Windows optimize

How Microsoft could win me back from Android

Deb Shinder explains what Microsoft needs to do to win her back from her current Android smartphone.

I've been a smartphone fan since way back when even the most clever of the lot were pretty dumb in comparison to today's superphones. My first was a Windows CE-based phone, and I stuck with that operating system -- as it morphed into "Pocket PC, Phone Edition," and then Windows Mobile -- for many years. Those were the days, my friend; I spent many hours tapping a stylus on those tiny screens, navigating through a miniaturized version of the Windows desktop.

It was pretty cool to be able to get my email and surf the web on my phone, especially once 3G came along to speed things up a bit. We smartphone users were part of an exclusive group for a while there. At that time, Microsoft was a very big player in the smartphone market in the U.S. Nokia sold more worldwide, but they were more popular overseas than here.

Oh, the Blackberry had email, too (in fact, that was their main function), but we could do much more. We could make phone calls on our devices before they could (although the first CE/PPC handhelds, like the early BBs, didn't have that feature), and we had way more applications. Palm Pilots had the apps and were top sellers in the PDA market, but they didn't do as well when they transitioned to phones.

Then something happened. That something was called the iPhone, and it changed the whole smartphone landscape. As behind the times as it seems now (no expandable storage, no removable battery, no LTE), at the time it came out, it really was revolutionary. Then something else happened: Android. It gave smartphone users the same type of "reach out and touch something" experience as the iPhone and also provided geeky types with all the things they wanted that they didn't get with iOS.

And suddenly, Microsoft found itself a big player in a market it once had firmly in hand.

Starting all over again

It takes some courage for a software vendor to completely redesign a product from the ground up, but Microsoft really had little choice when it came to Windows Phone. The old stylus-driven model was dead or at least in a coma (it's interesting that we're seeing a revival of the stylus in the form of Samsung's S-Pen on the Galaxy Note, and that so many people are saying such good things about it).

It takes even more courage to base your brand-new design on the user interface of a product that was a bit of a flop in the market -- even if it did win a good deal of critical acclaim. But the Zune's Metro interface, with its flyaway icons, smooth scrolling, and responsive feel, was a natural. It boasts the right combination of simplicity and elegance to present a challenge to the "grid of icons" way of device interacting that had been established by the iPhone and Android.

When it comes to the interface, in my opinion Windows Phone is a winner. But I just bought a new smartphone last month for use as my primary phone, and it doesn't run Windows. There are several reasons for that. Some have more to do with my carrier (Verizon) than with Windows Phone itself. But even if Verizon offered all the same Windows Phones as AT&T, I still wouldn't have one as my main phone right now.

Little things matter

Many of the big reasons I don't want a current Windows Phone are the same reasons I don't want an iPhone: no swappable microSD, no 4G/LTE, requirement to connect to the Zune software on a computer in order to update the OS or transfer files. I've written about those before. Those are deal breakers for me, but there are also far too many little annoyances, errors, and omissions that add up to "not quite ready for prime time." Many of them you'll run across only after using the phone for a bit.

I've tested a Windows Phone extensively and carried it as a second phone, but this week I've been put in the position of using it as my primary phone. That's because I'm in Europe, and it's the only GSM phone I own. I was happy that the U.K. SIM card I bought popped in and worked just fine.

Unfortunately, not everything else is working quite so well. Oh, it's not "bugs" or crashes or performance problems -- it's the dumbing down of the phone's capabilities that have me going back to my Galaxy Nexus whenever I have a Wi-Fi signal, even though I can't make a phone call with it. I know Microsoft would call it simplification, which sounds a lot better, but no matter what you call it, the result is frustration. The bottom line is that I can't do things I want to do -- simple things that I can easily do with my Android phone or with my Windows 7 computer (or with my old Windows Mobile phone, for that matter).

One thing I really looked forward to in Windows Phone was having the "real" Mobile Office apps. After using them, I'm disappointed that Mobile Word seems to be less full featured than the (Word-format compatible) Documents to Go app on Android. Word limits you to one font, and you can't create tables or charts (at least as far as I've discovered). I also didn't see a word count feature, which is something I depend on a lot. Yes, I know a phone isn't the ideal device for doing complex word processing tasks, but sometimes it's all you have. I expected a lot more from Mobile Word.

Something else that I couldn't figure out how to do - which I can do easily on the Nexus - is saving a web page for offline reading. This is particularly annoying when you're traveling and don't have an Internet connection all the time. There also doesn't seem to be a way to send a web page (the content, not just the URL) via email. Both of these were things that I've needed to do over the last few days.

More annoyances

It seems as if I encountered a different, small annoyance every day. Admittedly some of my pet peeves with Windows Phone are purely cosmetic. I want to be able to set a wallpaper like I can on my Android home screens, and I'd like to be able to change the tiles to a color other than the unappealing few that are offered. I'd also like to be able to set the colors of individual tiles to make them stand out, rather than only being able to change the overall theme color.

Strangely, in Europe I've been unable to download any apps from the Windows Marketplace. I could do it back home, and I can download from the Android Market on my Nexus, so I'm not sure what's going on there, but it's definitely annoying. Sometimes the Marketplace app won't even open; other times, I can select an app but when I press the Install button, I get an error message.

Finally, the biggest problem I have with trying to use the phone to actually get work done is the lack of an alternative keyboard. The Windows Phone keyboard isn't awful -- as touch keyboards go -- but I fell in love with Swype on Windows Mobile and then on some of my previous Android devices and now use the similar TouchPal keyboard on the Nexus. It's much faster and less tiring than pressing individual keys.

I like the Windows Phone UI, and the Mango update brought it closer to being a usable everyday device, but to win me back from Android, Microsoft still has a ways to go. Give me a lot more flexibility to customize, make the Office apps and browser do what I need them to do, and let me have the type of text input I want. I know LTE is on the way, and the Nexus has proven to me that I can get by without a microSD card if you give me enough internal storage. Oh, but I want screen resolution comparable to the high-end 'Droids, too. Do all that, and I might trade in my Ice Cream Sandwich for the next Windows Phone.

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About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

13 comments
AES2
AES2

My son and I had a total of four Samsung Captivates (AT&T-branded Galaxy S) over six months. Not one worked. The worst was voice service would go out to lunch. No incoming calls would be received, no voice mail notification. The only way you knew it was out to lunch was to make an outbound voice call. It would flash ringing... forever, then you hit the red hang up button, which turned gray, and then you had to reset the phone. Sometimes the power button worked, and sometimes you had to take the battery out. After the phone came back on after turning it off you were notified of any voice mails that callers were good enough to leave while the phone was out to lunch. This happened sometimes thrice in the same day and sometimes they went as long as a week without failing. Fault of Google? Samsung? AT&T? It doesn't matter; they didn't work. Even if the phones had worked, AT&T is incapable of providing reliable voice service in my neighborhood (upscale Chicago suburb) and in many neighborhoods where I do business (mostly nearby upscale Chicago suburbs). I paid the ransom to get out of my obligation to pay AT&T a lot of money every month with absolutely no obligation on their part to provide service. Several surveys reported US Cellular having the best coverage in the Chicago area, so I went with them and selected their only Windows phone. That would be HTC with a slide-out keyboard that I don't want, because they don't have iPhones and I know people who have HTC Windows Phones that ring when people call them. (I don't travel much, so a regional carrier with free national roaming works just fine for me.) It's ironic and annoying that Microsoft's Mobile Word is less than a third party's Documents To Go, and I'd rather not suffer the size and weight of a keyboard I never use, but those are a small price to pay for a phone that listens for incoming calls whenever it's powered on. They've dropped a few calls / month, but they've never gone out to lunch like the Captivates. If Microsoft addresses Deb's very legitimate complaints and gets enough developers to create a critical mass of apps, they could give iOS and Android a run for their money. Otherwise Windows Phone will join the BlackBerry and webOS club.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

When I recently made the jump from the old Palm platform to Android, I was shocked at how many steps backwards I had taken. The Palm sync process was nearly flawless; if you lost your phone or had to do a hard reset, the Palm sync would reinstall nearly all of your apps, data, and user settings. No such joy on Android. There is no decent Outlook analog that syncs reliability and painlessly. For over a decade, I was even able to sync my Quicken. No longer. This is progress? So perhaps this explains Microsoft's approach; by setting expectation of capabilities low, they hope to lock-in a new generation of smartphone users who they can easily manage and are somewhat ignorant of what their phones should be capable of doing.

wfecng
wfecng

winmo user cannot live without freedom, they all went for Android liao.

Jonno-the-First
Jonno-the-First like.author.displayName 1 Like

Remembering the plain browser Microsoft supplied and its lack of competition previously makes you see how inherently lazy and devoid of ideas Microsoft is except for ideas of fleecing the worlds population and trying to keep a strangle hold on operating systems. Its even borne out by pretending to be interested in Linux so it can use its inside information. Microsoft is once again on the warpath with it claim of Android patent infringement, when its in fact trying to stifle Andoid makers. Perhaps its time go into competition like Honda and Toyota instead of wasting legal money and producing a better product! Non productive legal fights put nothing into development. Id ir does this I may have more respect for this company. Microsoft is seeing things through inanimate corperate bifocals and the prescription is flawed...

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog like.author.displayName 1 Like

Those who have read some of my posts know that I am a moderate Linux guy. That being said, I am not against Microsoft as a principle, but rather it's the lack of openness which in turn affects what I can do with the device. If Microsoft wants to win me over in the phone arena, open it up. No, I'm not talking about open sourcing their OS (although it may have some benefits...), but rather I want to see an open marketplace not controlled and limited by the company. I want to see a development environment I can download and use for free using a language which is common. I want to take my work and side load it on the phone without major productions. Imagine a Windows phone which programs in a modified form of VB or C#, and can load the program as easily as getting one from the app store. There may not be an app for that now... give me 30 minutes. Third, subsidize the market and create a company that uses the best carrier regardless of type... like alltel was supposed to be. Here in Southern Colorado, Sprint barely works, AT&T is dead in the water, but Verizon works well. Different areas have other carriers that do and don't work. If a Windows phone just works no matter where you are, it will sell. Finally, make these phones available. Open it up to the prepaid market and get large scale adoption on your side. This strategy worked for Microsoft before and is currently carrying their banner... it works, use it! Bottom line: I, the Linux guy, would buy a Windows phone if I could write my own apps in an easy to use language and make them available in a free and open marketplace along with thousands of advanced users with specific needs just like me.

Skruis
Skruis like.author.displayName 1 Like

WP7 is something you have spend some time with to appreciate properly. How it merges your contacts, messaging, groups your contacts, helps you to keep up to date with whats going on with your contacts on Facebook/Twitter/Live/etc. There's just a lot of nice simple features that kind of just...work. Is it perfect? Nope, not by far but it will never be "perfect" to everyone. It sure isn't Android and it never will be. It's purposely designed to be closer in line with iOS's 'vision' but its got a different enough feel to set itself apart. Android is for the crowd that specifically wants an open platform or that wants full control over their phone to do whatever they want. Me, I just wanted a phone that can browse the web, check my email and have some decent apps and I've got that. Sure there are many more apps in the Android market or iOS app store but the odds of me ever using any of those bazillion apps is quite small and it's not like there aren't any more apps being submitted to the Windows Marketplace either. Last I checked, the rate of growth in the Windows Marketplace was pretty close to either matching or beating the rate of growth in the Android Marketplace (especially if you figure in that every paid for app has a "trial" mode). I myself found a few games that I like, some news apps and the browswer works well enough that I just pin my often visited websites to the Start screen for quick access. I have no complaints about apps at this point although it would be nice to have more bank apps...but I'm not entirely sure I want access to my bank account on a device that's so easy to misplace (even though you can track its location from windowsphone.com). Again, it's a simple, yet still powerful in many ways, phone that offers "peakability" so you don't have to spend tons of time using your phone. It presents all of the major information right on the start screen so it's glance and go. That's what I like. I spend all day dealing with problems on servers, desktops, mobile phones, tablets, etc that I just don't want my phone to be overly complicated. For that scenario, I think Microsoft's hit the nail on the head.

rhonin
rhonin like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I'm with Debra on this. Came from iOS to Android (SGS2 Skyrocket). I have tried Win7.5 and came away with a very dissappointed feeling. So many things I tried to do on the phone left me shaking my head at the built in limitations. The interface is slick in design but limiting in its flexibility. I almost feel like I am back in the days of BeOS - great thought but just not all there...

dcolbert
dcolbert like.author.displayName 1 Like

Microsoft's strategy with WinPhone is a consumer driven device with strict boundaries, walls and limitations. When I first demoed the HTC Trophy, I ended up connecting with a bunch of Windows Phone folks at Microsoft to see if they could convey the concept - because I just felt like I must be missing something. At one point, the guy I was talking to hyped the lack of SD and the lack of tethering as security enhancing features by *design*. That is when it clicked for me what Microsoft's internal vision is. It *isn't* an Android thing - it is far closer to an iOS thing. In the meantime, after my review a peer decided to try the HTC Trophy. After giving it a good try, he hates it. The #1 complaint, lack of apps. Unless Windows Phone 7 has some sort of Droid 1 rebirth moment - at this point, they're stalling out and not generating enough momentum to move forward. They've got a great mobile e-mail client. They're the most reliable mobile platform on the market, I think, but there just isn't anything really compelling about their platform.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I recently joined the droid army (the real one; Nexus.. no child fork distro here) and my only complaint so far is the lack of an SD slot on the Galaxy Nexus though that I could have known ahead of time with better research (focused on the software, didn't dig into the hardware as much). No SD slot really is a limitation that shouldn't be these days. SD are tiny, there is plenty of room to include at least one removable slot beside the SIM slot; especially if you can find room for a standard sized sim. Now.. back to installing the pieces that turn Android into a full featured *nix variant. Where'd I leave that Busybox installer.. (TR; thank you for the new comment system that does not require me to open up a ton of third party servers in my noscript. Can you now work on the issue where the website says I'm logged in but gives "permission denied" when I try and post until I log out and back in again. If I'm not logged in, the site should not say I'm logged in.)

dcolbert
dcolbert

You know, Deb Shinder, Jack Wallen, Soni and I review smart-phones in the Smart-Phone blog on a regular basis - and Deb recently reviewed the Galaxy and mentioned that one of the big deal-breakers was the missing microSD. (I reviewed the phone, and found the same thing - but Deb already had that covered here at TR. I publish any reviews that don't make the cut here at my personal blog site). I'm just sayin'... let us do the research for you... ;)

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've traditionally been OK with the level of skinned interfaces and bloat on most of the Motorola/VZW line. Motoblur is generally well done, and minimally intrusive to the pure Android experience. Some of the other carriers go a little more heavy handed (I was not a fan of the skin over the LG Spectrum). Even then, though, in general it is still clearly Android and takes only minor adjustment to get used to. I'm even less concerned with most of the bloat. It is silly to have Blockbuster installed or Let's Golf 2, Need for Speed or Madden NFL 12 demo versions installed and non-removable - but they're easy enough to ignore. It just isn't a big enough deal to be the critical reason that I decided to go with a particular handset or not. Physical characteristics like a high quality camera, performance, stability and other factors are far more important to me than a pure Android experience. I mean - my Droid 2 is on version 2.2 where a Droid 4 is on 2.3.6 pending the ICS update and I suppose it is arguable that a Nexus probably wouldn't find me still back on Froyo when Gingerbread has been available for so long. When ICS starts coming out for today's phones in force and the Droid 2 is still stuck on Froyo, that might be more annoying, but really - the fact that the Droid 2 has been and will almost certainly remain a Froyo device isn't that big of a deal to me, either. By the time ICS comes out, the Droid 2 will be a pretty dated platform. I'm just not sure if this matters as much as it seems.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai like.author.displayName 1 Like

I know.. It is rare that I haven't re-read the specs and populated a driver and docs folder tree by the time I buy but it happens. In this case the primary requirnment was a device from the Nexus line to insure it had the stock Android parent distro.. minimal if any vendor bloat (er, "differentiation") and an expectation of prompt updates from the distribution origin rather than waiting on a third party to maybe maintain there child fork of Android. The hardware was obligatory based on the software requirnment. Though, it also now means paying much closer attention to Android news and reviews now.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

How often do you change your smartphone? Do you jump from one phone, one platform, and/or one carrier to another on a more or less regular basis?