Taking the Plunge

My move to Windows Phone 8 and what needs to be done to improve

I recently took the plunge and decided to switch to a new phone operating system.  In the days of smartphones, this is kind of a big deal to the ecosystems built around each of the three main platforms (iOS, Android, and WP).  I’ve been an iPhone user since purchasing the 3G in fall of 2008, and then upgrading to the iPhone 4 in 2010.

My WP8 Start Screen

My WP8 Start Screen

Needless to say that, even as a fan of Microsoft and the don’t-call-it-Metro tile interface, I was skeptical.  iPhones are great phones.   There is a robust app ecosystem, and the interface is simple to use and navigate.  Plus, I’ve been using it for years, so I’m very familiar with how everything works.

I researched for weeks.  The apps I use are all available on Windows Phone, with the exception of just a few that weren’t too important to me.  But even as a Windows and Xbox fan/user, who has upgraded to Windows 8 and uses it, I was nervous and hesitant.

Finally, because of the fact that AT&T has a 14-day return period with the only penalty being a $35 restocking fee, I took the plunge.  And I’m glad I did it.  I haven’t missed a beat and love using the new OS.  The live tiles are great, and a lot of apps simply look better when designed for Windows Phone when compared to other operating systems.  A one button search function to reach Bing is great, and the built-in speech to use the phone is solid.  It’s not the level of Siri in that it responds with answers, but I hardly would use that anyway.

At first I figured I would keep my iPhone as my primary music player, and for the first few days I did have it around and would occasionally use it since it’s still fully functioning with Wi-Fi.  Now the battery died several days ago and I haven’t bothered to charge it.  Windows Phone has the potential to be a huge player in mobile operating systems.  People just need to give it a fair shake.

While I have found there are lots of pros in making the switch, it’s not without its issues.  Here’s a list on what needs to be done to improve the Windows Phone 8 platform, in no specific order.  Some of these issues are huge, potentially deal breaking to people looking to switch, while others are quirks that might only bother me.

  • Notification Center: A swipe left from the Start screen would be perfect for a log of all Toast notifications.  If it’s not pinned, notifications are gone as soon as they leave the top of your screen.  It would be nice if this included shortcuts for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, etc. as Android’s does.
  • Better audio controls: A Back 10 seconds and forward 10 seconds would be useful for podcasts. [UPDATE: I’ve been informed that the previous track and next track buttons work like this when in podcasts].  Also a volume slider would be helpful.  Listening with my ear buds I like the volume around 13 or 14 (out of 30) but in my car I need to turn it all the way up.  It’s annoying to have to push the volume up button 15 or so times.  Then when I’m done I have to readjust.
  • Separate volume control: One level for ringtones & notifications.  The other for music, videos, etc.
  • Internet Explorer: How about swiping left and right for back and forward, like how it is on Windows 8?  Why this isn’t in here, at least as an option, is somewhat mind-boggling considering there is no back and forward arrows in the interface itself.
  • Links from apps should always open a new tab in IE: Openings links from other apps always opens in the same tab you were using.  For example, let’s say you had a web site and you left it open in a tab for reading later on.  Then you go into Twitter and open a few links from there.  It uses the same tab you had open.  Of course my original page is in the recent items list, but it’s still annoying to have to go find it.  iOS always opened a new tab in Safari. [UPDATE: This is already available; it is in the Advanced Settings of IE]
  • Battery percentage in the Status bar: Obviously it can be shown since it’s available in the settings.  The fact that it’s not at least an option to show in the status bar is just dumb.  Just like iOS three years ago or so, there is a thriving app community for something that should be built-in.
  • Status bar: Personally, I’d like the option for it to always be seen at the top.  Right now, to bring it up you double-tap the top of the phone, then after a few seconds the icons fly up out of the display.  I guess that’s a carryover I’d like from iOS.
  • Picture Password: Another thing from Windows 8 that needs to be brought over, fast.  It’s a unique feature, and obviously lends itself to a smartphone.  To me, this is a glaring omission.
  • The ability to close apps: I know that apps aren’t using any processing power and are just stored in RAM, but it would still be nice to have.  Plus I occasionally see my GPS icon on, and have no idea what’s using it.  This can suck battery life, so the ability to kill apps can solve this as well.
  • Download pictures automatically in Mail: When emails come in with images, you have to tap one of them to manually download the images.  I guess this is nice since it can save on data for emails you don’t need the images for.  It should be an option, as I always have to do an extra tap to show the images.
  • AOL support for push mail: I still have an AOL account that I use, since it’s tied to so many other online accounts.  There’s no way I’ve found to get push mail with an AOL account.  The fastest option I could configure is 15 minutes.
  • Actual Skype integration: The way it was told by Microsoft, Skype would always be running and ready to receive calls.  Pretty sure that’s not currently the case.
  • Smaller window for live tile updates: Right now, live tiles can only be updated with new info at a minimum of every 30 minutes.  I understand this, as it prevents live tiles form sucking up your data plan.  I’d like to see a minimum of 15 minutes, and make it an option system wide for users to toggle.
  • Other ways to sort All apps list: Right now apps are sorted alphabetically.  Once you have 45 total installed, you can hop around by letter.  It would be nice if you could sort by category, such as Productivity, Tools, etc.  Holding down an app presents options such as pinning and uninstalling; one of them could be to assign a category.  Allow users to create their own categories.  A sort by most recently used apps would be helpful too.  I understand the point of pinning apps to the start screen, by the way.

There’s an update supposedly coming Q1 2013.  I’d hope that at least some of these things are included.  I would count on the notification center, audio improvements, and battery percentage in the status bar being included.  I would think that better Skype integration could also be a possibility here too.

Updated: 12/12/12 11:09 PM EST.

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