Love-Hate is an occasional series in which we discuss the things we like most, and the things that drive us crazy, about products, services, people and ideas from across the world of technology.
Earlier today, we discussed five things that we love about Windows Phone. But let’s be honest here – Microsoft’s mobile OS is far from perfect, and it’s no coincidence that, almost four years after the launch of Windows Phone 7, the platform is still struggling with barely a 3% share of the global smartphone market.
Perhaps we’re on the cusp of a big turnaround for Windows Phone, as Microsoft has succeeded in attracting over two dozen new hardware partners this year, some of which have already released their first devices, while others are still biding their time, waiting for the right moment to launch.
Microsoft will replace Windows Phone with a new OS next year - a version of Windows 10 designed for mobile devices that will extend across both smartphones and tablets. But that’s still a long way away, and for now, Windows Phone still has some problems to deal with.
Let’s take a look at some of the things we hate about Windows Phone today.
No matter how awesome the camera, how beautiful the display, how impressive the features or how affordable the price of a Windows Phone, owners of these handsets will often have to deal with friends, family or colleagues making fun of them for choosing to get a phone that runs Windows.
Yes, after some explaining, many people can be convinced that Windows Phones have plenty to offer, but many more have no interest in, or patience for, such explanations. And come on, let’s be fair – it’s not hard to understand why. For most non-techies, Windows is not a brand that people generally love; in the eyes of many, it’s a product that’s functional, but – however unfairly – it is also deeply associated with error codes, unexpected crashes and, of course, the unforgettable Blue Screen of Death.
Little wonder, then, that people are quick to mock – and if you’ve just spent a small fortune on a new phone that you personally love, it’s not much fun to have your choice belittled by those closest to you. It’s not just ‘unfair’ perceptions that there are at the heart of this either – many also base their impressions of Windows Phone on other issues that aren’t so easy to explain away.
Mind the app gap
Microsoft would very much like you to forget about the so-called ‘app gap’ that Windows Phone has suffered ever since its launch. To the company’s credit, it has done an outstanding job over the last few years in narrowing that gap, encouraging many top brands to launch apps on the platform. But, alas, whatever protestations Microsoft might wish to raise, the app gap is still very much a thing.
Whether it’s your preferred airline, your nearest cinema, your local public transit company, your favourite coffee house, or whatever, there’s a pretty good chance that some aspect of your life will not be adequately catered for on Windows Phone in the same way that it is on other platforms. Sometimes, that means that an official app which can be downloaded on iOS or Android just isn’t available at all on Windows Phone; in other cases, an app is released on Windows Phone, but its feature set is poor compared with versions released elsewhere.
Local businesses focus their limited resources on iOS and Android, since the tiny numbers of Windows Phone users cannot justify the added expense of supporting a third platform with their app. Games developers almost exclusively target iOS and Android first – and given the fleeting popularity of many games, Windows Phone users are lucky to see a launch of some titles at all.
Yes, Microsoft has done a superb job so far of attracting many of the most sought-after apps to Windows Phone. But until the platform grows enough for brands and developers of all sizes to see it as large enough to justify development of their apps for it, the app-gap will live on - no matter how Microsoft tries to spin it.
Much like the app-gap, this is a problem that Windows Phone has faced since its launch in 2010. From Tango and Mango, to 7.8 and 8.1, every update has brought the OS closer to its rivals, narrowing the feature gap with iOS and Android, but never quite closing it, and never making any significant leaps ahead.
Of course, you can point to examples like Cortana, which is considerably more impressive in many ways than Siri or even Google Now. But for every example like this, there are many others in which Windows Phone has only just caught up with its rivals, or in which it is still lagging behind.
Where is Windows Phone’s support for Quad HD displays? Why can’t you use a Bluetooth keyboard with your Windows Phone? Why are there Windows Phone phablets, but none with stylus support?
It’s surely time for Microsoft to flex its muscles and show what it can really do with its mobile OS - not merely to catch up with long-awaited features, but to finally lead the way for others to follow.
Windows Phone is not alone in making device settings management a chore – this is an area in which all mobile platforms could do much better. But what’s especially annoying about settings on Microsoft’s OS is that it hasn’t made any effort to improve the situation in the four years since the first Windows Phone went on sale.
It’s just one long, long, long list of individual settings, in no particular order, and the only significant change made to this list in the last four years is that it has become longer and even less manageable.
Want to change your date/time settings? Scroll down, down… down, further – oh, wait you’ve gone past it… back up again, a bit slower… ah, there it is. What about adjusting all of your screen brightness settings? Well, that’s under ‘Brightness’, near the top of the list, right? Well, yes, but if you’re on a Lumia phone, there are more brightness settings to be found waaaay down near the end of the list, under Display > Brightness profile.
You can pin some of your favourite settings to the Action Center drop-down for universal access – but even these options are limited – just four settings can be pinned (or five on the largest high-res displays), and many settings can’t be pinned there at all.
Something this simple shouldn’t be this complicated.
Microsoft has succeeded in attracting over two dozen new brands to Windows Phone this year – a remarkable achievement, by any standards. But with few exceptions, these companies are aiming for the very low-end of the market, with devices priced in the $100-$150 range. It’s an important segment, and one that deserves to be catered for with high-quality handsets, but it doesn’t change the fact that the mid-range and upper end of the market remain very poorly served.
With the exception of the HTC One M8 for Windows – the Windows Phone version of the otherwise identical Android device – and a half-assed ‘flagship’ that Samsung spat out earlier this year, the only choice for mid- and top-of-the-range Windows Phones remains Microsoft’s Lumia devices. Diehard fans of the platform will no doubt argue that Lumia is the best anyway, so this isn’t a problem – but that would be a rather short-sighted view.
In any industry, for any organisation, competition breeds innovation and improvement; the absence of competition leads to stagnation and complacency. As nice as it is to see all of these new brands coming in at the entry-level, Windows Phone needs more competition at every level – it will be a good thing for Microsoft, and a great thing for consumers.
- - - - -
Of course, these are just our picks of the things that drive us a bit mad about Windows Phone – but you may well disagree with them, or you may have some suggestions of your own. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below!