Remember when Windows Phone was something special?

I’ve been unapologetically enthusiastic about Windows Phone since it was revealed to the world. But soon I’ll be taking a break from Microsoft’s phones. They’ve lost their way in the current mobile landscape.


Panoramas were abundant in Windows Phone 7

When Windows Phone was revealed in early 2010, it was beautiful, thoughtful, and unique. Take the visual aesthetic, as compared to the versions of iOS and Android of the day — bold colors and motion coupled with a typography-heavy focus made Microsoft’s fledgling mobile OS feel modern and fresh. The pervasive panoramic style, while flawed, was there for a reason, part of the design guidelines. In fact, that was typical of the entire OS — It felt designed. Like the team that made it really cared about it, down to the smallest details.


That sense of care is gone in Windows 10 Mobile. While there are still design guidelines to follow — the hamburger menu comes to mind — they feel less thought-out and more a compromise for the sake of scalability in Universal Windows Apps.
More troubling, though, is the stagnation that’s occurred over the past 5 years. The lock screen, for example, has the same level of sophistication it did in the beginning — which is to say, very little. You can have a maximum of 5 different apps displaying small icons with a counters at the bottom. If you want a detailed status, like a calendar displaying an upcoming appointment, you have precisely one slot available. The 2011 Windows Phone 7.5 update added the ability for apps to change the picture, but even that was restricted to every 30 minutes or so. Apple’s iOS added actionable notifications on the lock screen several years ago (iOS 5?) and Android’s open nature lets lock screen apps do all sorts of things. Windows Phone? No interactivity to speak of. After five years. Let that sink in.
Live Tiles, one of Windows Phone’s standout differentiator, are also almost entirely unchanged from a functional perspective. They’re a nice sort of standardized widget, with the goal of surfacing “glanceable” information. But they were always hampered by a lack of customizability and interactivity. There are still only 3 sizes — small, medium, and wide — and they seldom give any information that is actually worthwhile. At best, they were marginally useful, as seen with weather, calendar, and messaging apps. At worst they were just visually distracting, with no way to turn them off.

Windows 10 Mobile is shockingly buggy and unpolished.

Certainly, there have been advancements like Cortana and the Action Center. But consider that the competition had these features for literally years before Windows Phone. I can’t award them points for simply catching up to where they should have been earlier.

Windows 10 Mobile

Finally, Windows 10 Mobile is shockingly buggy and unpolished. Yes, even the latest build on Microsoft’s brand new flagship Lumias is a far cry from the stability found in Windows Phone 7 and 8. Here’s a few things I’ve found:

  • Apps frequently crash upon resuming.
    • The keyboard turns black when replying to a text from the Action center.
    • Apps that have been decoupled from the core operating system, like Groove and Photos, are far slower and more clunky than their predecessors.
    • The Edge browser has lost the subtle animation when tapping the Tabs button, which I find makes it easier to lose context.
    • Cortana, once snappy and readily available for a search, is now slow as a snail.

To top it all off, Microsoft has made excellent versions of its apps available on iOS and Android. To be clear, this is exactly what they should be doing. However, some of these same apps on Windows Phone are notably inferior. Outlook, for example, has no Focus or Snooze modes. This is not to mention Microsoft-made apps that don’t even exist on Windows Phone or come at a much later date.

The end?

It’s clear to me that in its current form, Microsoft simply doesn’t care about Windows Phone. While they need it to complete the Windows 10 story, it’s simply a showcase of what’s possible with their platform. But it simply doesn’t make sense right now to buy their phones. Not when Android or iOS will get the best of Microsoft and every other app maker in existence. Perhaps they’ll find success by figuring out some unique differentiators (Continuum is… interesting). I hope so, and will be more than happy to give them a shot if that’s the case. But if any of this is to happen, Microsoft needs to care about Windows Phone and make it special again.