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23 December, 2010

Foray into Windows Phone 7 ends with iPhone relapse

If you read my post below about the Samsung Focus, and my month-long experience with it, you probably won't be surprised to know that I caved and went back to the iPhone 4. Sadly, I realized that for a gadget geek, it just makes no sense to wait, dissatisfied, hoping and praying that Microsoft does enough to make their phones a viable alternative with updates over the coming year(s). The promise of "copy and paste" as the big January update just didn't cut it for me. And if one reads the available rumors on the internet, it sounds like there won't be much else significant to speak of until at least late summer or early fall when WP7.5 is supposedly scheduled to be released.

The thing that made it so hard for me to decide to leave the platform was that everybody else seems so happy with them. All the reviews online are talking about how fabulous it is. People have referred to it as at least a Droid killer, if not an iPhone killer. How could I be so out of alignment with consensus? Or is it just that I always have buyer's remorse over every decision?

Then, one day last week, my officemate came into work with her new Samsung Focus. She'd been an iPhone 3G user, previously. And the first words out of her mouth were "Oh my God! I am so incredibly frustrated with this new phone!" We talked about it a bit. And her description of the WP7 pretty much hit the nail right on the head: "All of the fancy, beautiful animations and fonts are impressive for like the first fifteen minutes. After that, I was like 'Where are all my apps?'"

Indeed.

Now, I recognize that it would be completely unfair to expect a brand-new platform to have a good selection of applications. Though, we should pause for a second and note that Microsoft is not really a brand-new player in the mobile device industry. Microsoft has been making operating systems for mobile/portable devices for between eight and ten years, depending on exactly where you start counting, with the first Windows Mobile smartphones in 2003. I recognize that Windows Phone 7 represents a new platform. But that doesn't change the fact that Microsoft has been in the mobile phone business longer than Apple or Google. The company chose to start over again with WP7, in the hopes that it will take them further in the long run. This is a bold move, and likely signals a commitment to becoming a real contender.

But the conversation with my colleague made me realize that, for those of us who have been enjoying the rich experience available on phones such as the iPhone or the Droid, it is a huge step backward to adopt a new platform. For some users, this may not be a problem; namely, those who really just use a phone for email, text, voice, and occasional directions or web browsing. But I'm a user who has typically pushed the phone to the limits, always wanting to have the coolest and most extreme functionality.

Long story short, I found myself on Craigslist, sent half a dozen emails, and found a seller of an iPhone 4 who worked on campus. He had just purchased his Samsung Focus, and was cashing in his iPhone. I paid him $500 cold hard cash for the privilege to reenter the comfortable world of iPhone. I'd sold mine 3 weeks ago for $450. I decided that a $50 penalty was an acceptable price to pay for a valuable lesson learned. Leave well enough alone.

I'm not really sorry that I experimented with the WP7. And I wanted to like it... I really did. Some of what it does, it does very well. I can't doubt that in a year or two, WP7 may kill the Droid. It is a little harder to believe that Apple will slow their innovation to the degree that it would fall behind WP7.

Now that I have my iPhone back in my hand, with the solid substantial feel of glass and metal, the gorgeous and tantalizing sensibly small icons for dozens of interesting applications, and the confidence that anything cool that is ever made, by anyone, will be available to me on this platform, I feel a sense of relief. And I also feel a lot more forgiving of the shortcomings of the iPhone. If you read way back through my posts (such as this one or this one), you'll hear me rant about the things iPhone didn't do right. But I can see now that I was selectively ignoring the 95% of what Apple did right.

Last week, my girlfriend's new HTC MyTouch 4g Droid phone seemed like a space-age wonder device. I was having such phone envy, I wanted to yell at her, because of my jealousy as she happily poked away at tiny cool icons of neat little apps. Now that I have my iPhone again, I look at the latest Droid, and have a slightly different take. The Droid now looks like a powerful, but slightly chaotic, glitchy, non-cohesive experience that emulates the Apple iPhone, but feels more like a story that's composed by passing a notebook around a campfire with each person writing one sentence. That's the place where WP7 has a good shot at overtaking the Droid, because Microsoft does appear to have a consistent experience so far, even across manufacturers and providers. That will go a long way. I look forward to seeing just how far, and hope that I'll find myself giving WP another chance, whether it be WP7, WP7.5 or WP8.

4 comments:

  1. Well, iphone too didn't have as many apps as WP& does now in its intial days. If apps are the only reason you shifted, that might be just you. It really doesn't say anything is wrong with WP7 as no one can expect 100s of 1000s of apps in its second month of operation. Give yourselves and all readers a break and stop writing such posts. There was no need for this whole essay to say WP& has less apps than apple :-)

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  2. Thanks for the comment. In fairness, you are right to point out that an app comparison between the two platforms is absurd. If you read the original post in which I wrote my review, you'll see that I did not focus, in any way, on the app dearth. The app story was merely the icing on the cake, and ultimately what drove me back to iPhone.

    If WP7 had better performance... if the GPS were as accurate as iPhone or Droid... if the industrial design of the Samsung Focus had come even close to the iPhone (save for the "super brilliant AMOLED display" that seems to be the thing everyone rants about)... if it were at least excellent at what it does have, I may have been forgiving of the app shortage, and waited it out to see what comes. But why should we ride the slow bus? Is there some reason other than brand loyalty?

    I am a PC user. Always have been. I have been loyal to every version of the Windows platform, even though I recognize some of what Apple offers may be better. I have pitched Windows 7 (desktop) to everyone I know. I have pitched Office 2010 to everyone I know. I think these are decent products, and I'm proud to use them. I believe in the PC platform because, in spite of the impression of Microsoft not really playing well with others, it's the PC that is the "open platform" when it comes to hardware. And that's a good thing. We can buy computers from any manufacturer. We can assemble our own, and they'll usually work well, and cost less than a ready-made machine.

    I didn't dump Google for Bing. I have tried. But the fact is, Google makes good apps, and I haven't yet seen Microsoft do something that makes me want to switch. The same is true of Hotmail. I never left Gmail because every time I tried, I discovered that Hotmail is just not there yet in terms of the experience.

    So... here I've done it again. I wrote an essay to tell you something that you probably already know.

    Microsoft is in its Windows Phone 7 infancy. But the fact is, there was Windows Mobile before there was WP7. And though the company is "new" to the serious smartphone market (I suppose), they've actually been in the business much longer than Apple. The fact that Microsoft decided they needed to abandon a mature platform, and all the apps that went with it, should not be a reason to give the company a pass for being suddenly entering the market "behind". Will they always have an excuse for being behind? After all, now we'll be on the verge of 5th generation of iPhones this summer, if Apple does what they've been doing. At what point will the Windows Phone 7 (or 8 or 9) accept fair comparison with the established competitors? Much like the Search market, nobody's standing still. Google and Apple will keep getting better.

    Finally, Anonymous, do you really want me to stop writing such posts? Are you seriously asking me to not express my point of view on the internet?

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  3. Maybe you should LEARN TO USE THE PHONE instead of wondering where your apps are.... they are easy enough to download and install and move where ever you feel like having them. You just want to hate the phone because you feel you need too in my opinion.

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  4. Let me clarify - I don't mean "Where are my apps" as in "I can't find them on the phone" :)

    What I meant was, "I miss having all the apps I used on the iPhone".

    I do realize that WP7 is new, and that it will take time to have a lot of apps. But being a power user of iPhone *right now* (as opposed to transitioning from a non-smartphone) it was hard to give it up, and wait for the equivalent things to come out later.

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