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Windows Phone from an iPhone perspective

I’m bored with my iPhone. Bored, bored, bored.

The new iPhone 5 is a lovely bit of hardware, but the app centric view feels old to me. The dream of information at your fingertips is not a screen full of application icons. I’ve been growing less comfortable with Apple’s view of the world and feeling like they have too much control.

The iPhone 5 and iOS 6 launch was a big disappointment for me. The screen was not much bigger. We got a 5th row of pretty but dumb icons.

Over the last few years Android has taken off, with rich information-centric widgets that allow you to see bite-size chunks of information at a glance. I’ve looked longingly at those giant screens but after a few minutes of playing with Android I can’t get over the lack of polish and style. Android doesn’t get me excited I’m afraid.

Windows Phone is the new kid on the block.  The Windows Phone keynote resonated for me. A people-centric phone operating system with some great new features like Rooms.

Today the Nokia Lumia 920 launched. I happened to be driving past Telecom’s main retail store so I grabbed one.

I am the gadget king, right from the first iPAQ Pocket PCs, I was a Microsoft early adopter of everything in the 90s and early 2000s but made the change to Mac 6 years ago. Currently my set up for home and work is:

  • Mac Book Pro
  • iPhone 5
  • Multiple iPads in the house
  • Apple TV
  • Microsoft Exchange for Email, Calendar, Contacts
  • OSX Mail, iCal, Contacts
  • Notes in the iCloud across devices
  • MacMini at home for shared content – photos, music, movies

I’m going to share my impressions of the Windows Phone from an iPhone and Apple users perspective. My starting point is I desperately want this to be good, but I also know I might not like it and this could be a big waste of money. If I do use it for more than a few days, or even for the next year, I’ll update this post to let you know if my impressions change.

The hardware

The Nokia Lumia 920 is huge. It’s a block of flats. Massive. The iPhone is iddy biddy and weighs nothing next to it.

The 920 screen is 4.5″ and it has a really good camera. Apple does not have a monopoly on making high quality gear. It’s big and beautiful – feels like you could really throw it a long way.

When you unbox it you see the beautiful Nokia SIM door key. I think I’ve lost it already (boo!).  The charger is Micro-USB and it ships with black earbuds that completely seal the ear.  Not ideal for a phone headset. The new Apple headsets are awesome (tried using the Apple ear buds in the Nokia – can hear but the voice didn’t seem to work).

Wireless charging pad is not included in the box.

Price was $NZ999 to buy outright with no contract.

Getting going

The Nokia takes a bigger SIM than the iPhone 5, but the friendly Telecom staff had a SIM adapter so I could take my iPhone 5 SIM and simply swap. With my iPhone still on Wi-Fi I can easily run them in parallel.

First boot and setup was easy though the date/time wasn’t pulled from the network so had to do that manually.

Getting going with Exchange was a breeze. Exchange has autodiscovery so I just needed to enter my email address and password for all my contacts, calendar and email to be set up and synced. In under 10 minutes I was productive and connected. Brilliant.

Setting up Gmail was the same. Email and password. Easy.

Next up I wanted Twitter. Went straight to the store app where I needed to set up a Live account. That was easy and could be done on the phone. Within a few minutes I was downloading free apps. Twitter, Foursquare, AirNZ mPass, ASB, Yammer etc.

As those apps have data in the cloud I was sorted in 20 minutes.

So far so good.

Walled gardens

With my new phone up and running I could get back to work. Let’s read some emails and send some messages.

Email feels really strong. Appointments for example are much better as you can add text to replies in meeting requests. I’ve always missed that on a Mac and iPhone. For Exchange users, email is just better on Windows Phone.

But when I went to send a message I realised I no longer have iMessage. Messages don’t turn that reassuring blue where you feel “cool, this is free”. I’m back to sending txts and paying message by message. That seems a step backwards. I guess my phone plan has lot’s of txts built in, but I have my first feeling of giving something real up.

As I surf around the apps on the 920 I find Rooms and remember the great demo in the Windows Phone launch video. But no one close to me has a Windows Phone. So can’t use Rooms. As I look at other apps like People and some of the people centric touches in contacts, I can’t use those either. These would be super cool if my work mates and family were on Windows Phone. They’re not.

Damn those closed ecosystems.

When I get home I download the Windows Phone app for OSX on my Mac Mini. I can see my iTunes collection.  After sorting out a security issue I can sync photos, music and music videos. I wasn’t expecting that. TV and movies don’t come across, but of course I’d watch those on my iPad anyway.

So your iTunes investment is not a waste. Hooray!

Design and usability

Immediately I like that the home screen has information on it. I can see I have new emails, a text and my next appointment. Why haven’t Apple done the simple stuff yet?

Whereas I probably use 80% of an iPhone I think I’m only using 20% of the Windows Phone. There’s a lot of stuff there I haven’t played with yet.

So my first comparison is doing the normal stuff. Email, Twitter, appointments and calls.

The Windows Phone operating system is different. Once I found the convention for settings I could get most things right. I did notice there were not a lot of options under settings in the apps I was using. The apps are good so far but I get the feeling they didn’t have time to build out options for things that you would normally expect to tweak in each app.

Twitter is fully done in the Windows Phone style. It’s cumbersome to get around.

I’m starting to think about the Windows Phone interface style. It feels very ‘designed’. By that I mean it feels like a guy who drives a Saab and has square glasses designed it all. It looks pretty and fluid. It’s sophisticated. It’s clean. For example it does away with dividers in lists.  Big fonts, not a horizontal line, indicate a new item. Subject being blue means the email is unread. Even in Twitter, the view buttons on the iPhone are big text headings. It’s flat. It’s all text.

It feels almost too sophisticated. Too clean. Like an ultra-modern house.  Beautiful but not comfortable.

I’m not sure I like it. Not sure I can live here. Am I too messy to live here maybe?

I like the tiles. Tiles give you information so they are better than app icons. They’re alive, but they are flat. 2D. The device has an awesome screen but the UI is 2 colour paper. Is this too cool?

I have to think about stuff.  My brain needs to decipher what’s going on. It feels like I’m abstracted from the data.

Is it because it’s different or is this design making me work harder.  I’m not sure yet.

There is so much whitespace. Headings are huge. Is there more on the screen? I need to check.

Suspicions are confirmed …

The spaced out design of Windows Phone and large fonts mean that there is barely more information on the screen compared to the far smaller iPhone. The 920 is massive. The screen is half an inch bigger yet I don’t get even another readable tweet on the screen.

On the web browser you do see more of a page. Then I check email. 5 full messages on the iPhone but only 4 on the Windows Phone. Wow. That’s nuts.The phone is bigger, but I feel like I’m not seeing as much in the apps.

It’s that Saab driving square glasses guy. That architect who does the hyper modern, but cold, house. He’s been too indulgent. He got carried away. Form overrode function. That’s Windows Phone 8 today. I’d love to see this with a condensed view so I can see more data. Can I do that?

Interface models

There are three clear models now

  • App centric: iOS. Select an app and work with its data
  • Information centric: Android the closest. Apps + information widgets where you can see information at a glance then go to each app
  • People centric:  Windows phone. For each person display everything about them

I’m so glad Microsoft took a new tack to do something quite different. But I don’t think I work like that. I like information first and ideally I’d like my primary UI to be a live dashboard where I can configure any information to be displayed at a glance.

Windows Phone Live Tiles are a much better model. I just hope that Apple add an information centric view in iOS 7. Possibly the reason they haven’t is continually updating tiles would require a different model than their single app notifications and possibly use a lot more battery. But I’m sure some smart people can work that out. Perhaps your entire dashboard is maintained in the cloud so a single push update can refresh all widgets?

Jumping back

After a few hours I pick up the iPhone.  It is so small and light. It’s fast. Familiar.

The information seems more direct. I like that email messages are clearly delineated. My eyes don’t have to think where do messages start and stop.

It’s easier.

I go back to the Windows Phone. Everything is bigger. There isn’t any more. It’s just super sized. I don’t dislike it but I’m having doubts.

Impressions after day one

I suspect I’ll go back to the iPhone. Not 100% decided but leaning that way. I’m so glad Microsoft and Nokia built a beautiful product. Competition is great.

I hope Apple, after their leadership changes, will do iOS 7 quickly and implement some of the great concepts in Windows Phone and be more information centric.

Windows Phone is a breath of fresh air. It’s very innovative. It pushes the boundaries. But it’s harder and Apple have had 5 years to build their ecosystem.

The question is does Windows Phone become a success in its own right, or is its ultimate contribution that it finally shakes Apple from its complacency and reinvigorates iOS?

The one thing I’d like Microsoft to change is to shrink the interface so I can get more information onto the bigger screen.

For iPhone users there has to be a payback for this massive device. The lack of additional useable screen probably means for you there isn’t a significant advantage to migrate to Windows Phone. But it works and is a breath of fresh air in its approach.

If you are a Windows User and drooling over the Surface you should be very pleased that you have a first class phone experience that is innovative and consistent with where Windows 8 is going. But I’d look at smaller models closely.

Well done Microsoft for some great innovation.

Apple. You need to get your act together.

Update: 27 November. I lasted 4 days

After 4 days I was back to the iPhone. On day 3 I was using both during the day and thinking hard about which way to go. In the end it came down to:

  1. There was not sufficient payback for the giant phone.  I wasn’t seeing more information in the apps I use the most. I’d really like to see Windows Phone 8 on a device that is as small and light as the iPhone 5.
  2. The apps I use are not quite there yet. For example the Air New Zealand mobile app allows me to easily add flights to my calendar. I fly a lot and I won’t type them in manually.  Also Twitter, as a full Windows Phone 8 app was not as nice to use.

These things are fixable, hopefully in months so I’ll definitely check back in with Windows Phone as it updates.

My final thoughts are:

  1. I’m so glad that Windows Phone exists. Competition is great and there are some delightful features. It feels closer to the information at your fingertips vision.
  2. I’m really annoyed that Apple has not innovated from their early lead.  The app centric model is dated.  We need a new screen. It could be the search screen (see below) where you can configure your information widgets to see information at a glance. The lock screen is a wasted opportunity that should be configured to show number of emails, messages, next appointment and things such as that.
  3. The iPhone 5 could be bigger. Another cm wide would make a difference, especially when reading web pages in landscape. I sent a message on an iPhone 4S in the weekend and I can’t believe we tolerated such a small screen for so long. It feels comically small now.
  4. Mail on iOS and OSX could be much better against Exchange. Especially appointment handling which is a big use case for corporate users.

There are people that will love Windows Phone 8. If you’re in the Microsoft ecosystem you can be proud of your phone.

Our head of Product – Tokes – is one such person that always looks guilty when he pulls out his iPhone.  I’ve given the 920 to him. Lets see what happens.

 

 

Read more about Technology, iCloud, iPhone

 

20 comments

Manchester Web Design
22 November 2012 #

Great post. I agree, finally iphone has some decent competition. I have the Nokia Lumia 800 and I love it, I really do like the new metro look and it has some fantastic features. Everybody seemed to have an iphone and I wanted something different. Can’t wait to get the Lumia 820, as you said, the Lumia 920 is just too big.

Jerry Zhao
22 November 2012 #

I have been trying out other phones, too, but back to iPhone at the end.
iPhone just win at details and small functions. Nothing flashing any more, but just works…

Ian Allan
23 November 2012 #

Yet to get a Windows Phone 8 device, but have loved my boldly flat, decidedly non-3D Windows Phone 7 interface since its release. The iPhone’s glossy 3D icons and leather and wood grain skew morphs look so dated to me now, like how Windows felt once OSX was released. But then, I did drive a Saab and have square glasses!

SteveB
23 November 2012 #

@Manchester Web Design What do you mean finally iphone has some decent competition? Samsung sells more than twice as many phones as Apple.

jamie
23 November 2012 #

fyi small point but you can change the size of the font in the twitter app on windows phone.

Rod Drury
23 November 2012 #

@jamie – thanks. didn’t find that first pass. I can get another tweet in now.

Trevor Albert
23 November 2012 #

@SteveB you need to settle down. I don’t think @Manchester Web Design was trolling Samdroid fanboys just expressing a subjective opinion on how the competitive look and feel of respective devices resonates with them. And let’s face it, Samsung will never stack up on that front.

Niven
23 November 2012 #

Started reading thinking this would be a pompous Fanboy article. Turned out completely different.
I’m an Android fan, and have only had Android phones, Samsung to be more specific. Nice to see someone who owns an iPhone but recognises the competition and doesn’t buy into the hype.
I’m definitely intrigued by the 920, but Windows is still lagging behind in apps and customisation.
Great neutral article showing that you were jumping into the deep end and giving it a go to see what the competition has brought us this time.

Andrew Tokeley
23 November 2012 #

Great post Rod – would be good hear what you think after using it for a few weeks. It’s going to take a bit of getting used to (just like moving from a PC to a MAC did!) – looking forward to a follow up

Matt Richards
23 November 2012 #

Great post to get some user feedback. I am waiting for the Blackberry 10 to come out next year.

Chris
23 November 2012 #

I’m extremely excited about Win8 as a mobile platform. Unfortuantely, despite all of MS’s promotion we still can’t buy any decent devices here. A handful of exceedingly overpriced “transformer” types that have a cheap plastic feel, and one single phone, as reviewed here (which, as far as I know, has no decent subsidised deals yet). I had to replace my iPad this week because I dropped my old one – I would have bought the MS Surface in a heartbeat if it were actually for sale.

As a desktop platform it’s going to be a huge flop.

markbis
23 November 2012 #

Nice article, and agree with many of your comments :) Stick with it, like any new UI it takes a little getting used to, I also have both and some of your observations certainly ring true. Happy when your next in the MS AKL that I can show you around some of the more integrated benefits of Windows Phone that you may not have discovered! If you want I can come to you. LMK. Bish.

Mark Fowler
23 November 2012 #

Very thorough 1st look thanks. I just wonder with such a small market share, despite the great innovation, whether it is inevitable the Windows Phone is going to go the way OS/2 went against windows.

Enrico Caruso
24 November 2012 #

Really a perfect review.

My situation is identical. Apple everything, gadget freak, etc. Completely bored and uninspired by the iPhone.

Here’s what I’d add: live with it for about a week and then see where you are. I felt the same about my Nokia 920…there was always one more step to get where I needed to be. Here’s the thing…i don’t think that’s the phone or a failure of the OS. I thing MS has actually created something new here, and there is a learning curve. Stuff that is automatic on the iPhone is simply different on WP8.

The thing that will make or break this for MS is whether they run with it. It seems that they might have something, but it is definitely 1.0. All of these little things…font sizes, better multitasking, more user control over elements…need to go to the next level. MS is not always good at the next step, and they could have something here.

Apple has lost that sense that you pick up the iPhone because you want to play with it…to discover something new. WP8 and my Nokia 920 has that factor, but MS has to exploit that if they are serious about this platform.

Rod Drury
24 November 2012 #

@Enrico nailed it. That’s exactly where they’re at.

A couple of days in just a few more points.

The apps are a few steps behind iPhone. Because the UI is so different there is a deliberate investment to be on the platform. For example the Herald local news app isn’t as deep and you end up heading to browser for story details.

AirNZ mPass is good but misses the valuable ‘Add to Calendar’ feature which is part of my booking flights workflow.

Haven’t found a nice Google Reader RSS client yet.

While things are missing or V1, there are lots of surprisingly nice features I’m discovering. As Enrico noted there is a sense of discovery. Creating tiles for groups of people is a much more flexible favourites, but when you size the tile down there is no group name displayed. Just a blue square. Be great to be able to put a group picture behind the tile. Some more colour (tastefully done) would help.

App updates work well.

I did drop two calls where I wouldn’t usually. Since the 4S the iPhone is a good phone.

Email is so much better. If the Inbox could show more messages then that might be the killer app.

I am tempted to go back to the iPhone and not have to think, but it’s not driving me there. There is much to like.

GB
24 November 2012 #

The ecosystem aspect is a big factor. Prior to the shared photostreams function in iOS 6.0 I was seriously considering a Lumia 920. However with virtually all my family and friends on iOS 6, between shared Photostreams and iMessage, no longer appealing.

A Mashable reporter made the switch for 10 days recently and documented her experience.

http://on.mash.to/TgWMTt

Aaron Green
24 November 2012 #

Great review Rod – you’ve inspired me to go get one too and I’m a die hard Apple fanboy…

NZRegs
27 November 2012 #

The size of the Lumia 920 is not for all. I have a Lumia 800 (similar size as the iphone and the new lumia 820). The good thing about the 920 at this size is that there are alternatives if you don’t want a big phone – its not a one-size-fits-all thing – you do have a choice. There are large handed or fat-fingered people out there who cant live with the smaller devices. (Coincidentally, the HTC 8x is the same size but feels like it is half the weight)

One thing to keep in mind about WP8 right now is that many of the apps are still WP7 apps and do not take advantage of the new platform. I would definitely suggest checking back as apps get updated to WP8 versions and gain more of these new features. By all accounts a lot of WP8 devices are flying off the shelves so there will also be more motivation for app developers to support the platform now.

As for twitter, I don’t use the OOB twitter app on my WP7 (don’t have a WP8 yet) – instead I use the Rowi app which has some nice additional touches – like inlining photo attachments in the front screen.

ZG
28 November 2012 #

Good review. I’ve been a WP user since it was released here in NZ with the HTC Trophy on WP7. I’m an app developer as well. I love it. I’m importing a red Lumia 920, hopefully here next week. I moved from an iPhone 3GS and have never looked back. I wasn’t as invested in the i* ecosystem though. iOS to me feels like I’m going back to the days of Windows 3.1 with a page of icons to click. Each one doing their own thing in their own way. WP to me feels like everything I need is built in, where I want it and just works. If I need a 3rd party app, I know what to expect and how to use it.

A few points about some of the issues you’ve experienced:
1) The SDK for WP8 only came out on the 29th October. Many companies haven’t updated their apps to take advantage of the new things you can do with WP8 such as adding appointments to your calendar. Chances are the AirNZ app is still based on WP7 code and as such doesn’t have this. Also, the live tiles should hopefully be better once updated to WP8 as the new large tile should be good at displaying things like tweets, news stories etc.
2) Microsoft make it easy to make apps which use their layout style, but as a developer, you don’t HAVE to do it this way. If you are using an app and don’t like the layout or want to see more information, there may be other apps out there that fix this for you.
3) Twitter apps are a problem, Twitter have an API limit which has had the effect of making the best and most popular twitter apps for WP stop working. Developers have to remove them from the marketplace just before it hits the limit. Currently I’m using an app called gleek. Rowi also gets a lot of praise.
4) The people hub works pretty well as long as you add your facebook, linked in, twitter accounts. You also can message people for free using other systems such as facebook chat, windows live, twitter, and I believe skype might be there too for WP8. These systems are all available cross platform unlike iMessage.

If the phone is too big, the HTC 8X or maybe the Lumia 820 would be better options.

In summary, wait a month or two for developers to catch up and I think you’d be able to ditch your iPhone.

Rob
14 January 2014 #

One point that may be lost on the iPhone crowd – $$. I’ve been sold out on Apple (iMac G3, MacBook, MacBook Pro, iPad) since about 1998, but could never afford an iPhone… finally my old Sony died recently and I was forced into the smartphone market. A Lumia 520 at $179 was going to be a temporary thing, but after using it for a month or so I’m loving it. And I’m not too worried if I drop it or leave it out in the rain…

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