Stuck in Windows (on Phone) Limbo

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Windows Insider screen

In what would have seemed a shocking development to me a year ago, I’m carrying an iPhone 6 as my daily driver. I’ve written about this before: after using Windows Phone and iOS for a few months each, I’ve lost my taste for Android. No offense intended to any Android fans, but my Nexus 5 just seems clunky to me now with great functionality that I simply don’t have the time (or desire) to explore.

As I get up each morning and choose between my iPhone 6 and my Lumia 830, I’ve invariably been choosing the former. The reason isn’t just the missing apps I’ve written about before, although those can be important. Lately, the reason is that Windows on phone is in a state of limbo that won’t be resolved until Windows 10 ships in its official and hopefully vastly improved form.

Right now, I’m testing Windows 10, currently on Build 10052, which simply isn’t ready to act as anyone’s daily driver. At least, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. Honestly, it’s a mess, in pretty much every important way.

The user interface is in the middle (or something short of the middle) of an uncomfortable transition from Windows Phone 8.1 to Windows 10 Mobile, or whatever it’ll be called one day. It’s a schizophrenic hodge-podge of elements pulled from Windows 10 on larger machines, with funky font scaling and poorly sized controls, and leftovers from Windows Phone. I’m finding it difficult, as are some others, to envision what Windows 10 on smartphones is going to look like, let alone how to use it today.

Windows 10 Mobile error screen

Just one small example of where the UI is a mess of ugly controls and mangled fonts.

 

Feature-wise, there are some gaping holes as well. For example, there’s no Office; that’ll be released by the end of this month according to Microsoft, but right now I couldn’t view a Word document on the Lumia 830 if my life depended on it. Outlook Mail and Calendar are there in a preview version, but it’s nowhere near as complete or usable as it is on iOS or Android. I’m having trouble updating certain apps, including Xbox Music (or just Music now, perhaps).

And don’t even get me started on stability and performance.

In general, Windows 10 needs far more work before it can even be imagined as viable, compared to Windows 10 on my desktop and just a little less so on my Surface Pro 3. That leaves me with the option of flashing back to Windows Phone 8.1, which as I’ve mentioned before is an excellent mobile operating system that I love to use. The problem is, I just don’t see the point.

Whenever I go back to Windows Phone 8.1, it feels like I’m just teasing myself. This mostly elegant mobile OS with smooth performance and a great feature set just won’t be around much longer. Yes, I like using it, but I find myself thinking most about how the clock is ticking towards Windows 10. I’ve used an orphaned operating system before (webOS, I’m looking at you), and I suppose I just won’t want to play that game again. After all, these things are supposed to be tools, and I don’t want to waste time or effort investing in a platform that’s going nowhere, fast.

And so when I leave the house and need to take a smartphone with me, I pick up my iPhone 6. It has the best Microsoft support in smartphones, which might seem ironic but really isn’t, a fast camera that’s barely edged out in quality by the Lumia 830, and every app that I need with the best quality. iOS has progressed to the point where I no longer hate it, much like how I feel about OS X Yosemite–it’s not my favorite mobile OS, but it gets the job done. Of course, the iPhone 6 is excellent hardware; from that perspective, it hardly feels like a compromise.

Microsoft has a Herculean task ahead of itself. Were Windows 10 projected to ship in 2016, I’d be far more confident in Microsoft’s ability to put things right. As it stands today, I’m reminded of the common sense notion that executing a strategy is far more important than writing one. Microsoft has painted a pretty picture of an operating system that runs on every platform, but so far I’m finding it a little difficult to believe that they can pull it off anytime soon–and I’m not alone.

Microsoft Build is next week, where the company will outline the future of its various platforms, from Office to the cloud to Windows 10. Rumor has it that new builds will be released then, along with Office on Windows phones, and in spite of how things stand today I’m hopeful that they’ll knock my socks off with a dramatically improved version for mobile. In the meantime, though, I’ll be enjoying the best Microsoft app experience on an iPhone 6, one sentence that I never imagined I’d write.

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