July 24, 2017
Find the two Windows Phone fans that you know, and you'll be told two different stories. Why might you only know two fans? Because it's statistically not likely for you to know any more than two people who use, or have recently used, Windows Mobile. Anyway, the stories you're told by these two people may deviate slightly, but they'll always return to one of two central themes. The first theme is that Windows on mobile is a superior experience and those who defect are traitors to the concept of excellence. The second theme is that Windows on mobile was a superior experience, but time and competitors caught up with Microsoft's outsider advantage.
As a long-time Windows Mobile user (and Windows Phone, and the first Windows Mobile, and Windows CE before it), I've recently changed my story from the first theme—as a die-hard loyalist—to the second. I now admit that there are practical realities that must be faced with the Windows experience on screens smaller than 10-inches or so. I've decided to open this article—which will likely evolve into a series—with a list of the practical realities that I've identified.
1) The "App Gap". Sure, the availability of applications doesn't impact everyone equally. In fact, after my switch to Android I've noticed that well over 90% of the apps I actually use are available on Windows Mobile. The remaining 10% are split between being available through a third party developer or not available at all. The apps that aren't available at all are the sore spot, of course.
2) Workflow issues.
I left Android after the fragmentation nightmare around Gingerbread (version 2.3) and Honeycomb (3.0). Windows offered a smoother and more refined experience along with these wonderful things called Hubs. Now, I don't pine over the loss of Hubs like most Windows fans do, but the idea of not needing a separate app for each social media network, or to not need an entire screen to list game icons... well, it was fantastic while it lasted. The problem is that once Windows let Hubs fade away (for good and technical reasons!) there was nothing else to replace them. This made Windows just as much a dumb launcher as Android or iOS. Hell, after Hubs went away, I even began to miss the "Today Screen" from Windows Mobile 5 and 6 because I felt I needed something to fill the navigational void. I eventually found solace in the alphabetically-sorted All Apps screen (swipe left from Start) which had gone almost unused by me until that point.
3) Live Tiles. Before you misunderstand me, let me say that I love live tiles on mobile. I even somewhat like them on the desktop. Forget needing notification badges over icons on iOS or Android, because I could (and can) literally just take 30 seconds to stare at my Start Screen and be caught up regarding the immediate events impacting my life.
Calendar events, weather, emails, messages... it is all flipping and rotating right in front of my eyes. The problem is that the long-promised updates to live tiles never occurred. Four years after I switched to Windows from Android there was still no sign of interactive live tiles (like Android widgets) or even large tiles which had been requested by the community for years. The tiles only display in portrait mode, and even "chaseable tiles" (meaning the app opens directly to the information presented) took years to implement.
4) Lack of Serious Development. Sure, Microsoft pushes new builds all the time! But my question is, "What exactly are you working on?" Some random security feature, some improvement here or there. But where are the actual updates and innovations? My issue with stagnant live tiles was mentioned previously, as well as the lack of a landscape-orientation Start Screen, and the general lack of Live Tile and UI innovation... it all adds up to a conclusion that Microsoft has had no clue, for years, what the driving competitive advantage was for its own product. There hasn't been a true keeping-up-with-the-market feature innovation since Windows Phone 8.1 introduced Notifications. After that, Microsoft seemingly just stopped taking their own mobile platform seriously. Even the Lumia 950 and 950 XL were launched with half-baked Windows 10 Mobile (W10M) software, and tried to innovate with Continuum, but there hasn't been major innovation in the almost two years since.
So, that's that. Those are my immediate assessments regarding why a switch from Windows Phone and Windows Mobile was necessary for me. I, personally, went back to Android because of the lower cost of performance and the constant innovation since my previous departure years ago. I picked up a Motorola G5 Plus with Amazon's lockscreen ads for under $200 and it nearly matched my 18-month-old Lumia 950XL in specs and ability. As I turn this article into an on-going series, I'll explore a more wide-ranging set of experiences beyond that what-went-wrong-with-Windows introduction, but until then, you can rest assured that I do feel slightly more justified in my switch by taking the time to list and share these concerns.