When it comes to smartphones, I’ve been a Windows guy for a while now. Not terribly long though, I hopped on Windows Phone 7.5 around the same time Nokia did, with the Lumia 710. Granted, I’ve been a Nokia guy much longer, and when the company made the switch, I followed loyally. But since then it’s been a rollercoaster of disappointment from Microsoft.
Windows Phone 7 was a promising OS when it was released, it was refreshing and bold, with an interface that was so different from everything else we had seen. My favorite thing about the OS was the level of integration, how apps seemed to talk to each other and how closely your social networks were baked into your experience. Of course then the problems started to arise, and it became clear that Windows Phone 7 was very very lackluster in the feature department. Many standard things like copy & paste were not included in the initial release, but Microsoft addressed this with the release of Windows Phone 7.5.
It was a welcome refresh to the operating system, helped by the inclusion of Nokia Corp. who had been struggling for years with their Symbian OS. The hardware on the Lumia 800 looked promising for Windows Phone adoption. Unfortunately the Lumia 800 was only available in Europe, and the 900 was carrier exclusive in the US, limiting the reach of the OS largely to AT&T, and thus left T-Mobile with the less inspired Lumia 710. This trend unfortunately continued with a second reboot to Windows Phone 8, also lead by another carrier exclusive flagship, the Lumia 920. T-Mobile and Verizon waited quite a while before they saw flagships, with the 925 and 928.
Eventually Windows 8.1 was pushed out, as Microsoft tried to execute a plan to unify apps between their mobile and computer OSes. That failed, and the update did little to wane much of the problems Microsoft faced in mobile. That brings us to Windows 10 Mobile.
The State of Windows 10 Mobile
When Windows 10 was announced, Microsoft promised great things, such as the inclusion of Cortana on the desktop, a new browser, and a return of the familiar Windows UI. That was all fine and dandy, and it only got better with the release of the Surface 4 and Surface Book. 6 months after the release, Microsoft has seen over 200 million Windows 10 installs, a fairly impressive feat.
But what about Windows 10 Mobile, you ask? The OS was promised with greater compatibility to Windows 10 for desktop, with a unified store, and Continuum for phones. It looked like a fairly promising step up from 8.1, with many visual upgrades and several new functional additions. But it’s been nearly a year since the public beta was released and we still don’t have an official update available. Sure we have two flagships already running the software, but we’re not expecting to see updates rolling out until February, a full year after the beta release. Yet again, Microsoft is making us wait for things to get better… but they don’t necessarily get better.
As many of you have probably gathered by now, Windows 10 Mobile has not been received well. There are many complaints about the OS that have gone on record from pretty respected people in the mobile community, such as Pocketnow’s Michael Fisher who released a scathing review of the Lumia 950XL, and Neowin’s Andy Weir who constantly complains about the difficulties he faces with his Lumia. As I scroll through twitter, I see more negative comments than I do positive, and for the most part, I can relate.
My experience with Windows 10 Mobile was a mixed one. For a month, I had my hands on a Lumia 950, my first Windows smartphone since the 735 which unfortunately died on me. The visual upgrade was refreshing and felt a little more fluid than 8.1. The store was nicely revamped and for the most part, I seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. But I couldn’t ignore the sounds of a million people crying out on Twitter about how bad their experiences were. Horrible battery life, storage issues, random reboots, and various bugs seemed to plague their devices. For me, I only really experienced the random reboots, but only a couple times. Beyond that, I had some issue sending gifs through text, but everything else worked fine.
But there was something else tugging at me. The entire time I used it, Windows 10 Mobile felt buggy. Like I was expecting it to crap out at any given moment. In a nutshell, it felt unfinished. In comparison, Android and iOS both feel like very stable and solid operating systems, like time and effort was actually put into their development. But Windows 10 Mobile seemed fragile, and felt somewhat unreliable. But beyond the purported bugginess of the OS, I also couldn’t help but expect more. And that was my biggest disappointment of Windows 10 Mobile.
One big reason for this is the live tiles. I’ve always had a big problem with them that I ranted about many times, but my problem is that they don’t really do anything. They sit there and they’ll show you a couple details such as the weather or how many notification you have on a certain app. But beyond that, they serve little more purpose than the static apps on iOS. We still can’t control music from them, we still can’t scroll through recent GroupMe messages, and there’s essentially no access to shortcuts within apps. It’s Microsoft’s half-assed, half baked version of a widget, that completely misses the point of why they went with live tiles in the first place. This was the main reason why I felt largely uninterested when Windows 10 Mobile was announced. Because this feature that I’ve been hoping for for so long was still unavailable.
This isn’t a Windows 10 Mobile rant without complaining about Apps
Microsoft has an addiction, and I think it merits checking them into some sort of rehab. That addition is for beta. Everything is beta. Beta is life. Microsoft can’t seem to give us an app without slapping beta on it. Instagram has been stuck in beta since Android KitKat (we’re on Marshmallow now), popular team collaboration app Slack was released as a beta back in August, even their own biometric security feature is only a beta (a cool one, but still). Not to mention, the OS itself was practically a beta for a good year and still feels like one. It’s almost an excuse for developers to just half-ass it and make it look like they tried.
To make matters worse, what little decent apps that are available in the Windows store aren’t decent at all. Facebook was just updated and still feels just as clunky, Groove music doesn’t seem to know what ‘shuffle’ means, and Twitter might as well just stop altogether. And the store is sadly destitute of any good racing games (my favorite kind) besides Asphalt, as well as dating apps like Grindr and OKC. Not only can I not entertain myself, but I that just makes it so much harder for me to find a date! And that’s no good!
My Two Cents
Despite these, Windows 10 Mobile isn’t all bad, and there’s definitely some good points, like being able to respond to text from a notification, and the camera experience, no name a couple. But unfortunately the good does not outweigh the bad. And the bad is bad.
What can they do you ask? Well in my opinion, there are 3.5 things Microsoft needs to focus on now to at least keep marketshare from falling even further than it already has…
Go all out in designing a phone. Microsoft pretty much half-assed (there’s a lot of that going on) the design of the new Lumia flagships, pretty much slapping the 950 in an old 810 chassis and saying “screw it”. The metal ring around the camera was about as far as Microsoft went with any thought of design. That’s not kosher, guys. These phones have great internals, matching some of the best in Android hardware! But looking at it, one would expect the 950 to be a budget phone, and just pass on it like it was a Blackberry phone (low blow?). If you’re gonna give us a flagship, at least make it look the part.
Marketing. Do it. One thing that works for Apple and Samsung is that they market their phones. And they pretty much do it themselves. Stop trying to be funny or quirky and just show off your damn phones! Let the phone speak for itself. Watching how quickly and carelessly the new flagships were announced at the Windows Devices launch last year showed just how little the company cared for the phones. But we shouldn’t know that, and Microsoft shouldn’t show that. Furthermore, stop letting the carriers take over the marketing of your phones, because they already don’t have very much faith in it, so they’re not gonna want to put much effort into marketing it. You can have the best device in the world, but if you don’t market it well enough, no one’s gonna care. But put out a somewhat mediocre phone (iPhone?) and put effort into marketing, people will buy it. Who knows, maybe Microsoft needs to step away from the Lumia name and continue on with the Surface brand?
Show developers them what you’re made of. Windows 10 has seen quite a bit of success, with a quick download rate and great reviews across the board. With such a fast adoption rate and a common store between the desktop and mobile, it should make developing for Windows 10 Mobile more enticing. So far, we haven’t seen much of that happening quite yet, and developers left and right have actually been dropping Microsoft faster than a Sprint call in the hidden pine trails of the forest. So it’s up to Microsoft to convey how good Windows 10 is to developers. At 200 million users and growing, this shouldn’t be too hard.
At this point, Windows 10 Mobile isn’t threatening anyone with a marketshare of 2.8%, and it’s unlikely to make any significant gains any time soon. The state of Windows 10 Mobile isn’t helping anything either. Microsoft has been putting all it’s eggs in providing services for everyone, but leaving it’s mobile OS behind. Obviously the company can’t afford to not be in mobile, but failing isn’t really an option either, and right now they’re failing hard. It’s time to buckle down and get serious about providing a quality experience for consumers, because at this point they’re driving away long time supporters such as myself.
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