A year of living with Windows Phone: What I've learned so far

A year of living with Windows Phone: What I've learned so far

Summary: A year ago I retired my iPhone in favor of a Nokia Lumia: it's been a surprisingly easy transition and here's why.

TOPICS: Windows Phone, Apps

It's been just over a year since I switched from iPhone to Windows Phone, a year in which I've watched the Windows Phone Store catch up with the Apple App Store - and now most of the apps I used on my iPhone are available on my Windows Phone.

My iPhone 4 was starting to show its age, so it was time to shop around. The question was simple: stick with iOS, go with Android, or take a leap of faith into a new ecosystem.

I'd switched because I'd been using my smartphone as a camera, and the camera on the Lumia 920 I'd played with was streets ahead of the competition.

As I was out of contract at the time, switching was an easy decision: a Lumia 920 on a 24 month contract was free, and the contract itself was £10 a month cheaper than the equivalent iPhone tariff, with twice as much data and bundled tethering. Sure, there was the cost associated with buying apps again, but with app prices as low as they are, that just meant not buying a couple of large lattes.

While camera apps were important, and Nokia was rolling out plenty of exclusives, they weren't the only reason I was switching. With an Office 365 account running my freelance writing, and SkyDrive hosting the files for the book we were writing, Windows Phone simplified access to all the tools I needed to use while working with editors and my collaborators - including the always essential OneNote.

But it's not just Office I need. Social media is an important tool for a writer in this day and age; opening up new channels to readers and to sources. So it's good to have official apps from the main social networks - including Instagram. And of course there are the more informal networks I use, with Untappd for beer and excellent third party apps for Flickr.

Navigation apps are key to any mobile platform, and ALK continues to update the Windows Phone version of its Copilot GPS. It's part of a growing ecosystem of navigation tools, including the collaborative Waze. Living in a city, and travelling a lot, navigation is one of my key use cases for a mobile device, for finding my way around a new place, and for using public transport (something that Nokia's Transit app handles extremely well). And of course there's Data Sense so I can see just how much data I'm using while on the road!

One feature BlackBerry offered was what it called "Flow", the ability for information to pass from app to app, without losing context. It's a compelling feature, and one that's hard to give up. So it came as a surprise to discover that Windows Phone offers something similar, with the ability for apps to share information easily.

I'm writing this piece in the lobby of a motel in Williams in Arizona, en route to the Grand Canyon. We'd stored the booking reference in the Tripit travel web service. From the My Trips app we were able to launch Windows Phone's built-in mapping tool to show where the motel was, and then pass that location to a GPS app for the drive, in my case the always excellent Copilot. It wouldn't have mattered if I wanted to use Waze or Nokia Drive+, the other GPS apps I have on my phone, as they were also available as navigation options.

Productivity and navigation aren't the only things I need on a phone. Casual gaming is important too, and the range of games available for Windows Phone is increasing; with Microsoft's Windows 8 versions of Solitaire, Minesweeper and Mahjong arriving last week. They join popular franchises like Temple Run and Minion Rush, as well as the perennial Wordament and Words with Friends. There's more than enough to keep nieces and nephews occupied over a stormy Christmas - and still get in a few runs with a minion yourself on a quick Halo mission.

Of course there's photography, and you'll have read my earlier pieces on Nokia's work on pushing Windows Phone as a platform for computational photography. But the real change in my day-to-day life is that I no longer carry a camera with me - my phone has replaced the series of point-and-shoots that I used to upgrade every year or so. It's still not replaced my DSLR, but when the Lumia Black update arrives it's going to be interesting to see how tools like Lightroom handle DNG raw images from a smartphone.

With Windows Phone my go-to-device, that aging iPhone is still part of my kit bag, only now it's relegated to iPod status. It turns out that the real tether that holds you in the iOS ecosystem is iTunes, and the myriad albums you've bought and ripped over a decade. Microsoft still hasn't delivered a workable tool for copying music from PC to phone - and while Spotify, Xbox Music and Nokia MixRadio meet my streaming needs, they're not really music library management tools.

It's important for a tech writer to keep their feet in as many camps as possible. So you won't just find my Lumia (now upgraded to a 1020) and that old iPhone on my desk. They're joined by a Samsung Galaxy Note and a Nexus 7 (for the mix of the very different Samsung and Google Android experiences) as well as a BlackBerry Q10. But for now Windows Phone does just what I need - and I'm not seeing any compelling reason to shift back to any of the other platforms.

Futher reading

Topics: Windows Phone, Apps

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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  • "catch up" is a strong choice of words

    Since by no objective means has it actually done so. The app selection has improved, to be sure, but remains a fraction of what is available on the iPhone.
    • So what?

      How many fart apps does one need?
      • Apps

        No fart apps, but how many of the apps I use regularly are available?

        Torque, Bittorrent Sync, Roku remote, Grace Digital Remote?
        • so what

          The majority of people i know have about 5 apps which they use moderately regularly and all can be found in apple, android and windows app stores.
          • Means nothing

            So all this tells us is your group of friends are basic users where a Win phone is fine. Users I know are more power users and find the lack of key apps a deal breaker.
          • My kids each have over 30+ apps on their tablets...

            ..would you call them power users?

            What about if I told you they were six and eight respectively, and other than Netflix, those apps are all some manner of talking animal, cake-pop baking, or other mindless game that they find entertaining?

            By your definition, that is more of a power user than the sound-tech that uses his iPad mainly as an interface to a mixing panel, and has the one app for that purpose, or the medical personnel that use tablets to track patient information, or the architect that uses a tablet to go over a house design with a perspective buyer and tweak some parts of it.

            Just so we're clear, it's all about "how many" apps you use, right?
          • No you are saying power users equal many apps.

            I said that basic users only need a few apps which his group fits, right.

            Now I said I deal more with power users who find missing key apps a deal breaker. Can you understand the difference between key apps and many apps? It is not that difficult.

            Now if those professions you listed needed that key app, it would be a deal breaker as well,no? This will be fun, let's take your example and extend them to their logical conclusion. Which platform is more likely to have the special applications that each of these professionals would require? I'll give you a hint, it's not a Winphone.

            If this still confuses you I will endeavor to further simplify.
          • I was responding to your comment to Xippy...

            ..where you equate "5 apps used moderately regularly" to being " basic users where a Win phone is fine." You then talk about the majority of users *you* know as being power users (implying that "5 apps used moderately regularly" isn't a power user).

            "Now I said I deal more with power users who find missing key apps a deal breaker. Can you understand the difference between key apps and many apps? It is not that difficult."

            Okay, so I misunderstood what you meant by power users in your comment. Now that we agree that it isn't about quantity, what in your mind constitutes a power user? One who only uses apps that are only available on certain platforms? I mentioned a couple of examples of what I thought was a power use-case for a mobile device (and no, not just a phone - most of those use-cases are better served with tablets). You mentioned none - just a vague idea of people *you* know who are "power users".

            So please - a little substance, maybe an example or two.

            "Now if those professions you listed needed that key app, it would be a deal breaker as well,no? This will be fun, let's take your example and extend them to their logical conclusion. Which platform is more likely to have the special applications that each of these professionals would require? I'll give you a hint, it's not a Winphone."

            Of course it would be a deal breaker - that was kind of my point. Your comment speaking of this mythical "power user" who only has "key apps" that may or may not be available for WinPhone or Android or Blackberry or whatever is a rather elitist deflection of the real comment - either the app one needs to get value out of his/her phone is available, or it is not. Just because the friends you hang with are "power" users doesn't really affect the value proposition for anyone but your buddies.

            Even when speaking of specifics, the platform either has the apps needed or not - there is no "likeliness" to speak of regardless of the title-count in the respective stores. Currently, the mixing app needed for the particular board that a sound engineer friend of mine uses is only available for iOS - however a Windows version is being developed (no Android). Once that is completed, this is another "power" application that will serve a Windows RT user just fine.
          • :)

            that was awesome.
            Keithy Huntington
          • iPhone and

            Power users, something I have never heard of before. a power user that likes t tweak stuff would use Android over iPhone anyday.
          • This could be more a reflection of your owe inexperience.

            You define a power user as a tech, this is a very limited understanding of the mobile market and a limitation I often see with younger tech workers. Many C-level users live by their Smartphones and use them for communications, planning, travel arrangements, financials, security ect......

            I have never seen a C-level manager use anything other then an iPhone.
          • You don't deal with many C-level managers then...

            "I have never seen a C-level manager use anything other then an iPhone."

            I deal with about 30 (CIOs and CFOs mainly) on a regular basis. About 60% of them use iPhones, down from about 80% two years ago, and dropping.

            C-level managers, as a group, are generally very pragmatic people and will use what provides the most benefit to them. Many are finding that the value proposition offered by iOS is no longer what had previously been promised. Many have been eyeing up Windows Phone due to the increased integration with SharePoint, SSRS and Exchange.

            Particularly CFOs in areas where, traditionally, they would have accounting staff preparing reports, and are looking to be able to pull some of that higher-level information directly from their systems in the form of dashboards and highly-summarized pull reports. These types of execs find the iOS devices far too limiting.
          • I would wager CIOs & CTOs are pushing this integration and not CEOs & CFOs

            With a BYOD culture, I'm wondering is SharePoint and Exchange compatibility will be less of a requirement going forward? Cloud vendors are offering these functions at attractive price points, with the advantages of being in the cloud such as less expensive redundancy and disaster recovery options.
          • You need to expand your horizons beyond the US market

            The vast majority of smartphone users are in Asia and elsewhere... and the iPhone is in a minority there.
          • Oh?

            Ok, I like to tweak things, now and then, but since buying an Android tablet, I find that I have much less options, and narrower range of options, than on the iPhone. Yes, it has a real file system, and I don't have to download a file 4 times to use it in 4 apps, but figuring out how to use those file apps is a bit of a pain, given each one works differently. Over all, I feel more constrained on the Android OS, and really miss the smoothness of iOS.
          • Fine. This story is about the experience of one IT blogger.

            It is certainly at least as meaningful as your experience and the experience of your friends. More likely than not, Simon's friends are also power users.
            M Wagner
        • The point being...

          ...the absolute number of applications available is irrelevant as long as there are applications which meet your needs. It's the same argument Mac advocates made about the Mac when Windows advocates would point to the vast amount of software for Windows.
          • You guys are boring.

            I can imagine that all you do is sit around and play with your spreadsheets. Other people have interesting lives that might include scuba diving, flying, carpentry, hiking, biking, astronomy, etc., etc., etc... These are the people who use the focussed apps that are mainly available for iPhone.
          • I pegged you as a

            Scuba diving carpenter. I bet there is 100 apps in the Apples store for that.
          • Close.

            I tried it but the wood kept getting soaked and the table saw only ran for a few seconds before shorting out. No app for that. :-)