Lex Friedman’s experiment with the Windows Phone reminds me of the some pain points with the OSs experience — and how it hasn’t gotten any better.
(Before plowing through this post, I highly recommend listening to this podcast covering the highlights of a four-part series in which Lex Friedman switches off his iPhone 5 in favor for a Windows Phone. Yes, I know that was from 2 months ago. I’m catching up here).
There are many reasons to love and hate the Windows Phone and iOS experiences. I didn’t make a formal announcement about this, but I switched back to Windows Phone about 3 months ago after switching back to the iOS from a pervious stint with a Lumia 800. This schizophrenic swapping of phones is symbolic of my love-hate relationship with the two phone operating systems. As Lex points out in his detailed, month-long experiment, there is a lot to like (especially initially) about the WP and the Lumia 920. Here is Lex describing his experience during the first week:
Despite its perhaps lackluster adoption in the marketplace, the Windows Phone OS itself is certainly no joke, and the Lumia 920 is a great device. Far from being a chore, my time with this phone is actually fun.
Both of us knew that the ecosystem was ill-supported (it, in fact, still is), but we both accepted that as a flaw of most things that are in their beginnings. Windows Phone 8 is only just now a mature enough to be in the ranks of iOS and Android 4.2+. The pervious Windows Phone version on the Lumia 800, while a dramatic departure from any mobile offering from the firm, failed to deliver in ways that the Lumia 920 makes up for. It’s like the dramatic change from the original iPhone to the iPhone 3G — the difference was night and day even though the experience seems the same on the surface.
Despite the ecosystem flaws, the Windows Phone OS has some joyous, almost genius moments, which I have described in length in this post matching up iOS and WP OS feature by feature. We both seem to agree that the iOS start screen experience is plussed by the WP live tiles view. Lex goes further to say (at least in the first week), that the tiles “add a degree of intelligence to the OSs home screen.” Seeing the content float to the surface makes it easy to “get in and get out” (as the earlier Windows Phone commercials touted as a feature). Lex doesn’t spend much time with the threaded messaging feature, but I feel this is one of the key reasons I keep coming back to the OS. It is effortless and intuitive to switch from a Facebook conversation to text message, and seeing the content from both streams feels more informative than the sectioned-off experience that iOS provides.
Lex fell out of his honeymoon phase quickly, and in the rest of his journey found the OS more annoying than enjoyable. Plagues included lack of notification controls, awful battery life, TellMe’s inferiority to Siri, and feeling the lack of app support. I completely agree with all of his points, and most of them are mostly related to poor hardware design or feature support. The message is that the ideas behind Windows Phone are solid, but the execution is poor. There are so many ideas that feel correct, but in practice they miss the mark enough to be a hinderance. For example, Lex points out that the keyboard doesn’t “trust itself:”
Still, the Windows Phone keyboard frustrates me, because it has the potential to be much better than iOS’s keyboard, yet squanders much of it. One big problem is that Windows Phone doesn’t trust itself enough: As you type, if it’s certain that your typo-laden word is meant to be something else, Windows Phone will autocorrect the word when you hit space. But it’s too often not comfortable enough making the correction on its own; instead, you must tap on the correct word above the keyboard. Trust yourself, Windows Phone! Of course by “vimputer” I meant “computer,” buddy! Don’t second guess.
I have scratched my head at this feature for a while, and my only conclusion is that the implementation is an attempt to be a design for everyone. I know this isn’t entirely the case — I have met some of the Windows Phone designers and they have persona driven work which should inform these decisions. But, if you were a fledgling OS competing with a widely respected platform, the gut instinct would likely be to target as much of the competition as well. It’s a always tough to make trade offs, but I feel that the Windows Phone’s “no compromise” attitude may have left some holes like the one above to be exposed.
Lex concludes his saga by suggesting a Frakenphone, but this would likely just create more complexity than desirability. I’ve heard Lex on In Beta and appreciate his desire to be really in-control about his phone experiences — the suggestions he makes would likely work well for his life style. But, Lex is a power user of sorts, given his extensive history with technology. A phone with multiple home screen tiles would likely become an even more cluttered mess of panels for people who wouldn’t spend the time cleaning up the window dressings. The seemingly primitive notification system on Windows Phone works for people who may not want to be bombarded with notifications and prefer the live tile experiences in place of notification center. Again, these are trade offs which I appreciate from both OSs.
Nevertheless, Lex’s opinion piece(s) bring to light many shortcomings of the OS and ecosystem in general. I definitely feel the pinch that Lex had after my second affair with the Windows Phone, and will probably switch back to the iPhone as well. I’ll be more reluctant since there hasn’t been a change to iOS just yet, but the small annoyances are (once again) catching up with me.