Editorial: What Windows Phone needs to learn from Android and iOS
Its no secret that I’m a bit of a Nokia Fanboy. Part of being a TRUE fanboy, is that you’re open to other platforms, have used them, and still prefer your brand’s product. In saying that, you need to also admit the flaws in that product.
I was against Nokia going with Windows Phone (WP from herein), as it meant that my favourite OS, MeeGo-Harmattan, wouldn’t be able to shine. Being a fanboy though, I still jumped in with the Nokia Lumia 800, and gave WP7 a spin. It was a great OS, something different from the rest.
Naturally, being in the blogging space, its practically mandatory to have a device with the latest iteration of the platform of your choice. For me, this meant WP8. I decided to go out and buy the Nokia Lumia 820 (I’ll explain in a different post why I chose it over the Lumia 920).
Having used, and loved using, my Nokia Lumia 820 for the last few months, there are things that I really like, but also things that are sadly missing. Noticing these “holes” in the OS was worsened by getting lots of time with the Nexus 4 and iPhone 5.
Let’s start with commonalities that WP needs to learn:
- Notification Centre – Android had a notification centre first, followed by iOS. It simply is a section on your device, that has an aggregated list of all the notifications that have come through. Although the whole formerly-known-as-Metro design language, has “live tiles” which is supposed to avoid the notion of needing a notification centre, it isn’t a complete solution. In order to utilise the Live Tiles, you need to have them on your home screen.I urrently have 100+ apps installed on my Nokia Lumia 820. If I were to place live tiles for every app on my home screen, it would be a mess, not to mention needing to scroll down several pages to see everything. I’ve missed a fair few notifications on my phone, because I didn’t have the Live Tile set up and didn’t get the chance to see the notification pop up on the screen.
All it would take is simply a list (to the left of the home screen) that shows you an aggregated list of every unread notification. Just tap that notification, and it will disappear, or better yet, when you open that app, all notifications relating to it are “marked as read”.
- Consistent UI – iOS has been successful as it is simple to use. The UI guidelines for third party apps are adhered to extremely closely, which makes all apps feel native and like they should be there.Sadly, Android was late to that game. Lots of apps were just straight ports from iOS. There were also apps designed for one iteration of Android, while others designed for another, and as Android’s UI evolved, the app’s didn’t.WP has had a solid start to this area, but it needs to make sure it doesn’t get lost over the next few iterations. To me, the line between native apps and third party apps shouldn’t be visible, in terms of design language. It was actually my biggest issue with Android.
- Fragmentation – Android suffers from fragmentation a lot! One OEM will customise the look of their device the way they like it, completely different from the next. Even on an OS level, each OEM can add or change elements as they see fit.Linking to consistent UI, it can be confusing for consumers who pick up a Samsung, then move to HTC, then move to a Nexus device.Personally, I find Stock Android to be the nicest flavour out.In saying that, app UI guidelines reflect stock Android.It’s not just about UI though. Due to fragmentation some apps and services won’t work on your device. I have personally experienced the issue where apps would say “incompatible” with different devices. Sometimes it is just a label, but other times it is true.
WP has had a hiccup in this area. With the release on WP7 “Tango”, Microsoft added support for 256mb RAM. What this meant, was that some apps had to be re-written and optimised for the lower RAM available, or face the “incompatible” issue. For example, the Nokia Lumia 610 (last I checked) couldn’t run Skype nor Photosynth. (Mind you, both are developed by Microsoft so they of all people should have optimised it).
- OS Updates – iOS is the strongest player in this area. Despite coming late to the party with OTA updates (vs Android and Symbian), iOS still provided regular updates to several devices via iTunes. These updates were also rolled out globally at the same time! Sure, some may get it earlier depending on the time one’s device refreshes the Software Update catalogue etc., but you get my drift.Android announces a new iteration of their OS, and reserves it to the latest Nexus device, then shortly after as an update for select previous Nexus devices. Months (and sometimes its close to 12) later we see the update made available to OEMs. I get why Google controls the updates this way. It is a business after all.
Microsoft needs to learn from Apple and issue updates to everyone all at once. If it’s the idea of “overloading the server” then get a bigger and better one, we all know you have the money. It is the one thing I have been envious of iOS users. Most of the time during an iPhone announcement, Apple will mention the newest iteration of iOS, and existing users benefit from it that day!
- App Ecosystem - I’m the first person who hates the notion of judging an OS to be successful based on app numbers (and the app titles). If an OS can do what it’s competitor does, in less steps or just an all-round better manner, it should be successful. I constantly said this about Harmattan; Sure it doesn’t have tens of thousands of apps, but what you actually need is pretty much baked into the OS. I compared it with iOS 5 at one point, and with Stock Harmattan (no third party apps or mods) I did what the iPhone and 5 apps could do. That is what should declare a platform successful.Anyway, getting back on track. WP needs to attract more developers. So far we are seeing an steady increase (Currently rated the fastest growing app store), with approx 130,000 apps already published. Its no longer about numbers though for WP. It needs to attract those big titles, like Instagram. Also when a new trend game comes out (eg. Temple Run, Words with Friends, 4 Pics 1 Word, etc.) WP needs to be getting the app at the same time, or close to it, not in 6 months when nobody is even playing it anymore (yes WWF, I’m staring at you!).
- Standards - Apple has been a successful business by doing everything proprietary – proprietary connectors being the biggest thing. It won’t be that beneficial for all businesses though. Android, being “open” adheres to standards, such as for Bluetooth and NFC. WP has followed a few standards, and I applaud them.They are actually pretty good at this sort of stuff.It is mainly NFC that I have an issue with. Tap + Send works great, if you have another WP8 or Windows 8 with NFC machine. Sending files to the Nexus 4, I just get a link to windows.com/sd regardless of the content I am sharing. My N9 doesn’t even carry out the transfer. (At least both devices beep to acknowledge the chip, which is a start).
If WP wants to compete in the NFC space, adopting a standard is a huge must. What good is having NFC on your device if you can’t use it with anything but WP/Windows products?
I could easily write a lot more, and I probably will do another post in the future, but I don’t want to do an extremely huge post that becomes boring.
Summing it up – WP is a great platform with loads of potential. It just needs to stop, look at what it’s rivals (namely iOS and Android) are doing – both right and wrong – and learn from that. I don’t mean blatantly copy something, but learn what makes the competing product so good, and enhance your own platform.