Windows Phone 8.1, are we there yet?

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.
Written by Howard Lo, Contributor

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.

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