Windows Phone 8.1, are we there yet?

Windows Phone 8.1, are we there yet?

Summary: Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview has released to heaps of praise. Yet it's not enough to convince users to switch to the platform. Messaging, performance, regional support and mailbox management are areas to improve.

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After a week of using the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview on my Nokia Lumia 1520, I feel it’s a brand new phone. The action center, updated calendar, faster browser (Internet Explorer 11), Sense features, and tweaks to the start screen solidify Microsoft’s Windows Phone as a platform to rival Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android.

The internet is alight with positive reviews of Windows Phone 8.1, but does the latest update provide enough to convince folks to switch to Windows? Fast processors, the best phone cameras in the Nokia Lumias, an attractive user interface, and a developer-friendly environment should position Windows Phone as a platform ready for primetime.

Here are some issues to improve:

Messaging – In a case of two steps forward, one step back, the Windows Phone 8.1 update has taken apart the integrated messaging capability of Windows Phone. Previously the messaging hub combined SMS, Facebook messenger, Skype, and Windows Live Messenger. For those of us in countries where we are charged per SMS, being able to message someone with an IP-based messenger was great. Now one has to launch each separate app to access the messages instead of having a hub.

Microsoft also needs a service similar to iMessage. I thought Skype was supposed to be the main instant communication tool across devices but when it comes to instant messaging, Skype is lacking. Frequently messages aren’t delivered to the recipient if they’re moving between devices, and one can’t even send a photo using the Skype client. If Facebook messenger can seamlessly be accessed from any device or desktop and allow you to send photos, videos, and audio clips, one would expect Microsoft’s $8.5 billion messaging client to have feature parity.

App Performance – There’s the worry that Windows Phone is lacking the support of mainstream apps. As the user base grows bigger, more of these apps (hello Instagram!) have been released. The problem is that some run significantly slower than their counterparts on iPhone or Android. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp take a few seconds longer on Windows Phone to boot up; since they’re major communication tools those seconds add up over the course of a day.

Mailbox Management – Related to app availability, mobile mailbox management tools such as Mailbox and Boxer have become critical applications (combined To Do list, mailbox, reminder app) for many users. There are no power mail management applications for Windows Phone yet.

Regional Support – Microsoft has poured money into Bing to turn it into an awesome search experience in the US. They have also created Cortana as a virtual agent to rival Apple’s Siri. Unfortunately these significant features are not supported in Asia.

The Windows Phone platform has evolved to be a great foundation for developers to build fantastic applications and experiences for users. Microsoft needs to encourage more of these developers to build or port top-notch applications to their platform so users can feel safe in switching and appreciate what the Windows Phone environment has to offer.

See also:

Topics: Mobile OS, Microsoft, Nokia, Windows Phone

About

Howard spent 14 years in the tech industry working as a programmer, evangelist, and community manager for Microsoft. In 2009, he had lived his "dream" of middle-management long enough and opened a Japanese restaurant called Standing Sushi Bar. Trading in stock grants and software licenses for raw fish and cash, he enjoys mixing his passion for technology into the daily hustle of small business.

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36 comments
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  • Just like Windows 8.1

    This update to Windows Phone should really be called Windows Phone 2.0 I am sure by Windows Phone 9 everything will come together. Apps and international support remain the platforms biggest hurdle. Microsoft needs to know, anything they develop and roll out, must be done on a world wide basis. It can't be a here and there fiasco.
    adacosta38
    • you wish

      and every one as well this is only the start of more headacks
      djlemas@...
      • It's a Big Start

        Of the best to come.
        Jillxz
  • 1 & 4

    I agree with your points 1 and 4.

    I haven't noticed the app loading problem, although with my Galaxy S3 the Mail app took around 10 seconds to load (and another 10 seconds to go back to the home screen) on 4.1 after about 9 months use - using Cyanogen's Kit-Kat on the S3 and it is back to under a second...

    And I'm hearing, that we will be getting Cortana, here in Germany, sometime in Q2 next year. I try and use Bing every now and then, and it is getting better, but it isn't really a surprise that Google has well over 90% of the search market over here.
    wright_is
  • Great windows.phone. 8.1

    Personally, I think than Windows Phone OS are far away in quality and utility as Android or ios, but it is never late and according to this comparation WP is better http://versus.com/en/ios-6-0-vs-windows-phone-8-1. The problem is that sometimes I look for a famous app, and it is not yet available in Windows phone. This sucks
    nataliamolina
  • Hubs were there strong suit

    Just like the Photo's app in Windows 8.1, it lost the ability to bring multiple services like Facebook, Tumblr into one place. Windows 8 had it but 8.1 took it away. Sure there are other features that make 8.1 better but why take away at all? Continue to add.
    thekman58
    • I don't think you are correct

      I'm sitting here using 8.1. I open up the People hub and, viola, I see my Facebook, twitter, etc. etc. stuff still there.
      I think you read it somewhere and are just regurgitating instead of actually trying it for yourself.
      Azzras
      • I don't

        use Facebook or Instagram, so I can't comment on the picture hub, but my understanding was, that the contacts were still "hubbed" together (certainly my Linked In contacts appear), but that, for example, you can't send messages to contacts from the hub, likewise, the images hub only "hubs" local images and OneDrive albums, you need to go into Facebook or Instagram to see their images.

        As I say, that is what I read, as I don't use the services, I can't comment on how they now work.
        wright_is
      • WP 8 hub

        Azzras, I am glad to hear it. I am in the UK and my phone supplier has not yet rolled out 8.1 to us, so am still on WP 8 (Black).

        The People Hub is great and I was a bit concerned by the comment in the article that this was somehow degraded.

        As you know, with linked profiles we can get all of somebody's contact information on one screen and we can select any of the available communications methods.
        DAS01
        • From what I can see, the Hub

          has been expanded so that apps can build into the hub, rather than waiting for Microsoft to develop the connections. So now Facebook directly updates the people hub and selecting an update sends you to it inside the Facebook app. This means when Facebook updates their app, you get the better integration. The other apps all need to be updated to handle this (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), then we get a better integrated experience.
          grayknight
          • Not so much, really.

            Not so much, really. Currently I go to my hub and make a status update, I can simultaneously send that to Twitter, Facebook and Linked In. As I read it here (and elsewhere) that is going away and I would have to open each of those apps and post the status update to each service separately. That's a huge loss - if you ask me.
            bigsibling
        • It isn't

          available anywhere yet. If you want to try it, you can register as a developer (for free) and download it to your phone.

          Check out Winsupersite.com or wpcentral.com for more details.
          wright_is
      • I don't think you used it in depth

        Now click on any picture to view bigger, or try adding a comment. You can't, without now opening the Facebook app. It went from something I could do in seconds natively, to now waiting for the slow Facebook app to load. There's parts I love of 8.1, but what they did here is a step backwards. Maybe try it yourself once.
        Chad Voller
        • mp 8.1 beta

          you have to remember that WP 8.1 is in beta and not yet complete. not everything will perform as it will when WP 8.1 is released THIS SUMMER.
          groberts116
      • lots of misinformation

        A lot of press is getting the details wrong. The hub is still there, and you still see updates from other people in the hub from the other services (facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter still work for me). But to drill in to reply, 'like', and so on, the app gets launched. It gets launched automatically, but it still isn't as seamless or quick as it was before to do those latter things. Posting a message to multiple services simultaneously (one of the original WP 'challenges'!) is also gone.
        jreuter
    • Re: Hubs Were THEIR Strong Suit

      when you upgraded your phone to WP.1, did you follow the prompts to link your phone to your FB, and other accounts? I chose not to, but that's the way I want it.
      Crashin Chris
  • Great Update

    I really like the Windows 8.1 update so far. Windows Phone is definitely improving with each update. I hope the updates continue to come out (and come out frequently). There are still some small tweaks that could make it better. I would like to see better app to app connections. For example, if I get a notification for Facebook and click on it, I would like it to launch the Facebook app instead of IE. I would also like ask Cortana to "drive me to my sister's house". Mostly though, I would like the developers to get aboard and stop ignoring the platform. At this point, I think they are only shooting themselves in the foot by not. Adoption rates are rising. Developers, get on board or risk irrelevancy!
    MCTronix
    • I have WP8

      And I can't wait to get 8.1. It's a great platform. But, c'mon, if you're a developer with limited resources and WP controls less than 10% of the market, where would you invest your time and money?
      Njia1
    • Cortanan can do that..

      If you want navigation to a specific location, like your sisters place, add a 'Place' in Cortana's settings for your 'sisters' address and then you can say things like 'what's the fastest way to my sisters?' and Cortanan will launch Here drive with the destination already in. I'm surprised at how well this works as I am in NZ so have to convince my phone I'm an American to get Cortanan at all. We have a hotel/casino in the city called Skycity and I asked Cortanan what the fastest way to SkyCity was and she launched Here drive with the correct NZ destination. Nice! Once you have added 'Sisters House' as a 'place' you can also say things like, 'the next time I am at my sisters house please remind me to ask her about whatsit' and when you arrive at your sisters house cortana will bring up a reminder, tis very cool.
      ursulus
    • Re: Great Update

      what I've been reading of late is quite encouraging as WP8.1 and Cortana Digital Assistant is getting good press; I think that's pretty remarkable, considering the various shades of "jaded" the tech press writers are... this year. I think all the digital assistants from all three big players need to be improved; I've no doubt that will eventually happen. I hope it happens long before I hit my death bed though. I'm eagerly waiting for the GDR! But, I'd rather have the real update... now!!
      Crashin Chris