Microsoft on Mobile Is Dead

Microsoft on Mobile Is Dead

Long live Microsoft on Mobile...

Windows 10 Mobile on my 1520 used to work better than it does now. The latest updates actually seem to be taking steps back in reliability (notifications, tile updates, deadlocks) and features (for a while thanks to Project Astoria I could install Android apps which worked great). Even on a brand new device, my wife's Lumia 950, there are problems. It gets incredibly hot, has bad battery life, and continually reboots when she opens the built in calendar app.

Both of us are invested in the Microsoft ecosystem. We like Windows Phone/Mobile UI and way of doing things. In fact, I have been using it since Windows Phone 7. But now that I don't even get reliable email notifications for my work account (but I do for my personal account), we are fed up.

I bought a Nexus 6p for myself and a Nexus 5x for her.

But we don't seem to be the only ones hedging our bets on the platform. Microsoft seems to favor other platforms with their apps and services.

So while Microsoft on Mobile (Windows Mobile) is dead to us for now, will Microsoft on Mobile (Android) work for us?

Its all about the apps

It is all about the apps, but this section probably isn't what you're thinking. I do not use many apps. Even on my iPad (which I only use for watching movies on trips since Amazon won't let me download them on my Surface), I only fill one page. So when I switch, I am very worried about the apps on Android.

When the apps on Windows work, they are great. I prefer the UI. However notifications and live tile updates have always been a problem. After seeing this youtube video on what 8 million Instagram followers does to your notifications on iOS, I realized if I can't get reliable email notifications for the few hundred emails I get a day, but the iPhone can handle this, I need to start considering other platforms again.

Some of my favorite apps on Windows are third party apps for common services. For example, 6tag for Instagram is amazing and MyTrips for TripIt is superb and fast. Hoppd for Untappd is beautiful. However are these great apps actually great because my expectations are set so low thanks to the real apps produced by the services? For example, Instagram is never updated on Windows. And lets look at what TripIt publishes on the Windows store versus the Play store. Sure MyTrips is great, but maybe just by comparison because TripIt doesn't care about Windows.

App comparison

So will the apps created by the services on Android be better than the excellent devs on Windows who care about the platform like Rudy? What about that one rare data point we can point to where Audible has features on Windows (streaming) that are not yet available on other platforms?

Let's look at the Apps I need on Windows and their equivalent. I will put the Windows app first (and use an * if it was a 3rd party app for that service), followed by the Android, then my notes if applicable.

  • 6Tag* -> Instagram: 6Tag is great, but better than the real app on Android?
  • Asana WP* -> Asana: This will no doubt be better than what I was forced to use to get some functionality
  • Authenticator -> TBD app for multifactor authentication from an author I trust, like Microsoft
  • Baconit -> TBD reddit app and Baconit is excellent
  • Concur -> Concur: The Windows version of Concur is seriously lacking as I can only take pictures of receipts so Android will be much better
  • Camera -> Built in camera app: Say what you want, but the built in camera app on Windows is great with the automatic and manual controls and the dedicated camera button
  • Cortana -> Cortana: Will the experience be ok even though its not built into the core OS?
  • Disney Expedition* -> Disney World: Another situation where a 3rd party app for Disney World (managing fast passes, maps, lines, etc) is better than the real one on iOS since this let me pull tricks the real one didn't let me, like swapping individual fast passes
  • Edge-> TBD web browser & PDF reader: Edge speed is nice and the promise of desktop sync was cool but it never came in time
  • Groove->Groove: Is a Microsoft app ok on Android or will I switch my music service? Paul Thurrott says the Windows 10 Mobile app is much better than their other platform counterparts. Switch to Google Music?
  • HealthVault->?: I use this to track my and my son's health info. It isn't great on any platform but it is more reliable on iOS over Windows so I would assume the same is true for Android, but it isn't on Android!
  • Hoppd*->Untappd
  • Huetro*->Hue: I've read the real Hue app isn't great
  • Ip CamView -> TBD IP camera viewer for my security and baby monitor
  • LastPass->LastPass: This app hasn't been updated in forever but got the job done
  • Messaging->Textra & Skype: The built in messaging app on Windows is great when it works since it integrates Skype and SMS. Now I need multiple apps.
  • Podcasts->TBD Podcast client: Built in one isn't great but works fine
  • Skype Qik->Skype Qik: Dead really on both platforms but Android has more features. We use it to send quick videos of the baby to the grand parents
  • TubeCast->YouTube: There is no official YouTube app on WIndows but this is great and lets me do Chromecast in addition to other cast (like to Roku, DLNA, PS/Xbox, Miracast, etc) and offline caching, so the real YouTube is likely a step back
  • Unofficial MyFord Mobile*->MyFord Mobile: The real one will have more features
  • WalletPass->TBD app for storing plane boarding passes. This one is very nice since it does reminders and other nice features
  • Zendesk->Zendesk: Broken drum here but the Windows app is lacking in features compared to other platforms

Then the normal apps which go one-to-one without the need for explanation:

  • Audible
  • Box
  • Ebay
  • Fandango
  • GoToMeeting
  • Microsoft Health (although doesn't sync steps with Android Wear)
  • Netflix
  • Microsoft News and Sports and Weather
  • Office Lens
  • Office (but is it the same?)
  • OneDrive
  • PayPal
  • Uber
  • And the ones I'm lacking from using Windows Mobile/Phone?
  • Baby monitor app: my baby monitor has an app to listen and watch
  • Electric car apps for finding and paying for charge stations
  • Banking apps

What about the features?

I really love the built in features on Windows (again, when they work). I use all Microsoft services so Cortana is great. I can even send SMS from Cortana on my Surface. I will have to see what sort of limitations are in place when Cortana isn't baked into the OS like Google Now is. Similarly, my Microsoft Band has Cortana integration with Windows but not on Android and iOS. I don't use it often, but it is a step back.

My last Android experience caught me by surprise with built in common features like Quiet Hours. One thing I run into all the time on my iPad is Wifi networks. Since I travel a lot, I add new ones all the time. On Windows, I just swipe down the Action Center and it will have "connect to xxx" there for the closest AP. On iOS I have to dig into several settings menus deep to do something so simple. Hopefully with Android 6.0 on the 6p, these are situations are limited.

The biggest issue is what seems like legacy design to me. iOS and Android is a grid of icons. Yes, Android has widgets, but still. What kills my productivity on both platforms is trying to find an app. On Windows I Pin my most common tiles, then the others are a simple swipe and they are in alphabetical order in a continually scrolling vertical list. Contrast this with Android where they are in alphabetical order but in a paginated horizontal list. This means if you install a new app in the middle of the alphabet, the other apps get pushed down the line so your mental model of where an app is located is useless.

I think I have remedied this with the Nokia Z launcher but it comes with its own limitations including having only one page for widgets and having a potentially useless landing page where you use your finger to draw a letter and find the apps with that letter. At least the swipe to the right is the vertical non-paginated list of apps. Also it is made by Nokia so I am not sure how long it will be around, especially since it is marked as a Beta.

To be continued...