From a fairly modest start in 2010, Windows Phone came a long way in 2011. The NoDo update brought some essentials like copy/paste, while the big Mango update truly made Windows Phone useable as a daily driver. That being said, there are a number of things I’d like to see Windows Phone improve on in 2012 to truly become a force to reckon with.
The Tango update is expected in Q1 this year, and is primarily expected to bring support for LTE and at the same time help manufacturers push Windows Phone to lower price points. The Apollo update on the other hand is the big update everyone will be waiting for this year, it was originally expected in Q4 2012, but there are rumours to suggest we might see it earlier.
Here are a few things that Windows Phone needs to do better in 2012, I have classified them under seven broad heads:
1. BETTER HARDWARE: The basic Windows Phone specs have remained pretty constant from the day it shipped, and there is still no support for dual/multi core processors or hi-res 720p screens. Both of these things are rumoured to be coming with Apollo, so I will not dwell on them much.
2. BETTER MULTITASKING: As things stand now, Windows Phone uses quick save-resume to give users a feel of multitasking. While this might help save battery life and keep the phone snappy, it does leave much to be desired. For example, the Dictionary.com apps lets you download the database for offline use. But in order to download it, the app must be running, so even if the screen dims out or you lock the screen, the download gets interrupted. During navigation if you happen to lock the screen the app stops running.
Another problem I have is that third party apps cannot load data in the background. So despite having an active data/WIFI connection all through, my Twitter app will not be able to load tweets in the background, such that there are tweets waiting to be read whenever I open it. Instead, whenever I open the Twitter app, it will then start loading tweets and I’ll have to wait, depending on how fast my connection is. These things need to improve.
3. APP BEHAVIOR: Without getting into technicalities like native code access and so on, because of the way Windows Phone lets developers build apps for Windows Phone, the performance, specially the launch times leave much to be desired. Most third party apps (if not all) like the official apps for Twitter, Facebook etc all need a splash screen to bide time while they launch.
Same with games, developers have been craving for native code access to enable high quality games and I do hope Microsoft will do something about this. E.g. Launching Whats App on Symbian, Android or iOS is instant, but on Windows Phone you will see a splash screen everytime.
Next, apps are also sandboxed. So it is impossible to share data from one app to the other. For example on Nokia Maps, you cannot search for a place and then launch Nokia Drive from within Maps. You will have to search for that place in Nokia Drive again and then navigate. Same with location sharing in Whats App, clicking on a location will not open up Nokia Maps or Drive or even Bing Maps, but just a map within the app. So you cannot simply navigate to that location, unlike other platforms.
4. NOTIFICATIONS: I have talked about notifications in my Lumia 800 review as well, and this should be priority number one for Microsoft. There is no centralised place where you see the notifications. Toasts notifications come and go, and the only place where they stay are on the live tiles. This almost forces you to give the first 8 slots for tiles to apps that like Email, Messaging, Whats App, Facebook, Twitter etc so that you do not miss notifications. On the lockscreen, third party notifications cannot be shown as well.
While my favourite notification implementation is Android’s pull down notification bar that both Symbian and iOS have ‘borrowed’, I doubt Microsoft will go down the same route. Flicking to the left on Windows Phone currently does nothing and MS can perhaps use this gesture to build a notification hub that third party apps too can plug into with ease.
Next, there seems to be a bug with tile notifications with third party apps. For example with Microsoft’s own Facebook app, even after you have seen the notifications from inside the app, the icon depicting unread notifications on the live tile doesn’t disappear immediately.
Finally, push notifications also need to get better. WP checks for notifications periodically for the ‘Me’ tile and you have no control over how often does this happen. In general too, across third party apps the situation could be better.
5. OPENING UP WINDOWS PHONE: An open ecosystem is something which Nokia users have been accustomed to for ages. Be it side loading apps, sending files via Bluetooth or using the phone in the mass storage mode to drag and drop content. While Microsoft may not want to allow all these things, it should definitely look at allowing Bluetooth file transfers and ways to support the homebrew community. The Chevron unlock was a good initiative, and even if the Chevron developers don’t want to run it further, Microsoft should undertake the activity itself.
Next, it should allow a lot more customisation. From custom colour accents, to letting users pin multiple shortcuts within a single tile. There is no point in wasting a ton of screen estate for a simple shortcut, pinning four shortcuts into the space reserved for a single tile makes a lot more sense.
6. UPLOADS: Like I mentioned in my Lumia 800 review, Windows Phone resizes pictures before they are uploaded to make it easier on the network. But there are times you want access to the full resolution, yet there is no option to enable that.
7. APP LAYOUT: Windows Phone is all about lists and that’s how all the installed apps are displayed, alphabetically. You can jump between them by alphabet or use the search button to enter a name and filter through the list.
While you do get used to this method, it’d be great to have options. I’d like a grid-based layout as well, where you can flick between pages of apps. One problem that I have faced with the list method is that it is easy to forget apps, as newly installed apps also get buried in the list. I’d also like WP to highlight the newly installed apps for a little while at least.
Reading this post might give you an impression that Windows Phone is hard to use in its current state, but this sentiment would not be justified. While the points I have made above need redressal, none of them is really a deal breaker that should make you reconsider your Windows phone purchase. There are some excellent Windows Phone devices in the market, and I am sure future updates will make them better.
What would you like Windows Phone to do differently in 2012?