An iPhone User Considers Window Phone 7

There’s that moment you get off a plane in a foreign land. The air smells different. You don’t understand people when they talk to you. And they drive on the wrong side of the road.

It’s all so foreign, so different; but it’s also appealing and attractive.

That’s how it felt the the first time I used a Windows Phone 7 device.

I was instantly enchanted. But also disoriented and more than a little confused. It’s very different – in a good way – from my beloved iPhone.

Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPhone. Or, to be more precise, Microsoft’s answer to iOS, which is the operating system software that Apple designed and built to run on the iPhone.

You see, Microsoft doesn’t actually make phones like Apple does. It just make the software that runs on phones, like the company makes Windows to run on computers made by other companies.

And that’s a problem.

I’m an iPhone user, and a huge part of the appeal of this glorious device is the graceful union of the hardware and software. They are consummate.

It’s quite the opposite with the wonderful Windows Phone 7, which feels at odds with the very limited array of generally crappy devices it’s currently available on.

But that’s really just a part of the platform’s growing pains, and we will likely see it remedied when – fingers crossed – devices like the gorgeous Nokia Lumia 800 arrive in North America next year.

Another problem with Windows Phone 7, and this is probably why you haven’t even heard of this year-old operating system, is its lack of availability.

Not all Canadian mobile carriers offer Windows Phone 7 devices, and those that do, offer only one aging model. And as I mentioned, these devices are generally gross, so you’ve probably passed them over when shopping for a new phone.

Simply put, Microsoft’s Window Phone 7 is the underdog in the mobile phone market.

That’s a huge pity. Because it’s arguably the best mobile operating system available.

There’s much to like about Windows Phone 7, and it begins with the home screen – the first thing you see when you turn the phone on.

The home screen is extremely attractive, well thought out, and useful beyond par.

It’s not a gallery of stale, stagnant app icons. Instead, it’s a collection of living, breathing “tiles”.

And unlike the iPhone, where you have to go digging for information through any number of apps, Windows Phone 7’s tiles are designed to deliver valuable data to you as soon as you turn on your phone.

The Calendar tile displays upcoming events and tasks.

As the people you know become active on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll see their faces appear on the People tile.

In fact, you can give certain people their own tiles on your home screen to have their latest online exploits displayed to you automatically.

It’s a great way to stay aware of what people are doing. Or stalk them, your choice.

Microsoft deserves tremendous credit for completely rethinking and advancing what the home screen of a mobile device can and should be.

The iPhone’s home screen is outmoded in comparison.

Beyond the home screen, though, there’s a lot to like about Windows Phone 7.

Its design is bold, simple, and intuitive.

Inside apps, rather than tapping between different views of information, you swipe laterally across contiguous panoramas.

This is a more effective way of dealing with information because it has a storytelling effect.

It’s like surveying a scene that logically presents relevant and related ideas and facts.

The People app, for example, (or “hub”, as Microsoft calls it) starts with a view of pictures of the people who you’ve been actively communicating with lately. As you swipe across the hub (or “pivot” – another new piece of Microsoft jargon), you move through an indexed view of contacts and then on to a more extensive view of Facebook activity, Twitter posts, and emails.

At any point you can view a specific person’s details for a consummate view of what they’re doing online.

It’s this method of aggregating, or bringing together, information from a lot of different sources into comprehensive views that makes the Windows Phone 7 experience so compelling and positive.

If the iPhone is a collection of holes (aka apps) you repeatedly dig down into for tidbits of information, Windows Phone 7 is all about sitting on a mountaintop to survey the total landscape, periodically using a pair of binoculars to zoom in on one aspect of the vista.

It somewhat pains me to say it, but Windows Phone 7 is a human-friendly platform that makes the iPhone feels downright geeky in comparison.

Once past the sheen of the home screen and the smarts of the platform’s various hubs, however, Windows Phone 7 quickly demonstrates its functional immaturity.

There’s no tethering your computer to your Windows Phone 7 device for remote internet access, for example.

The level of integration with Microsoft’s Windows and XBox ecosystems is virtually non-existent in comparison to what you can do with an iPhone and Apple’s various products.

And the Windows Phone 7 app store, called the Marketplace, can’t hold a candle to the selection and quality you’ll find for iPhone.

That might be why, though, app management in Windows Phone 7 is so simplistic as to be pathetic.

All that said, Microsoft is clearly committed to its year-old platform, and we should see the company make huge advancements in coming months.

2012 may well be the year that Windows Phone 7 becomes a contender in the mobile phone marketplace, with software improvements and new devices that you’ll actually be willing to admit to owning.

Of course, this all depends on whether or not Canadian carriers actually become interested enough in Windows Phone 7 to start promoting it to their customers.

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing any currently-available Windows Phone 7 device. The hardware options are awful in Canada, and the software isn’t quite up to the level of maturity we’re accustomed to on other platforms.

But give Windows Phone 7 six months to a year, and it will likely be worthy of your consideration.

Windows Phone 7 may be a strange, underdeveloped foreign land now, but it’s an emerging country that even a die-hard iPhone user like myself might one day consider moving to.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, December 20, 2011.

6 thoughts on “An iPhone User Considers Window Phone 7

  1. Thanks Andrew for your nice review. I am getting myself a Lumia 800 within next few days from Telus. Would love to wait for the 900, but it will be only available through Rogers (a no-go for me as it has a really crappy coverage around here). I will probably follow-up with my review on my blog some time in the future.

    I agree, the OS in general looks very solid and Microsoft seems to have finally got it and done its homework.

    Thanks.

    • I’m still in love with Windows Mobile, but I have a few problems with it that prevent me from using it full time.

      First, there’s the lack of apps. In particular, Path, which I’ve become addicted to.

      Second, there’s the lack of standards compliance. The platform doesn’t support CalDAV or CardDAV, which I’ve become dependent on. Windows Mobile still clings too closely to the Windows ecosystem, which unfortunately limits its capabilities.

      Finally, there’s the total user experience. I use Windows Mobile on a Samsung Focus and it’s simply awful. It’s one of the best Windows Mobile devices available, but it’s a terrible device in general. The iPhone remains the consummate mobile computing experience because it exemplifies what that experience should be: hardware and software are one.

      I’m looking forward to the Lumia, too. I should be receiving a review unit in the near future, but I’d be interested to hear what you think of the device, too, once you get yours.

  2. I totally hear your concerns with regards to lack of apps. I have been trying to find some premium apps that would correspond with my needs and there is hardly anything that is even close. Flipboard is the prime example here. I have become so reliant on that app and the UI is a joy to use (I am an aesthetic user, I admit).

    However, since I run my email and doc workflow using Office 365 (CardDav and CalDAV issues that you raised are not as important to me), I expect the WP to blend in nicely. The built-in social features of the WP as well as the Nokia Drive are big selling points for me as well. On the other token, as an OS X/iOS user, I am not really an avid iCloud user and I do not feel the platform has matured enough, to be frank.

    Lastly, the Lumia itself mixed with (let’s be honest), great look&feel of the WP UI look as a very compelling package that I am willing to buy into.

    Will keep you posted.

  3. A Nokia Lumia 800 user for a few days now. Since you will be doing your own in-depth review, Andrew, allow me to present my first impressions:

    1. The UX (user experience) factor is superior to any platform that I have so far used (iOS, Android (yuk!), previous Symbian releases, BlackBerry and webOS).
    2. I am strong proponent of the International Typographic Style (aka the Swiss Style) and the OS borrows heavily from the concept when it comes to its aesthetic qualities. Feels home to me.
    3. Integration of Social Media channels is by far the most streamlined process I have seen.
    4. When it comes to the device itself, the built quality is very close to Apple’s.
    5. Initially, I was unsure about the screen size (3.7″) because I kept on fat-fingering everything on my previous-gen (retina display) iPod touch. Not the case with the Lumia’s screen. The comfort level and the overall touch experience is great; typing is seamless matched with great predictable typing feature.
    6. The battery life is acceptable – I get one day and a few hours on average.
    7. So far I have not played with the built-in Xbox and entertainment features. Something I will need to check out soon.
    8. Windows Phone Marketplace feels solid, but the lack of apps is noticeable. Thankfully, I have been successful to locate a few quality apps; the Pulse newsreader has been recently released for Windows Phone as well, so that makes me happy.
    9. The integrated search features (practically, every kind of search is tied to the Bing client on the phone) is stellar and very robust. Mind you, I have been using Bing for almost a year now (dropped Google for good) and feels like home to me.

    Overall, I am an extremely happy camper and a very satisfied customer 🙂

    • It’s great to hear you like your new device. But, you know, after using Windows Phone 7 more, I’ve begun to wonder if the platform is compelling enough for the average user to split from whatever they’re using now. I’m not sure it is. Most people have already invested considerable time and effort into learning either iOS or Android on the mobile side. What does Windows Phone 7 offer them that’s so incredibly different that they’re willing to leave their current device behind and invest the time and energy into learning an entirely new OS paradigm? I’m not sure it offers that improved value to the average person. I still love, love, love the OS and admire the fact that Microsoft has gone out on a limb in terms of designing a new user experience, but there’s nothing one can do on a Windows Phone that you can’t do on either iOS or Android; arguably, there’s less. So despite being awesome on a UX level, Windows Phone 7 doesn’t really have anything else. The platform has a very, very, very steep uphill climb. Microsoft needs to make the platform compelling — and it’s simply not.

    • Andrew, I agree with most of you said. The bottom line is, the WP OS does not offer anything different than the iOS and Android devices do, except for the UX. However, to me it is the single-most compelling reason to absorb a new computing paradigm and that is why I initially decided to purchase the Lumia a month ago.

      To me, a device has to be truly remarkable and joyful to use, fully absorb my senses and offer an exhilarating UX. After two weeks of using it, I can attest to the fact it has such capacity. It has the potential of winning users’ hearts, no problem.

      The question is, do we need that alternative? I think some of us do as, quite honestly, I have never fully enjoyed the iOS. I am not going to comment on Android as I consider it as a poorly executed copy-cat to the Apple’s OS. The iOS has been the first mobile platform that has defined the purpose and qualities of the industry. Yet, I still find it to tightly related to the typical paradigm of user experience i.e., icons serving as programs, similarly to apps on Mac OS X and Windows PCs. Same thing, even to more extent, can be said of the iPad. Its home screen is basically an “inflated” iPhone’s screen. No difference. Naturally, the qualities shine with the apps developed exclusively for the iPad.

      In this context, the WP OS offers, at least to me, something totally different and that is exactly why I feel it deserves a chance.

      Thanks.

      P.S. It is also nice to see NOKIA slowly going back on track after poor execution within last three years. That cannot be said of some other competing platforms 😉

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