Farewell but not goodbye, Windows Phone

In December of 2012, I made the decision to switch my cell phone to a Nokia Lumia 920, one with the Windows Phone 8 operating system that had just come out.  I had been a happy iPhone user for 4 years, first with the iPhone 3G and then the iPhone 4.  One may say it’s just a cell phone, but mobile devices have become an intricate part of peoples’ lives, as it is the hub for managing email, calendar as well as conducting social activities.  As trivial a thing as it is, it’s still a big deal.

iOS had become boring.  Stale.  It was the same thing, even though a new version comes out that brings new and exciting changes.  I saw the Lumia 920 and loved the tile interface.  The presentation of information on the home screen through live tiles was different from iOS and Android, and it remains to this day.  I can unlock my phone and instantly be updated on the next week of my calendar, social notifications from Facebook & Twitter, the stock market, the local weather, the top US national news headline, and how much of my data plan I’ve consumed this month all without opening a single app.

After over two years, Windows Phone has seen much improvement, with the introduction of the personal assistant Cortana to the ability to set a background image with transparent tiles.  There’s a parallax effect so when you scroll through the start screen, the image moves slightly with you.  It’s a very cool effect that needs to be seen to appreciate.

My phone has also shown its age as all mobile phones tend to do.  With hardware that is now over two years old, plus the WP 8.1 OS, my phone has become slow.  Not to the point that it’s unusable, but it’s annoying.  Any Windows Phone fan will be aware of the notorious “Resuming” screen when unlocking your phone or switching between apps.  I also encounter lag when scrolling occasionally.  Plus I’m paying service prices on a two year contract and my contract is up.  So I may as well upgrade to something new right?

And this is my main issue with Windows Phone right now.  WP fans and tech enthusiasts in general are aware of the so-called “app gap”.  Well for me, it’s virtually non-existent.  I don’t care about the latest trending app just because it’s popular.  I have certain ones I need, and for the most part, I already have them.  Twitter; Facebook; a solid reddit client in both Readit and Baconit; media apps like Xbox Music, Pandora, and Spotify and fantastic third-party YouTube clients; games that are Xbox Live enabled so I can earn achievements while I’m out; apps that can help me while I’m out such as Yelp, Uber, Waze; I can purchase off Amazon and check news on apps like Flipboard; the list goes on.

In fact, there are only a few apps I really feel like I’m missing:

  • Google Maps (which I find much better than the included Bing/HERE maps)
  • An official Twitch client

That’s it.  But then comes about the real app issue with Windows Phone: what are called “dead apps”.  Apps that are added to the store but then never see an update and are really lacking when compared to iOS or Android.  Here’s the list of the ones I have on my phone that meet this: Instagram, TuneIn Radio, Twitter, GasBuddy, and MyFitnessPal.  This doesn’t include games either.  Another issue is the state of the included apps, such as the Mail client or web browser.  And let’s not get into the state of Windows Phone Office apps.  Even though I find myself not using them a whole lot, it is also fun to check out the newest & latest, and sadly this is just not possible on Windows Phone.

But even then, these apps all work well.  Sure they aren’t as feature rich as their iOS/Android counterparts, but they work well enough for me.   Or I can find suitable substitutes, such as using ESPN’s mobile web site for scores instead.  It’s all good.  It all comes back to the current state of the hardware.

The only phones available as “upgrades” to the Lumia 920, which came out in fall of 2012 are the Lumia 1520 or the Lumia 830.  There was the 930/Icon that came out this past spring (now about a year old) but Verizon doesn’t even sell it anymore; it was never available on AT&T.  The 1520 is a solid upgrade in hardware to the 920 (quad-core processor over dual-core, 2GB RAM compared to 1GB, 1080p resolution to 720p, etc.) but it came out in late 2013.  There are Android phones on the market that top this.  Personally, I don’t really care much about specs, I’m more interested in performance.  And this is where the iPhone 6 has everyone topped.

So after all the deliberating and thinking, I’m going back to an iPhone.  Windows Phone is top in class in a lot, including the launcher and overall design but the OS itself still needs polish.  Live tiles are in my opinion one of the best things on a call phone since they give so much information at a glance without the need to go into separate apps.  The app issue while overblown, is still an issue if Microsoft wants Windows Phone to become a major player.

Here’s a list of current WP features that I believe outshine the competition:

  • Start screen – with different tile sizes that can display varying amounts of information, you can truly customize your phone
  • Live tiles – better than standard app grids or even Android widgets. They mesh with each other no matter the design and present information at a glance, so you’re not spending your life looking at your phone
  • UI design – Windows Phone re-introduced flat in 2010 (well the Zune client did before it, but for cell phones). Everyone else has followed in a way.  The simplistic design can be amazing and dull at the same time though (see the stock WP email app)
  • Cortana – the perfect blend of information and personal assistant. It doesn’t do info as well as Google Now, and it doesn’t do assistant as well as Siri.  But it combines them both to sit right in the middle
  • Glance screen – the time, weather, and notifications on your phone without even pushing a button to unlock
  • Lock screen customization – Apps can display content on the lock screen such as social, news, or weather updates (or all of them!). If you want something simpler, you can have the Bing image of the day displayed
  • Dedicated Search button – pull up search at any point from any screen on the phone.

Windows 10 is scheduled to come out later this year.  I don’t know if this is the schedule for the mobile variant as well but I would expect so.  I’m leaving myself open with my cell phone provider to switch back later this year.  I’m excited at the prospect of everything Windows Phone has going for it now, with a truly polished OS.  Plus since Windows 10 will be the same platform for everything from watches to TV screens, this should help app development tremendously.  It’s very exciting.  And while I’m sad to leave the platform now while it seems to have momentum going for it, I’m anxious for what the future holds.