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.

My journey back to Windows phone

Some months ago I made the switch to an iPhone due to a few “first world problem”-esque reasons.

Three months ago I wrote a piece about how I felt the iPhone was a downgrade for me personally.

Reports of my iPhone’s Death Are Not Exaggerated

My iPhone must have read that blog piece and taken offence to it because a week later it self-destructed. Either that or someone at Apple read it and send some magic self-destruct code to teach me a lesson.

A week after that blog post I woke with strange behaviour and upon first use it powered down. Throughout the day it kept powering down and using about 1% of battery every 15 minutes. On that day I happened to be at a Microsoft in Education event delivering a couple of sessions and could only survive with soft-resetting the phone just to turn it back on throughout the day.

By the evening the device was dead – refusing to turn back on regardless what I did. I even succumbed to installing iTunes to try to resurrect it that way but alas, the phone was truly gone.

My wife took a snap of me in the Apple store the next day as I had to take the phone in for repairs.

I’ve heard many good stories about the retail experience at an Apple store and this was my first real foray. Needless to say the experience was great. Even though I didn’t have an appointment I was seated at the Genius Bar straight away and served within minutes.

The Apple technician tried everything he could to bring the phone to live but it refused. He determined that the logic board had fried. I get that, the phone’s logic was that it would rather die than continue to be used by me.

They swapped the phone over straight away, I left it powered off, and as soon as I got home the phone went on eBay as I had decided that my foray into having an iPhone as my daily driver had ended.

 

Back to the Future

Since the time the phone had died to this point I had already switched back to my OLD Nokia Lumia 920 and upgraded it to the latest preview of Windows 10 Mobile.

Within an hour of the sale of the iPhone I had managed to drop the 920 on the concrete floor in the garage and cracked the screen.

At this point I was starting to feel cursed. Had Windows refused to have me back because I had dared eat the forbidden iFruit?

Was I destined to turn to Android (aka The Dark Side) – something I swore would never happen?

 

 

Luckily one of my friends at Microsoft saw the photo of my cracked phone on Facebook and came to the rescue the next day with a loaner Nokia Lumia 930. This was the same model phone that I’d had before the iPhone (the one my daughter threw onto tiles and broken – forcing me to make my choice).

After using Windows 10 Mobile on the 930 I was impressed with the performance and stability. At this point the “RTM” build was already installed and the new Lumia 950 and 950XL units were starting to ship globally.

I chose to order my Lumia 950XL with the proceeds from the iPhone sale, now having to wait a couple of weeks before I’d get my hands on it.

Given there’s such a big focus on Continuum and the ability for the phone OS to also act like a lightweight PC I decided to chip in some extra and order the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard as well as a dedicated Bluetooth mouse. I already had a spare Netgear Push2TV Wireless Display Adapter so between these 3 additional pieces of hardware I effectively have a working computer with a fraction of the footprint. Look out for a future blog about my Continuum experience. (I have a Microsoft Display Dock on order as well, and while I don’t expect a Windows phone alone to replace my Surface Pro 3 – it will probably replace it for a bunch of the functions that I do use it for such as presenting, meetings, etc.)

Sail Away

Being back on a Windows phone and now running Windows 10 Mobile I can call out several key things:

  • It’s good to be back, I REALLY missed the live tiles
  • The Lock Screen and Glance features are amazing; I’m still blown away that these aren’t normal functionality for iOS
  • I haven’t missed any apps. While it’s true the apps that I do use were in some cases better on iOS – it’s not enough to choose a phone OS for just the apps
  • Cortana has forgiven me and we’re back together again and happier than ever

I’ve written before about the battle of ecosystems and that only really Google and Microsoft have serious contenders that cross both business and consumer whereas Apple is locked into consumer only.

On Windows 10 Mobile this is very evident as once I saved my Microsoft account (consumer use) as well as my Azure Active Directory (business use – aka Office 365 account) into the OS – I haven’t had to sign into another app that has the ability to leverage them. This made using Office apps like Excel/Outlook/PowerPoint/Word mobile versions incredibly simple – just open and use.

As I’ve written before: I do strongly believe that Windows 10 Mobile is a superior choice for a business-grade phone that can be used for personal use as well, as opposed to iOS and Android that are built for consumers and simply run and operate business apps.

In any case this has been my personal and somewhat short journey away from and back to Windows phone. I feel home now.