First of all let’s get some things off the line. This is the point of view of a self-proclaimed diehard fandroid. As such it could be too biased or hard on some viewpoints. I rarely take time to focus on some other mobile operating systems other than Android since my beloved Symbian died a natural death whose slow sunset process started in 2010 when I jumped ship (yeah I was a diehard Symbian fan when the 3310 was still your all-in-one home appliance… microwave, steam iron, blow dryer, security weapon etc). With that out of the way, let’s dive in…
From Nokia’s standpoint, off went Symbian and on went the lights on Windows Phone, the OS that was to cool the heat on the “burning platform” and extinguish the fire. Why am I focusing on Nokia yet Windows Phone as a mobile phone operating system is a separate entity? Well, because in reality Nokia is the most visible OEM on the platform. Actually save for a few exceptions I can be easily excused for saying that Lumias are the true face of Windows Phone as we know it today.
So what is exciting about Windows Phone?
From an Android fanatic’s point of view, the OS feels like a skeleton when compared to the many features and capabilities that our beloved green robots give us. However if you ask me the only other mobile platform I can look up to to fill the gaps left behind by Android as far as smoothness and general consumer satisfaction is concerned it is Windows Phone I would pick and not iOS. iOS has been around for a while and it has had its fair amount of time to impress some of us, which unfortunately, it hasn’t. While it is a very fluid (I don’t know why we always say fluid) mobile OS and very capable and the most intuitive and easy to use, it leaves a lot to be desired. In recent years, it has lost its shine. Maybe iOS 7 will bring back that shine. Maybe. What of Blackberry OS? While I’m a great admirer of the Z10 and was slightly impressed with the Q10’s revamped traditional Blackberry keyboard when a hottie was happily sharing her Thursday sorrows away on BBM last week on my way to town from Westlands, I still don’t know what to make of it. BB 10 is like that chick with some seriously good makeup and a new weave to go with it but she still won’t get your attention. Enough said.
Here’s why I think Windows Phone is on the right track:
It is growing, or so the numbers suggest
Upfront in the mobile platforms race we have iOS and Android leading the pack as far as the user base is concerned.
As it stands, Windows Phone isn’t too bad either. In April of this year the userbase of Windows Phone in one of the largest mobile markets, the United States, grew from a paltry 3.8% to 5.6%. While the growth has seemingly stagnated in recent months according to data from ComScore, it hasn’t stopped Windows Phone 8 from outperforming its predecessor, Windows Phone 7 in terms of adoption by the close of the first year. This could be due to the increasingly good hardware that Microsoft’s hardware partners like Nokia are producing. There is now a good number of quality Windows Phone devices to choose from. That was not the case in the Windows Phone 7 days since the only device I could drool over was the Lumia 900.
Whereas the big two mobile OSs have a huge combined market share of the gobal smartphone market, Windows Phone stands a chance. It may not have grown as quickly as analysts would had predicted but I believe it is doing just fine. If Microsoft manages to keep Nokia around as exclusively producing Windows Phone running smartphones and nothing else then things will continue being well. Remember how long it took Android to gain such traction? The cliché saying goes like Rome was not built in a day. It holds true here.
The OS is fluid, no lag, responsive, not resource hungry
Being an ardent Android junkie, I have to come clean on this one. Lag has a home on the green robot side of things thanks to the many customizations that OEMs put on top of Android that many a times aren’t well optimized to run smoothly resulting in stuttering here and there when the devices are forced to chew more than they can bite. While Windows Phone may be limited in its customization options and will surely never experience such a scenario, let’s not take away from it the fact that it is pretty fast even on some average hardware. You can do as much on a less powerful graphics chip and a dual core processor on Windows Phone than you can do on Android.
Whereas Android is built on the resource hungry Dalvik JVM, Windows Phone shares the same kernel as what you have on your PC and is very good at managing what the apps demand in terms of system resources resulting in good battery life even on budget devices like the Lumia 520. That is something unheard of in Android. You need tonnes of mAhs to get something to last you a whole day, something like the mammoth battery on the Motorola RAZR MAXX or the Samsung Galaxy Note II. All else is vanity.
The apps question is slowly being answered
Android and iOS pride themselves in having very many applications in their official app stores (Play Store and App Store) that users can choose from. At over 600,00 apps on each of the two platforms, it feels very underwhelming when I mention that Windows Phone now has well over 160,000 apps available. While that is a small number when compared to the competition, it is only fair if you look at the numbers one year into the existence of both Android and iOS. Compared to that, Windows Phone isn’t doing badly. It is on track. Even though it is yet to attract some of the big names like the Google apps like YouTube (official app), Microsoft has gone ahead to create alternatives for such popular services like Facebook and YouTube (still caught up in some controversies but available). During the unveiling of the Lumia 1020 we even got word that popular app Hipstamatic was already on the way to the platform as were Flipboard, Vine and Path. [READ: When Apps Matter: The Other Side of the Lumia 1020] There has been constant bickering over the absence of popular photo sharing app Instagram but I am sure it will not be long until we see something from Systrom and team thrown in the direction of WP though their Facebook overlords may be slow in making that happen.
Want to know that things are really working out for Windows Phone? There’s now even a torrenting app for WP. Yeah you heard me right. I am a big lover of getting things off peer-to-peer connections and the ability to torrent without any limits from my droid has been one of the prime reasons I got hooked in the first place. I am jealous I and other fandroids have lost that exclusivity but happy at the same time that others too are seeing the light.
It supports some little niceties like expandable storage
While you are not able to install apps directly to the external storage like you would be able to do on Android, at least you have somewhere to stash all those
porn videos episodes of Breaking Bad and that Magna Carta Holy Grail album without having to worry that you’ll fill up your precious but limited internal storage. We all know how SD cards are hated over in the fruity walled garden.
OEM Value Addition
Perhaps you have heard of the Camera Pro app that Nokia will be bundling with the Lumia 1020 so as to offer more capabilities to that device’s large camera module in the form of providing over-sampled images to complement those large 38 megapixel snaps the 41 megapixel sensor will be churning out. That is just but part of the continuation of a long history of value addition that Nokia has been carrying out since it got on the Windows Phone bandwagon. It is akin to what Samsung is doing on Android, adding more features through apps to complement the capabilities of the platform and even stretch it a bit. While Samsung is known for having a truckload of features that it adds to its devices, Nokia may not be having something to that scale but it does have tens of handy apps that are exclusive to its Lumia range of devices (and that it recently started availing to other Windows Phone devices but at a fee) like HERE Maps and Cinemagraph (which just got an update a few days ago to support higher resolution GIFs – 1280 x 720 pixels – up from the initial 800 x 448 pixel GIFs it produced).
Since Microsoft doesn’t allow skinning of any sort as Google does allow on its open source Android OS, having such exclusive apps that offer services and functionality that are really on demand (HERE Maps for instance is way better than most mapping apps even on other platforms) goes a long way in helping an OEM step out from the crowd. Imagine if all OEMs making Android devices bundled them just with vanilla Android. There would be no S Paper Artist, no S Health, no Blinkfeed, and no differentiation. You get the point.
Stylish and well-designed devices
While there are no notable Windows Phone tablets and phablets (I don’t buy the Windows RT vibe) out in the wild as is the case on Android or the iPadmania on the other side, the few phones that are available on this platform are striking in looks. While I am a big believer in just harnessing the potential of what the device packs under the hood, recent developments have made me firmly believe that brains must always be accompanied by good looks. You need to look no further than the way bloggers are falling over themselves over the impressive design of the HTC One and can’t get enough of the Taiwanese device makers’ craftsmanship to understand why. While the Lumia 920, which I fell in love with from day one, was/is bulky and hardly a looker save for the internals, its other siblings like the 820 and the 720 have not fallen short of earning praising from all the right quarters for their good looks. Heck, even a budget device like the Lumia 520 still scores marks in the looks department. Don’t get me started on the Lumia 925. The question about how beautiful Windows Phone based devices can get stops when you pop out a Samsung ATIV S out of your back pocket. If you ask me, that’s the most beautiful Windows Phone 8 device out there. It is already several months old but it is holding up quite well and no other device is yet to match up to its good looks. The HTC 8X also doesn’t look bad. I don’t know if part of the agreement OEMs sign with Microsoft before being licensed to have Windows Phone running on their devices states “You shall not make anything deemed an ugly smartphone” because while you can find some lookers on WP, there is no shortage of ugly devices on Android coming every now and then. Having beautiful devices gets you the attention you need. Couple that with the other right factors and you’ve got things working out for you. Ask Apple.
Also many tend to agree that Nokia knows how to get its plastic right. Plus those shiny multi-coloured covers.
Not forgetting the other market segments
The latest reports from AdDuplex, the Windows Phone and Windows advertising network indicate that the Lumia 520 is the best selling Windows Phone device out there so far. With this device and the Lumia 510, Nokia hoped to bring the low end segment of the smartphone market to the Windows Phone old. Affordable Android devices have been the preserve of that market and they have been doing very well. Locally, the success of the Huawei IDEOS U8150, the Samsung Galaxy Pocket and recently the huge demand for the Safaricom branded Intel YOLO smartphone is there for everyone to see. By not libing in denial like the fruity guys who are now starting to think of a cheaper version of the iPhone for these markets, such devices have helped Windows Phone slowly gain root where it matters most – down in the device consumption food chain. I have not even started talking of the Microsoft 4Afrika venture with Huawei that resulted in the birth of the Ascend W1 which is one device that plays in the same level as the Lumia 520. Talk of midrange devices and the likes of the 610, 620 and 720 will take good care of you. this is good going forward since Android has proven very well that having the right devices across various price ranges from different manufacturers ropes in people and they tend to stick around only upgrading when they are able to do so.
You can read a very balanced and detailed review of the Lumia 520 here.
Another thing that Windows Phone has going for it is its lack of differentiation in terms of feature availability across the board. On Android, when you have an $80 phone you can really feel that it is a budget device. The guy with a $600 monster on the other hand can also feel that they have something. This is as a result of scaling down of even the software features. This is not the case in WP where instead what is scaled down is just the hardware components of the phones and WP being WP, the fluidity of the OS tends not to be compromised or tampered with even on scaled down hardware.
While Windows Phone is seemingly on the right track, it needs to be quick on the updates since it is competing against the very best that there is and that are constantly
copying from each other innovating. For instance we are expecting Android 4.3 to offer support for Bluetooth LE, something we already have on the devices but is awaiting just official OS level integration to fully optimized. Whereas Windows Phone is not as resource hungry as Android and holds up well, WP8 is not yet capable of supporting the quadcore processors and 1080p full HD displays that are currently the fad and run the benchmarking sites. While such hardware upgrades may not be necessary, having them removes all the question marks one may have and is also future-proof if one plans on keeping their device for at least 18 or more months now that technology gets outdated so fast. While a Snapdragon S4 Pro is just fine for almost anything one may need, your heart will sink when you hear of the Snapdragon 800.
The platform could also do with some more system level access, like having a fully functional file manager to get to the innards of any device. It may not be a pressing need for many users but the few of us who love being in-charge of our devices would surely need a “Windows Explorer” sort of clone on those smaller screens of ours. Also how about the ability to at least be able to transfer some app data to external storage if it is not possible to transfer the whole app?
I think with an update the debacle about the all-important FM radio should be a gone case. I am doing just fine without FM radio on my Galaxy S4 but I still believe it is crucial. Old habits die hard they say.
From a personal point of view and based on a lot of observation, Windows Phone is already an exciting mobile operating system and is bound to get better when that Blue (8.1) update lands. A reworked notifications center and several other tweaks should take the platform to another level and make it better. Let’s give it a chance.
What did I miss in my Outlook ( 🙂 ) of WP?