Last week, right before the holiday break, I started having problems with my trusty old iPhone. The people on the other end of the line sounded like they were at the end of a long tunnel. After trying to troubleshoot it, I gave up and admitted to myself that it was time for a new phone.

But rather than rushing out to buy a new device, I decided to delay the decision. I switched the SIM card to a Windows Phone (running the 7.5 Mango update) that I use regularly to test new apps and OS releases. I’ve been using that Windows Phone as my primary device for the past several days, just as we’ve seen a new spate of commentaries opining on Windows Phone and what Microsoft really needs to do to gain traction.

In fact, when I called David Aronchick to go over some final edits in his Windows Phone guest commentary, we joked that it might be the first call ever made from one Windows Phone to another in which neither participant was a Microsoft employee.

At any rate, in the back of my mind, I’ve been challenging myself to make the switch permanent, if for nothing more than to cut against the grain, and not just blindly go out and buy another iPhone.

But I’m struggling to do it. For me, it’s still about the apps.

Not that there isn’t a lot of them on Windows Phone. In fact, with 50,000 and counting, there are plenty. And for core applications like Facebook and Twitter, the Windows Phone versions are really quite nice. I’m particularly enamored with Wonder Reader, a great Google Reader app for Windows Phone.

But there are two stumbling blocks for me when it comes to Windows Phone apps.

First, when you get beyond the core apps, into what might be called the long tail, the lineup on Windows Phone still feels spotty to me. For example, when I wanted to send a postcard this weekend, I found myself switching the SIM back to my iPhone to use the Postagram app.

Yes, there are Postagram alternatives on Windows Phone, but after trying them out this afternoon, I found myself agreeing with some of my Twitter friends that they just don’t measure up in terms of quality. Feel free to let me know if I’m missing a particularly good one. But what I really want is Postagram on Windows Phone, not a watered-down alternative.

Bottom line, in general, I want to know that a best-of-class app is available on whatever device I’m using.

Second: This a smaller complaint, and I know that fans of Microsoft’s elegant Metro design will take me to task, but I don’t like the fact that the Windows Phone apps follow the same design characteristics. Yes, consistency is good, but it can also be really boring.

There’s something to be said for individuality, variety, and letting designers do their thing, for better or worse. I like the feeling of opening an app and feeling like I’ve entered a different world — knowing which app I’ve opened just based on how it looks and feels.

So those are my issues, in a nutshell. I’m still using the Windows Phone, for now, but I’m hearing the siren call of an iPhone 4S. Windows Phone fans, free to try to bring me to my senses and save me from those rocky shores.

Postscript: One postcard app that I wasn’t able to try on Windows Phone today was the highly recommended Touchnote, which was previously available for Windows Phone but is no longer in the marketplace. (It is available for iOS and Android.)

I sent a message to Touchnote asking about the status of its Windows Phone app. CEO Oded Ran explained in response that the company decided to take the app off Windows Phone Marketplace a few months ago because it didn’t yet include all the features of its website and other mobile apps, such as the ability to view order history, sign in or sign out, send postcards in offline state, purchase multi-credit bundles, send cards to multiple recipients, and back up their address books to the website.

Ran explained that Touchnote decided to focus on improving the experience before putting the Windows Phone app back in the marketplace. A relaunch date hasn’t yet been announced. Existing Windows Phone users who have already downloaded the app can continue to use it.

Comments

  • Jbs2886

    I’m very happy with my Windows Phone after switching from a BlackBerry. With that being said, I’m enamored by the amount of apps. I think for iPhone and Android users, apps may be a stumbling block, but for those coming from other smartphones or non-smartphones the issue isn’t as severe.

    Everyone really loves the look of the phone, I have a person ask me almost every day what it is! I think the apps will follow soon enough.

  • James

    I used an HTC Radar 4G running on T-Mo for a few weeks.  It’s a beautiful device; it’s intuitive and responsive and the battery life… I forgot what it’s like to not have to charge once a day. I really liked the painless syncing of my Outlook contact folder and the phone. 

    With that said, I’m going back to my Android phone.  No Sportacular and no Square and no Google Music (obviously, but MS for reasons beyond my comprehension doesn’t compete in the music storage locker space).  Apps and familiarity are what it comes down to for me.   

    • Gokou202002

      use 4th 7 Mayor for you Foursquare.  much better than and a very cool app

    • Gokou202002

      Sorry meant to say 4th & Mayor

  • Dennis Hamilton

    ” it might be the first call ever made from one Windows Phone to another in which neither participant was a Microsoft employee” – Oh, that was cold!

    [Vicki and I both have HTC HD7s and neither of us is a Microsoft employee.]

    I agree that any long-tail apps that are in your sweet spot and not available in comparable quality on Windows Phone is a problem.  Fortunately, that has not been a limitation for either of us.  But it would be good for PostaGram to be there for you.

  • http://twitter.com/Alishsayd Alisher

    Todd, I am not sure that you are the target customer for WP. I imagine that some people value apps to a lesser extent, and some in fact, don’t use them at all. Some new-to-smartphone mobile subscribers have no idea what apps they like. 
    So I won’t try to convince you to stick to WP :) But I disagree that lack of apps is holding back Windows Phone. If you look at the chart here, you’ll see that Windows Phone has got more apps than iPhone 12 months after the launch of the two respective app stores. 

    • http://www.thoughtful.co Chris Lynch

      I’m not sure I agree – most of the people who don’t “know” will ask their friends, and most of those friends will probably be on Android or iOS. In fact, over the weekend I got numerous “phone” and “app” recommendation requests from friends who got new devices. I’m an iOS guy so I had an arsenal of go-to-apps that I threw out.

      Also, the “# apps in 12 months” only matters to platform makers in the end, because end users simply want the apps to make their lives easier: sharing, communicating, and discovering content.

  • kj

    I will actually read this as a thumbs up for Windows Phone. It seemed like the two remarks you mentioned were mostly minor issues. The real question is – did you find something about Windows Phone that would annoy you when using the iPhone ?

  • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

    These are great comments and insights.  I agree that I’m not the target market. Microsoft’s challenge isn’t getting iPhone/Android users to switch, it’s getting new smartphone users to pick Windows Phone. 
    The problem for the company in that regard is that the early adopters are creating the buzz around iPhone/Android, influencing the choices of the people who come a bit later.Still, it is true that my quibbles with Windows Phone (as a consumer) are pretty minor at this point. It does everything that I need to do, and in some cases it’s better than comparable features on iPhone. For example, I know it’s a small thing, but I’ve come to really appreciate the quality of the auto-correct and word menus in WP7 text entry.

    • http://hark.com David Aronchick

      I think this is exactly right … i carry around an iphone and wp, and the ONLY reason I go over to the iphone is for google voice, and echofon. If those were at parity on WP, i wouldn’t even go over – the differences in the little things (spell checker, integrated contacts, skydrive integration*) are just too much better on WP.

      * Yes I know about iCloud but as a Google Apps user – I’m basically boxed out from true integration :(

    • Gokou202002

      Granted you point are valid on the apps. I have been a long time Android user since the days of the G1 and now on Windows phone with the Radar 4G. For me battery life and email are key and windows phone hands down hands better than iOS and Android. Plus the email setup is the best with its easy sync with exchange. I think MS has a better chance with business users, cause of its ease. But I feel once Skype integration is fully accomplished on Windows phone. You will see MS gain track with WP&

    • http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/ Geoff Coupe

      After nine years of using the same dumbphone (a Nokia 6310i), I’ve finally switched to a Smartphone – a Nokia Lumia 800, and that was after careful consideration of the options available. I’m very happy with the choice.
      See http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/ive-been-seduced-by-a-windows-phone/

  • Anonymous

    Great article, and thanks for taking the time to post it. I’m a Mac/Linux user (and an AAPL shareholder) and after a two week trial period I just switched from my aged but very much loved iPhone 4 to an HTC Titan. 

    What did it for me were the little touches of the Windows Phone experience, many of which keep me better informed and save time. Things like, there is no longer need to separately check Twitter/Facebook accounts. I created a live tile containing my co-workers and family, so their activity is “pushed” to my attention. Streaming music from Zune and SkyDrive integration are wins, as well.  

    I also love the bigger screen on the Titan, and the Windows Phone keyboard is in my opinion the best in the business. I do miss some apps (banking, Waze GPS nav) – but I had dozens of apps on my iPhone that were never touched. (How many Oink-like apps does the world really need?) .. and, I still have an iPad when I absolutely need anything from the iOS ecosystem.

    Good luck!

  • Anonymous

    The author should go back to iPhone. 

    I had an iPhone 3G for two years. Don’t remember seeing the great variety of UI’s he was claiming to be missing. There is a reason why platforms like Windows and Mac’s have always common UI controls, so devs don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time and users don’t have to relearn what to do across every application. How is having a drastically different UI across data-driven apps truly helpful to users? How can they not know what app they just opened up? Are they that guy from Memento?

    WP has a good selection of the major apps, and several alternatives for those apps that are missing but if you want niche flavor of the month apps, tread else where

  • Björn Sveinbjörnsson

    Many apps are often slow because they are programmed in C# and run in a managed environment with a garbage collector. The same holds true for many Android apps written in Java running under Dalvik. There is a reason why garbage collection is not allowed in Objective-C on the iOS (it is allowed under OSX though).

    Android has the NDK which allows the programmer to use C/C++ in an unmanaged fashion. If your application is demanding on the CPU and needs some memory it is way more efficient than Java+Dalvik.

    Microsoft may use C/C++ in its applications on WP and my guess is that is the case with their Office for the WP as well. OEM may get special treatment but usual app developers like you and me are stuck in Sliverlight/C#/CLR.

    Why should we as developers accept that?

    There is also a possibility that Microsoft may change the WP OS so that it uses the same kernel as Win8 and phases out the old one which is WinCE.

    So. The dev story sucks and thats why the apps suck.

    /björn

    • Anonymous

      You again? oh, man….

      Ok, one more time:

      Apps in WP7 are *NOT* slow! You are the ONLY troll claiming that….

      For the gazilionth time: It doesn’t matter *what* kernel WP8 uses *precisely* because the code is managed…..

      Android NDK is not even recommended for the majority of apps by Google itself….

       *Facepalm*….

      • Björn Sveinbjörnsson

        Hi again. Let me try to explain this.

        I did not say that the WP proper is slow. I am sure most of the apps that come with the phone (hubs) are written in C/C++.

        If you have a CPU intensive task iterating over large collections (say half a million compressed words in spell checking) you benefit if there is no garbage collection that kicks in. That is why you use C/C++ and NDK in Android.

        It is true that these are special cases but special cases hit you in the face many times when you write non-trivial apps.

        You can read a little about Native vs Java/Dalvik here (the Android case)

        http://marakana.com/forums/android/examples/96.html

        You can also have some code that you want to reuse on different platforms. Say a game engine.

        This is never an issue when working in iOS/Objective-C since you have the C/C++ power at your hand.

        What do you think is used as a programming language for the Skype client on Android and iOS?

        /björn

    • http://hark.com David Aronchick

      It may be the case that your apps are slow because you spend all your time on message boards bemoaning the lack of a c++ interface :)

      All kidding aside, it seems highly unlikely that the team will open up a non-managed route, especially with no visible slowness whatsoever (e.g. the twitter app feels as (or more) responsive on my 6 month old trophy than it does on my iphone 4s) – at least in the near future. Further, the number of devs doing what you’re doing (needing direct access like you do) are small, that is NOT why people are not supporting WP7 (look at the comment at the end of the story).

      Further, if you have multiple platforms, and you’ve written in Obj. C, you’re stuck. However, with C#, you can run Mono (over 2k apps in the appstore use Mono), so it’s not exactly a blocker.

      I would wager you’re doing something wrong if you’re having trouble iterating over half a million compressed words. That seems like about 5 MB worth of memory in total. May I ask why you’re not using the built in spell checking?

      • Björn Sveinbjörnsson

        >May I ask why you’re not using the built in spell checking?

        A built in spell checker is not good enough if your users are dyslectic people. Not even the ones that are built-in MS Word on Windows. That is what pays my bills. We have spell checkers for Windows (Word and Writer), Mac OSX (Word and Pages) and and are working on iOS/android versions as we speak (write).

        We have an engine that is handcrafted in C (not even C++) for performance reasons by an expert with a ph.D in applied mathematics. He is a brilliant programmer and an expert in text searching/matching algorithms. Tell him to write it in Java or C# and he will eat you alive :)

        Our engine takes into account what the users native language is and also what language the user is trying to write.

        These are non-trivial problems and our programs are used extensively in Scandinavia, mostly in schools.

        We would like to port our programs to as many platforms as possible.
        But. We have to have a C/C++ compiler that produces native code and we need to have a user base that supports our development ost. WP has neither.

        Take care,
        /björn

  • http://profiles.google.com/clive.boulton clive boulton

    How many Microsoft devs received a complementary WP developer device? How many received an Android device?

    I rest my case. 

  • Anonymous

    My wife and I are happy with our Windows Phones, and neither of us works for Microsoft. :) That said, I’ve so far managed to avoid the iOS and Android Phone worlds, so for me there is no App Envy. My wife had an iPhone 3GS for a year, and the only apps she cared about are already on WP. I guess we are out of touch though, as we’re both shrugging over “postcard” apps. Are these really popular?

    The bigger problem with WP7, in my mind, is the lack of active app development going on. As Robert Scoble said in an astute (if typically condescending) fashion, ads on TV show iOS and Android apps and nothing else. And as another commenter said, friends advise friends to get the latest apps which are released first on iOS and Android. Both of these factors limit the appeal of WP7. Without active app development, WP7 owners feel left out of the “next big thing” (postcard apps?). For the rest of us, the current big things – twitter, facebook, OpenTable, Kindle, SoundHound, Evernote, IMDB, Spotify, 4th & Mayor,  LastPass, LastFM, WordPress, Weather, Tango, OneBusAway and YouTube – keep us happy for now.

    To me, WP is a better user experience than both iOS and Android. Metro is super smooth, easy to use and looks modern compared to the others. If I were you, I would keep the WP7 device until the iPhone 5 (or whatever they call it) is released. It can’t hurt since you mostly like WP7 anyway..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ETP3TEVCOCKEHBGEXOITZGMX6Q Lubomir Mihaylov

    I am a windows 

  • guest

    The other day, my co-worker came into my office and held his iPhone up to his mouth and on the iPhone’s screen was an an image of a mouth.  As he talked, it went up and down like a ventriloquist dummy.  That about summed up my assessment of what most iPhone users want out of their phones.  Something fun that is a distraction from whatever is boring them at the time.
     
    I spend 90% of my computing time writing in Word or OneNote and I want access to those docs from my mobile phone without having to bend over backwards.  Office 365 + SkyDrive fit the bill nicely, and when I take a photo on my phone, it shows up on my SkyDrive and then, consequently on my wife’s computer which is a nice bonus.

    MSFT has something very good for knowledge workers who earn a living creating content.  If you are Dr. Dre, than you love iTunes for pushing your content to consumers, but if you’re a Fortune 500 company, you’re probably going to prefer an Office 365 powered mobile world.

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