As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer Windows Phone. I like its workflow, as epitomized by the People hub where I can access all relevant information about a person, from the typical contact info to their social media updates to our entire contact history, all in one place. I like the at-a-glance information provided by the Live Tiles concept–no other platform can provide such quick access to relevant information on a single screen. Toss in Lumia’s Glance feature, where I can pull my phone out of my pocket and be immediately presented with enough information to know whether I actually need to turn it on, and the paradigm is complete.
Nevertheless, I’m carrying an iPhone 6 around as my daily driver. I like iOS 8.X, finally. I actually prefer its drop-down widgets to Android’s version that requires scrolling through multiple home pages. iOS widgets are accessibly anytime and anywhere–just swipe down and go–as compared to Android, where I must exit an app to view widgets, often scrolling a few times to get to the right one. I also find iOS to be much smoother and more consistent than Android, and it offers just enough flexibility and customization for me without hassle. And of course the iPhone itself is excellent hardware–if Apple does anything right, it’s creating devices things that simply exude quality (questionable form-over-function design decisions aside).
Even so, I prefer Windows Phone. And so, you might ask, why do I carry around an iPhone instead of my Lumia 830?
The answer is pretty simple: it’s the apps. Yes, the Windows Phone app gap has gotten smaller over the years. And yes, Windows 10 and its OneOS/Universal apps development model will change everything. I’m convinced of it. But for now, there remain some very important apps (to me) that make the iPhone as far better tool than my Lumia. There are apps that don’t exist at all and that I need to get things done, and apps that exist but are pale reflections of their iOS (and Android) alternatives.
One app that encapsulates what’s wrong with Windows Phone, to date, is Amazon’s Kindle App. Yes, it exists on Windows Phone. You can (sometimes) access and sync ebooks. But you can’t curate them very well. You can’t highlight or make annotations. And the app just doesn’t _feel_ very nice. In short, for someone who reads as a means of improving his writing and thus for whom reading is a core “business” function, the Kindle app just doesn’t make the grade.
I’m not sure why it’s in such bad shape. You’d have to ask Amazon. They’re consistently updating their iOS and Android apps, and although Windows Phone is a mere sliver of the market share pie, it still reflects poorly on Amazon and defies their own mantra of read-anywhere. If they’re going to support Windows Phone at all, then they should do so in a fashion that lives up to their own standards. Otherwise, they’re bordering on lying to their ebook-buying customers.
It’s Not Just Amazon
Of course, in spite of
an alleged a now-defunct years-long relationship between Microsoft and Barnes and Noble (thanks to Nate at www.inkbitspixels.com for the clarification and suggested wording), there’s no Nook app for Windows Phone at all. And forget Google Play Books–Google has always treated Windows and Windows Phone as contaminated property. You won’t find any official Google apps on anything but the Windows desktop; but don’t get me started on them. iTunes support goes without saying, I think. Really, the only decent ebook reading experience on Windows Phone is Kobo (albeit quite limited), and I commend them for it.
Oh, and please don’t tell me about the standalone ebook readers. Yes, some are decent, but I don’t want to go to the hassle (or the moral ambiguity) of hacking my DRMed ebooks to read on those apps. I want to buy an ebook and enjoy synced notes, highlights, bookmarks, and reading progress, which none of the third-party ebook readers can offer.
For me, then, someone who buys (and gets for free) a huge number of books from all of the different ecosystems, Windows Phone just isn’t something I can carry around with me as my sole device. There are too many five- and 10-minute gaps when I’m out and about that add up to real reading time for me to deal with such limitations. Of which I have none with the iPhone, of course. I can read anything, anytime, anywhere when it’s in my pocket, and that’s worth its weight in gold.
There are other apps that I’m missing. For example, my wife uses Out of Milk to manage our shopping lists. Shopping has always been her department (by happenstance, and because she’s better at it, not because she’s the wife), and if I’m to make that job easier for her then it’s for me to adjust to her way of working, not the other way around. Unfortunately, there’s no Out of Milk app for Windows Phone, meaning that I either use the iPhone (or my Nexus 5), or ask her to switch to something that’s supported on Windows Phone. Ain’t happening…
It’s Not Just Ebook Readers
There’s also no Amazon Prime Video app for Windows Phone. There’s no Snapchat app. There’s no official Stumbleupon app (which I use to get ideas for stories). There’s no official WordPress app. There’s no decent DirecTV app (the current version is insulting, frankly). Bank of America is dropping its Windows Phone support (and blame them if you like, it doesn’t change the fact that there are very good Bank of America apps on iOS and Android). Even Microsoft’s apps, including Office and Skype, are much better on iOS and will likely remain so until Windows 10 is released.
I’m sure I could think of more apps if I put my mind to it. But the bottom line is: there are enough apps missing or in bad enough shape to make Windows Phone inferior to iOS, for me, even though I like the platform itself a good deal more. Given the impending release of Windows 10, I don’t expect this to change much, if at all. Honestly, I don’t know why a developer would spend any time or effort on developing or improving a Windows Phone app when it’s nothing but a lame duck. Once Windows 10 is released sometime later this year, Windows Phone will be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Mixed metaphors aside, my point is simple. I love Windows Phone, but I can neither use it myself as my daily driver nor recommend that anyone else commit to it either. At least, not without taking some serious time to make sure every important app is available. After all, smartphones are tools, not significant others. There’s no reason to accept a flawed tool if it just can’t get the job done.
I want to be clear here. I don’t blame any company for failing to provide a good app for Windows Phone, or any app at all. They’re all businesses, with payrolls to meet and profits to generate. I don’t begrudge them their desire to make money any more than I begrudge myself for doing the same. Business decisions are just that–business–and if it doesn’t make good sense to invest in a platform with such a tiny market share, then I’m not one to ask anyone to do so out of the goodness of their heart.
Windows 10 to the Rescue?
And, I believe strongly that Microsoft is doing all of the right things to turn the ship around. Will Windows on Phone (WoP, or my way of referring to smartphone in the Windows 10 era) beat out iOS and Android in terms of market share? Ever? I don’t know, and I doubt it. But I do believe that it will become a very solid third option, compelling enough to convince the carriers (particularly US carriers) to take it seriously and for developers to port their apps over. No, not all mobile apps have reasonable desktop analogs–will Snapchat look at the billion plus Windows users as a viable market when most of those machines aren’t used in Snapchattable moments?–but enough important apps do make sense on Windows tablets and hybrids that I’m certain we’ll see the app gap close to next to nothing.
Seriously, you can write one app for multiple device types by making a few user interface changes? Developers, please tell me if I’m all wet here, but it sounds like a no-brainer to me.
So, eventually, Windows on phone (again, WoP) will become viable one day. But for now, Windows Phone is not. And the Kindle app, I think, demonstrates precisely why that’s the case.