they look better than what I’d experienced before.

But it wasn’t all about the apps. There were so many apps I’d downloaded with my previous phones to do things that were already in Windows Phone. The People hub was an awesome way to aggregate Facebook information, and even had Facebook messages built into the text messaging system within the OS. I could post to Facebook and Twitter at the same time! This phone was the first time I’d discovered podcasts, not because I hadn’t known them before, but because there was a great podcasting app built into the OS.

The mobile version of Internet Explorer on Windows Phone 8.0 was honestly the best mobile browser I’d ever experienced. Yes, I used the Android stock browser, Google Chrome, Firefox mobile, Opera mini, and Dolphin mini. They were okay. Internet Explorer mobile was quick, a truly powerful desktop-class browser, and was minimalist enough to simply just work.

And that keyboard. Holy shite. I’d never been able to fall in love with any keyboard on Android other than Swype. I’d tried SwiftKey, but didn’t really like it. I don’t prefer prediction engines, after all. But that Windows Phone virtual keyboard was as close to perfection as I’d seen. I remember hearing about the fact that they designed it with bigger touch detection blobs around certain keys that were used more than others. All I’m saying is that I could type faster and more accurately on that keyboard than any other virtual keyboard I’d ever used.

Oh and Rooms are one of the most amazing features ever. You have no idea how often I would miss that feature if I went to any other platform. When you message in a room, you message everyone subscribed to that room. When you send a picture to that room, everyone can see it. If my wife has a honey-do list or a honey-buy-at-grocery-store-list, she can just add a new OneNote doc in the Room with the list and I will see it pop up almost immediately. Rooms even have a shared calendar so you can plan events and the phone will alert everyone when a new event is coming up.

And most of all, I got spoiled by the fact that it ran great on day one without me having to mess with anything. The only tweaking I did with my 822 was for personalization, not for performance. I could have as many apps open as I wanted, and it would never slow down. No need for a task manager here. This was truly the exact democratic middle ground between absolute Android anarchy and Apple tyranny that I was looking for. This was the first smartphone that I was happy with from day one till the day I let it go.

Modern Hardware

Truthfully, though, that wasn’t long. The weird thing I realized with Windows Phone is how picking the wrong OS can get you in some pretty weird situations at the Verizon store. There was a known issue with the Nokia Lumia 822, where the USB charging connection would bend and move around a bit too much. I never had this problem because I opted for the wireless charging add-on fairly early on. But my girlfriend didn’t. One day, she got tired of messing with her USB charger and decided to bring it into Verizon for a warrantee repair. This was after about a year, mind you.

The Verizon employee at this store told us that they’d seen nothing but problems with this phone and told us they could send it out, but they would recommend completely replacing the phone. They offered us an early upgrade if we bought an accessory package, and promised not to pick an iPhone. I figured they said no iPhones mainly because they don’t make any money off iPhones.

So, when we told her that we accepted their offer, but opted for the newer Lumia 928, she started getting all huffy with us. She claimed all sorts of problems that don’t exist. Anything from “using Bluetooth will force your phone to loop boot” to “WiFi doesn’t work sometimes.” It was quite ludicrous. By the way, I found no evidence that these problems ever existed or had ever been reported by anyone in any internet forum ever. There were a few complaints about the headphone jack being a bit fragile if the phone was dropped on the top edge, but she never even mentioned those problems, which made me think she was pulling stuff out of her to try to sell us on an Android phone. Why she was doing this was anyone’s guess.

But in any case, we both went home with our Lumia 928’s and we have both absolutely loved these phones. Even 14 months after first getting these phones, and after getting a massive update in Windows Phone 8.1, the OS still runs as great as it did on day 1

Windows Phone 8.1

Obviously, my list of things that I love have changed since Windows Phone 8.1. A lot of those things I mentioned above that I fell in love with don’t even exist anymore. The hubs got murdered. Facebook messages are no longer integrated into the texting system and now require that stupidly ridiculous Facebook Messaging app. Many services that were built into the hubs, like Tumblr, are no longer supported. Internet Explorer isn’t quite as quick and fluid as it used to be, and the fact that they’re using Safari detection ID’s seems to have caused a lot of those issues. The podcast engine that was built into the music hub got ripped out and replaced with a fairly terrible Microsoft podcast app. Xbox Music was laden with problems until recently. Even the API’s have been loosened a bit, so apps aren’t quite as consistent as they used to be.

All these things have contributed to negative opinions about the OS. Most of all, I mourn the loss of Facebook message integration, the deconstruction of the hubs, and the shitty state of mobile IE.

Windows Phone 8.1 was a turning point for Microsoft. It was a moment where Microsoft admitted to the world that their smartphone platform was not gaining market share as much as it wanted. With WP 8.1, Microsoft said, “We tried to buck the trend, and we failed, and now we have to adapt to the rest of the market.” The reason they ripped out the hubs is because the services that were integrated within them were changing faster than Microsoft could change the OS. IE got a Safari-based ID because mobile IE was previously pulling Windows Mobile based sites instead of modern smartphone websites.

That said, for every feature that Microsoft had to temporarily screw with (I’ll talk about that later), they introduced a ton of great ones that catapulted Windows Phone 8.1 into even greater territory than ever before. Let’s go over them now.

Things That Are Great About Windows Phone 8.1

New Features

  • Cortana is simply amazing. Not quite as creepily ever-present as Google Now, but more useful than Siri, I use Cortana every day. The fact that Cortana can not only open apps but also has an API that allows 3rd party developers to allow her to do things within their apps is simply amazing. I can tell Cortana to play some Opeth, and she’ll look within Xbox Music for my Opeth albums and start playing them. I can tell her to “navigate home” and she’ll pull up turn-by-turn directions to go home whether my default navigation app is Here Drive+, Waze, or Navigon. I can say “Facebook. What’s up with my wife” and Cortana will pull up my wife’s Facebook page. I can say “Tweetium Tweet ‘Blar!'” and it’ll do exactly that. Oh and by the way, Cortana also works with Rooms. If I had a Room called Whatever Room, I could open Cortana and say “put a new calendar entry in Whatever Room for lunch at 1:00 p.m.” and Cortana will do exactly that. Or hey, how about even “Create a list in Whatever Room called Shopping list.” Then Cortana will ask you what you want in the OneNote doc and you can tell her. Cortana is friggin amazing and one of the main reasons why Windows Phone 8.1 is, in my opinion, the best mobile OS out there.
  • Greater Live Tile Customization. Here’s my current Start Screen arrangement. Obviously, I use transparent tiles, which are a new thing, a custom background, and I also use the new high density tile arrangement. Before, you could only have colored tiles, a black or white background, and you were restricted to 8 small tiles side by side in each row, 2 medium live tiles, or 1 large live tile, or some combination of those options (1 medium, 4 small, etc.) Now, you can have an extra column worth of tiles, and honestly, it does make a difference. However, I’m looking forward to having a 480p screen again for the main reason that the high density arrangement on a 720p 4.5 inch screen is a bit cumbersome for those small tiles.
  • Best Keyboard Ever Got Better: You know what would make that WP 8.0 keyboard better? Swype. Guess what it has? Swype.
  • File Manager: While technically an app, rather than an OS change, this app was kinda showcased along with 8.1, so it counts. I did miss having a file manager when I was using WP 8.0. That said, I didn’t miss how complex and counterintuitive Android file management tends to be. This is a great alternative. If you’ve ever plugged a Windows Phone into a computer, you’ve noticed how crazy simple the file system is. You’ve got a root, then you’ve got your folders (documents, pictures, music, etc.), and that’s it. You drag and drop a music file into your music folder, and the music app sees it. While other OSes have a file manager, I love how simple, intuitive it is, and how you really need minimal effort to make things happen.
  • Notification/Action Center: I was dubious about this one at first, because I felt like Live Tiles had me covered. I don’t need the notifications. But Microsoft convinced me how great this thing could actually be. First of all, the notification center doesn’t break apps. I’ve had experiences with other platforms in which pulling down (or up) the notification shade would throw the current app into memory and require it to reload when you’re done. No matter what app I’ve tried, the notification center is a layer on top of the app launcher that doesn’t affect any app I’ve ever tried with it. If I get an e-mail or text, I can pull it down quickly (and man is it quick), check it out, and then go back to my game or movie or whatever. A lot of the functionality here is in other platforms, but it’s nice to have it so well implemented here.
  • Folders: I was also skeptical about this one, but this is also the most well implemented version of an app folder system that I’ve seen. Yes, you can drag an app onto another app and it creates a folder, like any other OS. But this folder expands out in line with the Start Screen when you open it, and folds up real neat when you’re done. No need to go into another screen or even close the folder in order to go to a different app. The best part is that these mini tiles within the folder are actually Live Tiles. The folder view will show you what’s in it and cycle Live Tile status for each app. It’s amazingly intuitive and powerful.
  • App and System Backup: Windows Phone will not only back up your app list, your contacts your IE favorites, your theme, whatever, but it will also backup your app data so that if you restore your phone, upgrade the OS, or replace the phone, you will still keep all your app data and settings. No, you will not lose your podcast subscription settings. No you will not lose your Flappy Bird progress. No you will not lose your Twitter app’s color settings. Before this update, you had to rely on games using the OneDrive API to backup game saves, but not anymore. To be clear, you actually need to root your phone to get this in Android.

And All the Stuff That’s Still There

Oh and here are the old features that were kept that I still absolutely love.

  • Still Fluid: The OS is still just as fast and fluid as ever. That said, I do notice that on my current phone with the older Snapdragon S4 Pro, it can lag a bit from time to time, but not enough to bug me, and that’s saying something. But also keep in mind that 8.1 was built with optimizations for newer hardware running the Snapdragon 200, 400, or 800 processors. Newer chips will actually run the OS a wee bit better than the high end of last generation.
  • Still Stable:
    I have never had to flash/restore my phone. There’s never been anything that’s happened that’s made me feel like I should look for a way to “root” my phone. Sure, I’ll get the odd app force close and the hardware’s getting old enough to need a restart once every month or two. But that’s not bad at all. I made a joke once with a family member having an issue with his Lumia 822, saying that these are Windows computers and need to be restarted every now and then, but honestly, having to restart a computer once a month is not bad at all. And this is a year in, which is when most Android phones start to feel a little sluggish and start needing a flash.
  • Power Efficient: Windows Phones don’t have big batteries. Nor is there anything about the processor that’s better than anything else. My little Lumia 928 has a 2000 mAh battery in it. That’s decent, but not great, especially considering it’s running an older processor. Today’s Android flagships are managing great battery performance, but that’s with the more power efficient Snapdragon 800’s and with batteries ranging from the HTC One’s 2600 mAh to the monstrously large 3900 mAh battery of the Droid Turbo. But my Lumia 928 manages a full day’s charge from waking up to going to bed through nearly 8 hours of podcasts at work, playing city building games from time to time, and bathroom tweeting. That’s pretty astonishing.
  • Live Tiles: I know I’ve mentioned this a lot already, but did you know that Live Tiles are awesome? I can go to my home screen and simultaneously see the weather, my next calendar appointment, if I’ve been texted or e-mailed, what the latest tweet in my feed is, a picture of the latest news story in my Nextgen Reader feed, and the latest news story in the Bing News App combined with rotating pictures of friends and family and even a stormtrooper in the background. I go down a bit further and I can see how much data I’ve used and how much storage I have left.
  • The Hubs Still Work…Sorta: Despite how much the hubs have been destroyed, I still use the People hub when I want to see both my Facebook and Twitter feed. There’s actually precious little in the way of apps that actually integrate both feeds in other platforms and allow you to post replies, retweet, thumbs up, or favorite a tweet. Unfortunately, I can’t post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time anymore, but maybe that’s for the best.
  • Rooms Are Still Here and Still the Same Amount of Awesome
  • Microsoft Services are Quite Great: Okay, I know I left out the elephant in the room. Google has straight up refused to support Windows Phone from the beginning. But you know what, that’s find. I don’t need them. I used to be all about Google. When I went to Windows Phone, realized I really liked it, and then got the short shrift from Google, I gave them the middle finger and switched everything to Microsoft services. I’ve never looked back.
    • Bing is quite underrated. In fact, I’ve tried taking my searches from Bing to Google and never found that Google ever gave me any better results. Bing’s perfectly fine, guys. Relax.
    • Outlook.com is similarly wonderful. Microsoft’s e-mail services are great and they don’t shove ads in your face. Bonus. Also, Gmail works perfectly fine on Windows Phone. I have a Gmail account that’s used as a spam mail account that’s set up with the 1st part Gmail app. It works fine.
    • OneDrive is the best cloud storage service for personal use. Period.
    • I’ve never had a need to use Google Hangouts, but that’s more of a podcaster thing to do anyway. That said, I think Skype and Lync work quite well for any family or business needs.
    • I used to use Google Reader a lot, then Google ditched it and Feedly took over. I use Nextgen Reader, which is based on Feedly. No problems here.
    • I don’t have two phone numbers, therefore I don’t care about Google Voice.
    • I’m not a twit, so I don’t use Google +
    • Microsoft Office is better than Google Docs. Yeah, you have to pay for it. I’m okay with that.
    • I don’t need an official YouTube app when I’ve got something like MetroTube which will allow me to preload Videos and even listen to them under the lockscreen like a podcast.

Always Room for Improvement

Alright, I think that’s enough of that stuff. There’s a lot more stuff that’s awesome about WinPhone, but I either don’t use it or don’t really care about it. The above lists are why I love WinPhone and they are why I think I’ll continue to love WinPhone even on something as low end as a Lumia 635. I’ll be fine, don’t pity me.

That said, I know the OS isn’t perfect. No OS is. But deciding your favorite mobile platform is not about deciding which one has the best features, it’s about figuring out which one’s faults you are okay with. The biggest elephant in the room with Windows Phone is always going to be apps. The fact is, developers don’t like making apps for three platforms. They barely tolerate 2 platforms. However, I’m kind of a loner. An introvert, so to speak. I could care less about what new-fangled social network or stupid flash game all my dumb co-workers are playing. I played Angry Birds for all of about an hour and then got bored. I’ve never played Flappy Bird. I downloaded Bejeweled for free instead of playing Candy Crush. Clearly, apps are not going to be a problem for me. I’ve never ever found myself wanting a particular app that’s not on Windows Phone. Apps will come eventually, just give it time.

But as I said earlier, I feel like Tom Merritt and Ed Bott leaving Windows Phone 5 weeks before Windows Phone 10 gets announced is a bit premature and petty. I have a feeling that a great deal of the gripes we fans have about Windows Phone today will get addressed in the next version. And if they don’t, I guarantee you that we will see a developer preview where Microsoft will allow us to voice our concerns, like they’re doing with Windows 10 right now. That said, here’s a few things I’d like to see fixed:

  • Internet Explorer: I mentioned this earlier, but 8.1 broke mobile IE. It worked great in 8.0. I’ve heard (and even seen) that Microsoft has revamped their rendering engine for the next version of IE. Hopefully that means we’ll see some improvements in mobile IE’s performance
  • Social Hubs: Back when the 8.1 developer preview first launched, I heard gripes about the hubs being broken. If I remember correctly, Microsoft’s response was to say that they wanted to open up the social hubs to developers so that Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc. can integrate their own apps and content within the social hub. I really want to see this happen. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of a chance of this happening because these service providers really want you to go through their apps because of advertising and such. But I really hope they make something happen with the People Hub.
  • Notification Center: I know I just talked about how good it is, but honestly, it could be better. The main complaint I have is that it swipes in from the top. With phones getting bigger and bigger, I’d rather see the left side of the screen getting used more usefully (the right side is where the app tray is). I’d love to be able to swipe the notification center in from the left, but that’s just me.
  • Consistency: Windows 8.0 had a consistent design language. 8.1 is mostly consistent, but there are a few new UI elements that contrast with the old ones. There are still ellipses (…) everywhere, but in some newly updated apps like OneDrive, they’ve started replacing them with hamburger menus. While I prefer the ellipses because they are closer to where my fingers are going to be (bottom of the screen), the UI and API’s need to be consistent.
  • Please Make Sure to Consider Usability: Windows Phone 7 was designed with ergonomics in mind. Windows 8.0 was similarly pretty ergonomic. Every element of the OS was designed to be in the most optimal place for easy access. The keyboard is perfect. The ellipses at the bottom of the screen are a great place for settings. The standard API language kept input at the bottom 1/3rd of the screen and content at the top 2/3rd for this reason. Please please keep that design language intact. It’s one of the things that makes Windows Phone so awesome to use. 8.1 had some changes that flew in the face of that philosophy (notification center, hamburger menus).
  • New Flagship Hardware: Yeah, I know this isn’t a feature, but Microsoft has to know that they have to release something soon. The natives are getting restless for a flagship. Come on guys.

But that’s it. I don’t have a lot of demands, as the OS is already my favorite mobile OS. Obviously, I’d love to be blown away with other improvements, but we’ll see. The fact is, we now have a date of January 21st. That will be the date that Windows 10 for phones will get announced. Maybe that’s part of my design for getting a Lumia 635 as well. It allows me to enjoy WinPhone for now, but also allows me to jump ship should Windows 10 for phones be a major disaster. I hope not. I’d hate for WinPhone to become another WebOS. But you know, I’ve seen nothing but awesome moves from this new Microsoft. I have nothing but optimism that we’ll be blown away next month, just as I was blown away two years ago.

Whew.

 

Oh, you’re still reading. Jeez. Sorry about the rant. I had to get that one out of my system. It’s been brewing for months now. My next couple blogs will probably be about books or something. I’m kind of done with tech for a few weeks. I’ll definitely let you know how the Lumia 635 thing goes though.