How essential is the 'app' lifestyle?

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On the recent AAWP podcast Rafe and I chatted about the 'app gap' in the context of Universal Windows Applications. With some high profile banks and other establishments mentioned, I realised that I didn't feel my life was that incomplete without them on my phone. Yet how much of this is because I'm not able to have them because of my platform choice? Are we, as Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile users, secretly rather jealous of the riches on Android and iOS?

IHG hotel

In a word, 'yes' - of course. But the situation's not as simple as that, and I'd welcome your comments.

Consider a modern, tech-savvy, app-savvy iPhone user. I have one in the family so hopefully the imaginary sequence below is quite typical:

Jane Doe loves her iPhone 6s. Today is a big day as she needs to get to Birmingham for an interview for her next job, followed by meeting up with friends in the area in the evening. The phone wakes her at 7am, provides the usual email and news check while she drinks her coffee and then entertains her while she washes. She'd better check on funds, so it's into her (HSBC) banking app and transfer £200 over to her current account. Freddie 'Snapchats' her for a few minutes, wishing her well and she's out the door at 8:05am.

Waiting at the bus stop, an app on her iPhone shows where the buses are and that she's only got a five minute wait - she uses this to look ahead to the train station and the live departures, and sees that everything's running on time. Looking at a phone screen on a bus gives her a headache, so she listens to free streaming music on Amazon Prime to while away the 30 minute journey into town.

At the train station she pays for her ticket in record time with Apple Pay, tapping it against the terminal and authenticating with her finger on the home button. With a two hour train journey to while away, she browses Facebook, fiddles with some snaps and sticks them on Instagram, enjoys a number of Periscope streams from her friends, and watches a little YouTube. Good thing she has unlimited data on her plan.

Arriving in Birmingham at 12:00, she's too early for the interview, so she grabs a muffin and another coffee at Starbucks, paying from her balance using the Starbucks app on her phone. The interview goes well and she's out of the building by 4pm, tired but satisfied. Navigating by Apple Maps, she heads for Crowne Plaza in the city centre, part of the IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) - she'd booked a room here a couple of days ago using the dedicated app on her iPhone, so it's ready and waiting for her. Time for a shower, some chill out time and then a fun evening ahead.

[No wonder battery life is an issue on the iPhone 6s, by the way. As it is on my daughter's 6. With such intense use, all day every day, I'm not sure any smartphone would last the course, so users often rely on emergency power banks and Mophie cases....]

Heading out on the train!

Some of what's described above can be done easily on Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone, of course, with a few more things achieved through third party clients for services, if you know they exist and can find them in the Store. But the rest are part of the much-quoted 'app gap', added to the lack of 'Microsoft Pay' or whatever arrives along those lines this year.

In contrast to the above, there's almost a previous, older tier of functionality. Back in the day, 2007 to 2010, the definition of a smartphone was a 'converged device' (Nokia used to quote this term explicitly in its quarterly results), i.e. bringing together phone, email, music, photography, navigation, and so on (with the poster device for this era being the Nokia N95 and its 8GB variant). As time went on, these functions became ubiquitous on every smartphone and it's now taken for granted that every phone is a 'converged' device. Yet I maintain that these functions are still more important to the smartphone user, even in 2016, than having boutique applications for every store, bank and travel system.

So, in terms of the example day above, my 'older tier' Nokia-made (in this case) Windows Phone would wake me and provide email, news and entertainment, but I'd probably have to use a laptop in order to do Internet banking in a practical manner. No Snapchat, of course, but if someone really wants to wish me well, there's SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and a dozen other ways to get in touch, albeit not so 'hip'. At the bus stop, I'd have to resort to lifting my eyes to the real world and looking at the printed timetable at the stop, hoping that buses weren't too far behind.

Of course, some of the missing apps can be replaced by using the Web in Internet Explorer or Edge, but the experience is rarely that good. Continuing with my day, I'd stream my own, previously purchased music from OneDrive or from local memory and never mind whatever bandwidth I could get. At the train station I'd pay for my ticket by more traditional means, though at least there are plenty of rail timetable applications for the platform (see what I did there?....)

On the train, there's plenty on any mobile OS for keeping in touch, streaming media where available, of course. Not that I fiddle with Facebook much and I'm still coming to terms with the need for Instagram in my life... At Starbucks, I'd pay 'contactless' with my debit card, as usual. There are plenty of ways to book hotels on Windows Phone, not least with Expedia, though you can't easily go through an app for a specific hotel or chain. And as for chill out time with friends later in the day, the camera facilities on (e.g.) my Lumia would do me proud, at least.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not apologising for the 'app gap' from iOS to Windows Phone/Windows 10 Mobile, I'm merely pointing out that life is still tolerable on less app-centric platforms - it's not exactly like being back in the Stone Age. In fact, I'd hesitate to suggest that, without the temptation to have a phone in hand all day long, in order to ride the wave of connected applications, it's possible to have ones eyes looking at the world, at people and at real life just a tiny bit more.

London skyline

A controversial view, to be sure. When I'm using an iPhone (rare, but hey....) or an Android powerhouse (more often), I do find myelf seeking out, using and enjoying applications for just about everything. I'm at restaurant X, I grab its app and then try to wangle discount codes, that sort of thing. However, when using a Lumia 1020 or 930 or whatever, I'm fully aware that I'm missing out on the apps-for-everything lifestyle, and yet - somehow - I still make it through the day.

OK, over to you. From previous comments on stories, I suspect there are just as many happy Windows users here as frustrated ones. Let the debate rage - can you quantify how critical 'missing' third party applications are to you, day to day, in real life?