wolfgang ziegler

„make stuff and blog about it“

Please Fix Windows Phone

July 30, 2013


I am a Windows Phone fan boy. A good part of my tweets and blog posts are about Windows Phone. I wrote a bunch of Windows Phone apps just for kicks. I was a Windows Phone 7 early adopter of the first hour and bought an HTC Mozart as soon as it became available. Then I got a Nokia Lumia 800 just to get slapped in the face and be told this device would not be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. I shrugged and got myself an HTC 8X just as it became available. My current mobile phone is a Nokia Lumia 920. My wife owns her second Windows Phone now, each of my parents have one, so do my sister and my brother-in-law. All of them, because I convinced them how great this platform is. But right now I am seriously considering ditching Windows Phone and here’s why:

Windows Phone is moving unbearably slow at the moment and I feel I am missing out on many great technologies that are currently available and features that other mobile phone platforms have. There is a list of things that need to be fixed in the Windows Phone platform in order to have a fighting chance on today’s smartphone market and to give the platform unique characteristics again.

Open up the OS and SDK

The current Windows Phone SDK is nice for building high-level apps and games. But as soon as we need to get just a little “closer to the metal” the platform just won’t let us. It feels like being held in a straight jacket and banging your head against a wall. Developers like me are prevented from writing all kinds of great apps that could make a difference. Here are just a few examples (I could give you a dozen more just from the top of my head):

  • Smart Watches: They are the definitely the next big thing. Mobile phone apps need to be able to communicate alerts about incoming calls, emails or text messages to them. On Windows Phone this is just not possible, because there are no APIs supporting such scenarios.
  • Custom Keyboards: Android recently got a Swype keyboard. On iOS this is also available from the app store. On Windows Phone we have the stock keyboard and that’s it. Not the slightest chance for developers to hook into that part of the operating system - for no apparent reason. Actually any kind of UI customization is simply impossible on Windows Phone. This is one of these random restrictions no developer will ever accept or understand.
  • File / MIME Type Handlers: Let’s assume some website is serving video files in a peculiar format, which the built-in video app cannot play back. This would normally be a good chance for a third party app to jump in and bridge the gap. But again: “sorry, can’t do”.
    Or think about file handlers, so we could have other image formats than just jpgs in the image gallery - simply not possible at the moment.

The SDK has just too many restrictions.

Issues like that should have been addressed long ago because they are holding us developers back. But the worst thing is that these features don’t even appear on current road maps.

Live Tiles

Currently Live Tiles in Windows Phone (or Windows 8) are not in really “live” in a way that they are dynamic, let alone interactive. They rather resemble an animated GIF that gets changed from time to time. So rather than being live they are static, non-interactive content.

Live Tiles should be dynamic and interactive.

Live Tiles that actually deserve that name would be more like mini versions of your app running on the home screen. Just think of the scenarios this would allow:

  • The Media Player Live Tile lets me pause, play or skip tracks without opening the actual app.
  • Why do I need to open a Flashlight app if I can turn the LED flash on and off directly from the live tile?
  • A large tile of a Pinned Person can be use to call, text or email this person directly from the home screen.

And I am sure there are many more really cool examples people would come up with, if they just had the chance to support these scenarios.

Would this have impact on battery life? Probably. Should we care? Hell no! Users want great apps and great app experiences. If we give that to them they are willing to sacrifice battery life for it.

Apps, Apps, Apps

This has been a point of discussion that’s going on since the Windows Phone platform came to live: people complaining about the small number of apps in the market place. But it’s not the number of apps. Meanwhile there are probably as many crappy soundboard and fart apps in the market as there are for Android and iOS. The issue we are facing are either missing key apps or the low quality of some key apps.

Key apps are still missing.

There are usually always a couple of must-have apps or games that all be internet buzz is about. If that was Angry Birds or Instagram or currently Vine (I won’t even mention the Skype disaster with Windows Phone 7 here): Windows Phone is always last to have these apps or does not have them at all (I am looking at you Instagram). This is a deal breaker for many people and I actually respect and understand that. If I shell out 600 € for a shiny new smart phone, I want it to run the latest and greatest apps that all the buzz is about. Windows Phone does not have that and that’s a shame because all it would take to fix that is a dedicated app creation team, monitoring the market for “buzz apps” and quickly delivering them on Windows Phone. And as soon as the OS gets enough traction on the market this will sort out itself. Hell, I’d actually love to work in such a team!

Update Schedule

This is what bothers me most currently. The above points of criticism would be less dramatic if I knew that the Windows Phone development team was giving us updates on a quick cadence. There would always be hope that the next update fixes some of that issues. But the opposite seems to be the case: updates take forever until they reach us and when they arrive they are often not even noteworthy. Just take the current GDR2 update as an example. At the moment, I am eagerly waiting for that. But what will I really get out of it? FM Radio among other small improvements. FM Radio - seriously?! That should have been in the platform from the beginning. Actually it should be an app and be shipped it out of band. Where’s the real stuff? Where is the notification center we were promised when Windows 8 was launched? Still waiting for it, what feels like ages already.

Windows Phone is moving forward way too slowly.

Working for a software company myself, I really can’t get my head around how developing and improving a platform can happen so slowly. Especially in the situation Windows Phone is still in. Android and iOS have a giant head start and Windows Phone does not even seem to try catching up with them when they actually should try to be better and faster to gain traction on the market. That’s plain ridiculous right? Or is it just me who does not get that?

And please, Windows Phone development team, don’t blame the providers and carriers for slowing down this process. That’s an invalid argument I just can’t bear hearing anymore. If that’s really a problem, find a way to work around them. Ship updates out of band like you do with Windows 8 apps. Why would providers care if you add an FM Radio to the OS? Or a new keyboard? Just give us the bits! Out of personal experience, there’s really nothing that dedicated smart phone users love more than updates. The experience of getting the latest and greatest software, discovering what has been added or modified on our beloved devices - this is like Christmas.

When it’s so easy to make us happy, why are you neglecting us?