Goodbye Windows Phone, hello Dark Side

I have left the Windows Phone platform again, and this time I suspect for the last time. In mid-2015 I attempted to leave for iPhone but very quickly (3 months) came back to Windows Phone after the release of the Lumia 950XL and Windows 10 Mobile.

The things that drew me back were: Cortana, Live Tiles, Microsoft Band integration and apps, and the promise that we would have the ability to run ported iOS and Android apps on the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

The hardware of the Lumia 950XL was fantastic, but unfortunately the operating system and broken promises let me down. While I miss Live Tiles it was not enough to keep me on the Windows Phone platform as Cortana was somewhat unreliable, Microsoft Band has been discontinued, and the iOS and Android application bridges and porting never came.

The final breaking point was when I was in the US for two weeks and trying to communicate with my wife and daughters back home. My wife had switched to Android some months ago but as I was still on Windows Phone we couldn’t do voice & video calls via Facebook Messenger so continually had to switch to Skype and then coordinate who was calling who which got frustrating.

While previously I have said that the app gap between Windows Phone and iOS/Android didn’t bother me – it has gotten to a point where it has.

So I’ve switched to Android.

Something I said I would never do. I always said I would never give my data to Google, but after giving it to Cortana willingly for the last year my principles were thrown out the window.

I chose to start with a relatively cheap ($200) Android phone from China as a way to dip my toe in the water before deciding I would throw myself in.

Why did I not choose iOS again? Two main reasons:

  • Hardware and operating system restrictions
  • Lack of choice around form factors, storage, connectors, etc.

When my wife ditched Windows Phone she was prepared to switch to iPhone but the lack of internal storage and the requirement to pay more for internal storage was the deciding factor. She ended up with an Android phone that supported external storage – much cheaper and flexible.

For me it was the same, as well as the fact that you cannot customise the OS appearance. Android won me over with widgets, literally.

While my household is predominantly Microsoft-based (Windows 10 PC running Plex Server, Xbox One, Surface for personal use), the timeline to breaking away for mobiles and tablets has been over time:

With my Windows Phone I had been 100% in the Microsoft consumer and business ecosystems. But as the world turned more and more services sprung up that took me further outside of this. I had hung on with Groove but as the Android client does not even allow me to select alphabet letters to skip to artists/albums the experience started to suffer.

While in the US recently I purchased a Samsung Gear Fit2 for my wife which supports Spotify offline. With our kids are starting to have their own music tastes, and Groove not providing a family account I was left with little choice but to cancel my Groove Pass subscription and switch the family to Spotify.

So my exit from the Microsoft consumer experience is almost complete. We barely use Skype except on the Xbox when my wife or I are travelling for work, and even then it’s rare. We no longer use Groove. The only consumer service of Microsoft’s that still really remain are OneDrive for files and photos, and Xbox Live Gold.

Neither my wife nor I have started to use the Google ecosystem, and instead choose to remain using best-of-breed solutions such as Spotify for music and Facebook Messenger for communications.

Beyond this I have every app I want available in the Google Play store.

And it goes without saying that the Microsoft apps are plentiful in Android – more so than on Windows Phone. Most apps that existed on Windows Phone are fully functional on Android and better to use.

What do I miss about the Windows Phone having been on Android for a month now?

  • Live Tiles: these were fantastic, widgets on Android don’t even come close.
  • Outlook integration baked into the OS: the Outlook app on Android is overall more full featured, but I have to go into it to get my calendar or contacts or synchronise them to my Google account in order to display them. The Outlook calendar widget is good, but it’s no Live Tile.
  • Cortana: she could have been so much, and she is, but not where I want her. I will most likely invest in the Amazon Alexa or Google Home appliances when the services become available in Australia.

That’s about it to be honest. I’ve adapted to Android quickly. There were a lot of choices initially but the benefit of coming to the platform so late in the game is that most of my friends and colleagues could share a lot of tips.

Do I love Android? No. I miss my Windows Phone, I wish it could do everything that Microsoft had hoped it would do. But the world didn’t turn that way and its relevance exists only as a mobile device that could be used as a lightweight computer with Continuum only in specific use cases.

Most of my friends, colleagues and fellow MVPs who clung so hard to Windows Phone have left or are seriously considering it.

I’m sorry Microsoft, I really tried to hold on as long as I could – but it just didn’t work out.

Life with a Mac – I give up!

While many of the Mac people I speak to use products like VMware fusion or Parallels to run Windows-based applications, for the purposes of my Life with a Mac experiment I tried to stay as native as possible. Unfortunately this meant my experiment was extremely short lived.

Why? Because to be quite frank – when you are as tightly integrated into the Microsoft ecosystem for your business, working with any competing products just doesn’t cut it.

Let’s start with the iPhone.

As mentioned in my previous post I used both an iPhone and an iPad for quite some time so am very familiar with it. During the course of the experiment I really understood why the term “there’s an app for that” is so relevant – because the phone needs apps to do anything smart.

With my Windows Phone I am able to do a great many things without apps. In all honesty I hardly use any of the apps installed my phone as the operating system provides most of the functionality I need.

What did I really miss? The lock screen was by far the biggest issue. Out of the box the Windows Phone will display my next appointment as well as the number of missed calls, text messages, emails, Lync and Skype IMs, and a slew of other notifications I can chose from. The iPhone did not tell me anything about my day ahead or currently waiting messages. While the messages displayed I had to unlock the phone and go into the application to get anything useful beyond what was displayed in the active area.

The second thing I missed was the tiles of Windows Phone. Live action, constantly updating, displaying content without requiring me to load the app. I could unlock my phone and see what was pertinent as well as the details. By comparison with the iPhone again I had to actually get into the application to see anything.

The third thing I missed was the ability to pin multiple inboxes to the start screen. I run 4 different mail accounts (personal, @Paradyne.com.au, @Xstran.com, @Microsoft.com). On the start screen I could see the number of messages per mailbox, without having to actually go into the mail application. If my tile was big enough it would actually show me a preview of the messages in that relevant mailbox.

In summary: Focusing on the purpose of the experiment it wasn’t too bad. Exchange works well, there are plenty of apps for SharePoint, the Lync Mobile 2013 client is a beautiful experience, OneNote was there, as are the apps around Xbox and other areas of the Microsoft ecosystem.

Usability-wise though I felt my IQ dropped 20 points when I switched back to the iPhone after using the Windows Phone. It really felt like using Windows 3.1 after being on Windows 7 and 8. Realistically each to their own, but using the iPhone for only a few days gave me withdrawal symptoms. I was irritable due to the extra buttons I had to press just to get the information I was accustomed to simply being displayed. My Windows Phone is not just a smartphone, it is my personal assistant.

The Mac!

Using the Mac I lasted longer than I expected, but only because I very quickly figured out the shortcomings and worked around those. Unfortunately I couldn’t avoid them forever. Very quickly I needed to use Visio for process diagrams or to review customer networks – ba-bow!! As I mentioned in my first post I use OneNote very heavily. While similar platforms such as Evernote exist that doesn’t work for me as I’m already heavily involved with OneNote and integrate it with SharePoint.

Having used the Apple GUI many (many!) years ago getting around the Mac wasn’t too hard but this is where I found the experience to be nowhere near as enriched as on iOS. While apps were available for Mac OS X, the story still wasn’t as good as on the iPhone when connecting to Office 365.

To be honest I lay the blame here at Microsoft’s feet in terms of the lifecycle around Office for Mac. While many of us in Windows-land are already using Office 2013, Apple users are still on Office for Mac 2011. This is comparatively like being on Office 2010 – which even more users and organisations are still on. The issue however is that Office for Mac won’t be updated until 2014. By that stage however Office for Windows most likely will be.

It is because of the fact that Microsoft treats the Mac as a second class citizen that its users will always be exactly that. I understand that Microsoft needs to protect its Windows market but my recommendation would be that they look at what Google has done recently with its support of Windows Phone by blocking access to several services.

Updating products like Office for Mac, making available other products like Project and Visio for Mac would make Microsoft many friends in the Apple world and help preventing them from moving to Google Apps.

 

My 2c from this short-lived experiment:

– Apple needs to update iOS. It hasn’t innovated since 2007 allowing Google and Microsoft to leave it for dead. While Microsoft is in a distant third place I am seeing more people giving Windows Phone a chance and discovering what they’ve been missing out on.

– Microsoft needs to treat Apple Mac users as their friends. While they may not be as equal as a Windows user, there are a lot of them who use Google Apps because the experience is downright better. While the Vista + Office 2007 slogan of “better together” may not necessarily apply here, “better than Google” would certainly ring true.

I fully respect that this was not a scientific experiment by any stretch of the imagination. They key objective was to see what it was like being an Apple user in a Microsoft world. My conclusion: it’s not good.