After just over 2 years of using a Windows Phone, I’m unfortunately going to be saying goodbye to the Windows Phone ecosystem. My Xbox Music issues (crashing, not recognizing music, lagging/freezing) as well as random issues on my Lumia 1520 (random reboots, random loss of cell connectivity, OS lagging) are the last straw. And unfortunately I can’t warranty the phone as it’s an unlocked phone from a different region, so back to iPhone it is. The app gap, man that app gap, probably the second reason I’m finally calling it quits. Stuck through it for a while (Lumia 900, Lumia 920, Lumia 1520) but until Microsoft makes its platform relevant and competitive, I’m going to be going to an iPhone 6 Plus. Guess I’ll have to have an addendum to my “Lumia 520 as an iPod replacement” article……..
If you’re like me, then you’ve been wanting to get away from using iTunes for a while now. It’s bloated, unintuitive, and terrible at managing music, especially in a dynamic environment (moving your iTunes library, etc). As far as the iPod Touch goes, well, with iOS7 Apple butchered the much beloved Music app to what now results into a scroll-fest for anyone with a decently sized music collection. Luckily there is an alternative, if you’re willing to make some compromises. (more…)
I had a chance to attend the grand opening for the new Microsoft Store at West Edmonton Mall here in Edmonton. It is currently the only Microsoft retail store in Alberta, and they kicked it off with a bang! Country singer Dierks Bentley did a special show at West Edmonton Mall specifically for those who showed up at the store opening (oddly enough, Microsoft chose a non-local, non-Canadian artist for this). The first 200 to show up got a special VIP meet and greet pass, while the next 1100 were rewarded with a ticket for them and a friend to attend the show, which was at the Ice Palace right next to the Microsoft Store. That aside, the opening was BUSY (more…)
So It’s been about 11 months since I purchased my 32GB Surface RT. I bought it the day after launch day after testing one out at a Microsoft kiosk. Previous to that day, I was not sold on the concept. In fact I was against it. A Windows tablet that couldn’t run win32 programs? How could such a thing succeed? I believed in Windows 8, but didn’t believe that a non x86 Windows device could be usable. At that time the Windows Store was fairly barren, and what apps that populated seemed like demos. Yes, as I played with the Surface RT at the kiosk, I felt a strange attraction to it. It was light, had decent keyboard (type Cover) that doubled as a cover, and a very usable kickstand that would make it much more versatile compared other tablets. After about 20 minutes playing with it and studying every inch of it I decided to buy one. Going in, my use case was this: a consumption device for at home, and a note taking device that I could also use to RDP to various systems at work. As a systems administrator, the built in Windows tools (RDP, PowerShell, etc.) were invaluable. So how has my last 11 months been using my Surface RT?
The Legacy Dilemma: Making Windows for Many Devices
When Microsoft set out to design Windows 8 (or to put it more bluntly, redesign Windows) they had a huge dilemma ahead of them. They needed the WinRT platform (commonly known as the Metro Environment) in order to compete with Android and IOS. WinRT offers access to API’s, as well as improved power and resource efficiency, all in a sandbox environment (this is important as it prevents apps from bringing down the OS). To do this they needed to have an environment other than the Desktop that we all know and love. Not only did they need to create this new environment, they also needed to preserve the “old” Desktop environment, otherwise there really is no point in calling it “Windows” is there? So they did the only thing that would make everyone happy, they allowed these two environments to co-exist on devices. The problem is the way this was implemented. The Start Button should never have gone away as it is a staple of the Windows OS. What Microsoft has done in Windows 8.1 is how it should have been in the first place in regards to adding the Start button and allowing for the desktop wallpaper to be the Metro environment’s background. It gives regular people a sense of familiarity and allows them to get used to Windows 8 without a severely jarring experience.
You might be wondering, “if Microsoft created a new environment, then why keep the Desktop?” Simply put, it’s for backwards compatibility reasons, and also because when people think of Windows, this is what they imagine. There are so many x86 applications that are available for Windows that people still use and will use for the foreseeable future that, if Microsoft got rid of the Desktop, nobody would buy Windows 8. There is no getting around it, Desktop simply has to be there. I’ve read many scenarios from people about what Microsoft should have done with Metro and the Desktop, so let’s debunk the two most prevalent ones right here and now so we can get the stupid out of the way:
Scenario 1: Separate Desktop and Metro for different devices
Suppose Microsoft developed two operating systems, Windows 8 (which is essentially just the Desktop with a Start Menu), and the Metro environment (which we will just call Metro for our purposes). Windows 8 would be for desktops and laptops, whereas Metro would be for tablet devices. This is actually the most reasonable argument for what Microsoft should have done, but it’s still wrong. Currently, no matter what device you have (and I’m only talking about x86 devices here), you can install whatever desktop applications you want, as well as any app from the Store in the Metro environment. Convenient right? So why would people be in favor of taking away added functionality? You’re guess is as good as mine, but personally I think this was dreamt up by the Linux minimalist crowd who prefer to have only what they need in their OS. It is far too handy to switch to a Metro app (like the Video app or Netflix or OneNote or a recipe app etc.) and snap it to the side of the screen AND continue to use the Desktop for web surfing etc. There is no reason and no advantage to divide the two environments into separate operating systems. It will discourage support for writing apps for the Metro environment and limit access to it as well.
Scenarios 2: Forget Metro, let’s just stay with the Desktop
A fairly common argument from those who simply do not like the tiled design of Windows 8. Which is fine, some people do not like the design and really it is a subjective thing. But if you look at the landscape of devices right now, and with PC sales growth declining, Microsoft needed to address the issue of Windows on a tablet (and if you’ve ever used Windows 7 on a tablet, you would agree). To not develop an environment that was touch friendly and screen size agnostic, Microsoft would lose a massive chunk of the market that Apple has been keeping for a while now. And let’s be honest here, a Windows 8 tablet (with Metro interface) simply blows away the iPad, there’s really no contest and the only advantage the iPad has is app support.
Looking at both scenarios, you can see why Windows 8 is the way it is, as neither scenario 1 nor scenario 2 make any sense in the world we live in today. If you don’t offer the Start Screen for all Windows 8 devices then developers will never support it, and the Desktop needs to be there so that you can install legacy applications and do regular Windows stuff (Power Shell, Remote Desktop, Office).
The Unreliable OEMs and Microsoft’s Biggest Error
It’s no secret that at Christmas 2012 (which was shortly after Windows 8 was released) there were virtually no Windows 8 devices on the market, let alone actually in stock. In fact most Windows 8 devices were simply Windows 7 devices with Windows 8 lazily slapped on them. So when reports of Windows 8 slow uptake and poor OEM PC sales surfaced the OEMs blamed Windows 8 (thus Microsoft) and Microsoft blamed OEMs. The rightful blame lies somewhere in the middle.
Same Devices, New OS
One of the common arguments that the OEMs were publicly making is that they were surprised with the demand for touchscreen PC’s and tablets. They were selling desktops and laptops with a Windows operating system on them and thus expected them to sell. Unfortunately they are still living in the old world compared to today where more and more people prefer cheaper, lighter, touch-friendly devices. As mobile devices become more popular, regular laptops and desktop sales will decline, it is now inevitable. Unfortunately, OEMs are only now putting out such Windows 8 devices, the devices that Microsoft intended Windows 8 to be run on. As the devices get better and the OEM’s start to actually market them you’ll see PC sales even out again, maybe even grow.
New Dog, New Tricks
Windows 8 is different from Windows 7, that much is obvious. Unfortunately Microsoft did little to educate users about what was different and what you needed to do to use Windows 8 effectively. Currently there is a crappy little tutorial when Windows 8 is setting up for first time use. It does nothing to explain the Charms bar and it’s function, what an effective way of using the Start Screen is and the different size of tiles you can have, where you can access your installed applications, and how to move between the Desktop and the Start Screen. This is something that Microsoft sorely needs address as most users still don’t know how to effectively use Windows 8. A short, simple, interactive tutorial needs to be included in the first time setup of Windows 8, otherwise users will be left frustrated (as we have seen since the release of Windows 8). The only thing worse than this is the lack of consumer education regarding Windows 8 and Windows RT, but we’ll be getting to that below.
Microsoft’s Marketing Madness
To put it bluntly, Microsoft’s marketing strategy for Windows 8 has been useless and overall terrible. In fact I think it’s confused more people regarding Windows 8 than it’s helped, and this is at a time when Microsoft really needed to execute everything with perfect precision and not take any steps back. It’s inexcusable and, if I was a shareholder or on the board, I would be pissed. What’s worse is he way Microsoft handled Windows RT. If your intention was to completely confuse somewhat about a Microsoft, then Microsoft has executed that perfectly with Windows RT. The Surface RT was supposed to be the poster child for Windows 8, showing off the touch interface and be a baseline for OEMs as to what you can do with the ARM processor and Windows 8. Unfortunately Microsoft failed to mention to consumers that this was Windows, but not in the sense that they could install all their old desktop applications, or in the sense that your Windows experience would be as fluid as we’re used to (see overall laggy Windows performance and slow Internet Explorer performance on RT). Not only that, but they were pricing it as a midrange laptop, and you had to buy the keyboard separately (at $120 no less). Everything Microsoft could have done wrong they did wrong. Currently there is little talk about RT (out of shame I would imagine) so really we have no idea what’s happening with it. Microsoft’s recent commercials pitting a Windows 8 tablet (be it RT or Wintel) against the iPad are what they should have been doing all along. They are now starting to head in the right direction, hopefully this continues.
The Windows RT Problem
As I stated before, Windows RT (and more specifically, Surface RT) was supposed to be the device that shows off what Windows 8 can do to compete with the iPad and Android tablets, while striking a balance between home and office work. Unfortunately, with the state it was released in, it did neither of those things very well. Overall performance was laggy, and Internet Explorer was slower than it’s x86 counterpart. It also did not help that Microsoft failed to explain the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT in Every. Single. Advertisement. Leaving consumers excited about Surface RT, but only to return them after playing around with it and finding out they really couldn’t use them as a laptop replacement.
The Windows 8.1 Preview has helped breathe new life into RT (along with more apps and games), and the inclusion of Outlook 2013 is a big plus for business users, but performance is still lacking, leaving a feeling that Microsoft still needs to do some serious optimization for ARM chips. I ‘m one of the few people who believe that there is a future for RT, as the battery life has been great (especially standby battery performance) and, as a laptop companion device, it has done almost everything I’ve needed it to do. If Microsoft is able to iron out the issues it still has with RT, and as the Store expands with more and more apps, then RT is a very viable alternative if you need a companion device that does 90% of what you can do on an x86 Windows device (try printing, connecting USB devices, and traversing file systems on the iPad and Android devices, Windows RT wins every time). Microsoft’s next Surface RT needs to be sold for the current $350 that Surface RT is going for, WITH the keyboard, then you’ll see those suckers fly off the shelves.
Not Yet a Solid Ecosystem
Microsoft has been playing catch-up for the last few years in mobile computing, and now they have one more area where they still need to catch-up in, ecosystem. Microsoft has more software and services than Google and Apple combined, yet most of them function separately from each other when there’s no reason to. A great example is Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. The App Store can be accessed from any iPad, iPhone, or iPod. iPod/iPhone apps that aren’t designed for the iPad can be run in fullscreen mode on the iPad (albeit they look like crap), and similarly any Android device that can access Google Play can access all those apps. Microsoft, as of right now, does not have anything like that. If you have Windows 8/RT you have access to the Windows Store, and if you have Windows Phone you have access to the Windows Phone Store. There is no unity or interaction of any kind between the 2 stores, and this is a big problem. I’ve encountered this with two apps; Package Tracker, and Halo: Spartan Assault. Both are available on Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT, yet you need to purchase them in both Stores to access them on both platforms. Yes they can share data between each other via SkyDrive, but if this trend continues Microsoft is going to lose a lot of people because they will end up frustrated with how much money they will need to spend so that they can access something on both platforms. Windows 8, Windows Phone, and supposedly Xbox One Store unity will be coming when everything is updated with Windows Blue sometime next year, but that’s a long time to wait.
That is merely a symptom of the bigger problem of the lack of integration between all the devices and platforms that Microsoft has. Windows 8.1 made things a bit better, with more integrated SkyDrive support (which Windows Phone has), which results in more settings of your Windows 8.1 devices being backed up to SkyDrive, making things easier when you’re setting up a new Windows 8.1 device. Microsoft recently changed things around in terms of corporate structure, consolidating teams so that they are now a Services and Devices company instead of just a Software company. I imagine this change was necessary to get all the different teams to work together on integrating products and features, so we will definitely be seeing some sort of ecosystem cohesion from Microsoft sometime next year. Once apps become more interchangeable (being able to run a Windows Phone app on a Windows 8 tablet for example) it will be a bigger pro for people to move to the Windows Phone/Windows 8 ecosystem.
The Start Screen in Windows 8 will not go away, let’s make that clear. This is something that Microsoft is invested in for the long run and, if anything, at some point in the future the Desktop will be used less and maybe not even at all. That being said, things are changing in the computer and mobile industries all the time so who knows where we will be 5 years from now. Hopefully Microsoft gets their act together and learns from their past mistakes and focuses on quicker releases and more integration to keep up with our ever changing world. Microsoft looks to be thinking a lot clearer lately and making more rational decisions. If they keep that up, Windows Phone will dramatically increase in market share, and Windows 8 will no longer be the misunderstood OS that people don’t know how to use.
AAWP (All About Windows Phone) has done a bit of research to see what percentage of apps the Windows Phones with 512MB of RAM can actually be installed. Turns out, pretty much every app.
99.76% of apps and 99.63% of games in the Windows Phone Store can be installed on 512MB devices. This is a lot more than many people suspected and it’s nice to see developers optimizing their apps for all the different hardware in the Windows Phone ecosystem. The entire “report” is actually an interesting read and can be found at the link below.