Five reasons to be 'done' with Windows Phone? Not so fast...

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ZDNet's Matt Miller is someone we've known well for many years, since the days of Windows Mobile and Symbian, so we take what he says with some respect. Though this doesn't mean that we always agree with him. In this case he's penned an editorial 'Five reasons I am done with Windows Phone after 3.5 years' and I thought it might be worth looking at the five points and putting some perspective on from this end.

Matt writes, to introduce the piece:

I have been using Windows Phone since July 2010 and have written many articles about how much I liked the Metro UI and operating system. As Nokia moves to being a Microsoft company and Windows Phone continues its slow evolution to Windows Phone 8.1, I have to say I have fallen out of love with Windows Phone. I look back at the last several months of my mobile device usage, I have only been using the Lumia 1020 for photos and video and that functionality is only because of what Nokia brings to the table. Apple’s iPhone 5s camera works well and Android cameras are getting much better too so the camera advantage is not as much of a factor as it was before.

I have to step in at this point, if only to point out that yes, the iPhone 5S camera produces great photos at least half the time, as do most other top end Android phones. What sets the Lumia 1020 apart is the rest of the time, up to 50%, depending on what you like to shoot. Indoor shots of people, kids, pets, parties, night time scenes, zoomed detail from outdoor events, they're all occasions where only the Lumia 1020 will do. And I have all the test photos to prove it (e.g. here).

In other words the hardware capabilities are, for me, at least as important as the OS and applications. After all, I have at any one time, around a dozen smartphones littering my desk (it's a tough reviewing job, but someone's got to do it!) and any one of them could, more or less, run my life and do everything that I want to do.

Anyway, Matt goes on, listing his 'five reasons', which I'll respond to in-line:

1. I’m tired of Live Tiles: For a few years I enjoyed the big tiles and how I could customize their order on the Start screen. However, they really offer very little information and I prefer the home screen of Android over all others.

There's no doubting that the homescreen in Android (obviously not iOS here, since there's just the pull down notifications shade) is more flexible and, arguably, prettier than the live tile system in Windows Phone. But it's also easier to really make a mess of it, with widgets everywhere because they seemed like a good idea, with no consistent look and feel. It's also easy to bog your device down with too many widgets, all pulling down data and using resources.

In contrast, looking at my Windows Phone (a Lumia 1020, of course!), I can see at a glance how many new emails (in each of two mailboxes) I have, how many new texts, how many new Twitter DMs, how many apps need updating, the current and forecasted weather, my upcoming Calendar appointments, and so on. It's true that subtleties like the current Bitcoin price or latest YouTube subscription vid can't be shown, which is why I commented on flexibility above, but it's unfair to say that the live tiles 'offer very little information'. 

Start screenStart screen

My Start screen a few months ago (it's changed slightly in the meantime!)

Possibly the biggest clue here is that Matt says he's 'tired' of the UI - this is something that affects all tech geeks after a while and a change of desktop or mobile OS is always refreshing. It'll be interesting to see if he gets a hankering for Windows Phone again after the 8.1 devices are released and after he's 'tired' of the iPhone again. In my experience, it's easier to get tired of iOS than any other mobile OS since there's comparatively little geeks can fiddle with.

2. I’m tired of the loading dots: With today’s processors, high end hardware, and fast Wi-Fi or LTE networks, I expect nearly instantaneous performance when I open up an app. Far too often I seen the five dots come in from the left and slide out to the right.

Tempting though it is to decry an expectation of 'instantaneous' as something of a first world problem, Matt is right to some extent here, though I think that 'far too often' is a bit of an exageration. The flying '...' usually stem from an application being re-started because its icon has been tapped on - something which I've argued for years should be changed to 'resume' rather than 'restart'. And Microsoft and its developers are gradually coming round to this way of thinking - of my current application set, it's only Skype and Netflix which show any extraneous loading dots (i.e. ones which aren't related to getting data from any online source), and even these apps are near instant to jump to if the back button multitasking carousel is used instead of the live tile or application list shortcut. Once Skype and Netflix are fixed up, I for one won't be seeing any unnecessary dots.

Comments welcome if you can think of other applications whose 'restart' behaviour is unnecessarily cumbersome.

3. Notifications are nearly useless: Android spoiled me with fully functional notifications, especially my Moto X with active notifications. Apple copied Android and now has a solid notification system too, but Windows Phone’s Live Tiles and toast method just doesn’t cut it. I understand the new Windows Phone 8.1 improves upon this so one of my pet peeves may be addressed soon.

In fact, Nokia Glance, with always-on displayed notifications, arrived fully with Lumia Black a few months ago, as demoed here by Rafe:

There's a functionality hole for power users, admittedly, in that if you have a lot of applications generating a lot of notifications, the transient toast messages and limited live tile numbering are nowhere near as informative or practical as Android's swipe down notifications pane. However, a catch-all Action Center is coming in 8.1, yes, and this should level up with Android.

For most average Windows Phone users though, I doubt the lack of aggregated, detailed notifications/toasts is currently a hindrance. I move between Android and Windows Phone every day and the lack of stacked up notifications on Windows Phone has never been an issue for me.

4. Lack of Google services support: I know this is not entirely Microsoft’s fault, but I get great Google support on my iOS devices. I use and sync Chrome across all my computers and devices, except for Windows Phone. I understand that Microsoft has excellent competing services, but I’m not switching over for a single mobile OS I don’t have a ton of confidence in for the long term.

Fair point - though the core Gmail/Contacts and Calendar are all covered, through both built-in Google account support and CardDAV and CalDAV, the lack of a native Google+ or YouTube client reflects badly on both Microsoft and Google, being unable to sort out their differences. 

I don't think the lack of Chrome is an issue - Internet Explorer is fine for most mobile use and the famed Chrome tab/bookmark sync doesn't appeal to all, I suspect - I for one like to have different bookmarks on my phones, often pointed to more mobile-friendly pages and sub-sites.

5. Voice control blows: I liked the speech technology in Windows Phone 7, but it hasn’t gone anywhere since the beginning and now Siri and Google Now blow it away. This is especially evident on a device like my Moto X that has active listening mode ready to respond at all times. I know Microsoft has been working on speech technology forever and think they really need to step it up on Windows Phone.

Another fair point, though anyone with an ear to the ground will have heard of the 'Cortana' assistant coming with Windows Phone 8.1, this is supposed to be along the lines of Apple and Google's voice recognition technologies, though obviously no one knows yet. And it's also fair to point that 'it's coming in the next update' is something that we've heard perhaps too much of in the last few years in the Microsoft world.

We finish, however, with an area where I disagree with Matt. He writes:

I wrote five reasons above, but another reason I am tired of Windows Phone is the lack of hardware options. I have been a Nokia fan forever, but much of that time was back when Nokia had unique and exciting devices. The Lumia Windows Phone line is pretty stagnant with incremental differences between devices while Android manufacturers are pushing the limits and launching some interesting hardware.

I'm sorry? Android manufacturers 'pushing the limits' with hardware? Android touch slabs are just as 'incremental' as the Nokia Lumias and I'd argue that Nokia's choices in camera and screen technology (demoed perfectly in the cinematic video embedded here) should be classed as downright 'innovative'. Hardly stagnant. 

On a personal note, Matt adds:

In late 2012, all five of my family members were using Windows Phone devices. Today, there is not a single one being used with three iPhones and two Android devices instead.

I should point out that Matt does live in the USA though - where Windows Phone share is actually shrinking, largely because of the cockeyed subsidised phone buying models in use there, where it costs only $100 or so more to get an Apple iPhone over a budget Lumia 520. Crazy. In contrast, across the rest of the world, you can often buy five or six Lumia 520s for the cost of one iPhone and so the real economics come into play, with Windows Phone breaking through 10% marketshare consistently in some countries.

So, an interesting set of points that I've partly refuted and partly agreed with. Comments welcome though - I'm hoping that once Windows Phone 8.1 arrives, we can stop having to write apologetics like this once and for all.