23.6.12

Windows Phone sucks

This post will be focused on my justifiable anger towards this mobile OS.

Microsoft has committed many mistakes with Windows Phone 7 (WP7, or WP7.5, Mango, etc), most of which come from three sources:

  • Attempting to recreate/redesign mobile user experience
  • Ignoring years and years of good practices in mobile user experience
  • Going after Apple's strategies for iOS

While Microsoft has focused a lot on the quickness/simplicity of using WP (and rightfully succeeded in doing so), it has sacrificed many other essential parts of the system. I have tried to enjoy Windows Phone, I even tried to adopt a Nokia Lumia 800, but I soon got frustrated with the dumbed-down works of the system.
The main problem with WP is that they have gone too far trying to make it simple, that it ended up being poor. It feels like the designers understood feature-richness as "complicated user experience" and ended up pruning a bunch of arguably good stuff.
I will start with a popular issue: 


Multitasking and the back button



Windows Phone doesn't really support multitasking. They allow you to have at most 5 apps in a sleeping state. It's not hard to imagine a case when you actually need 5 apps simultaneously open, but this limitation isn't actually the worst part.

The "sleeping state" is clearly bad. One obvious daily example is the following: open Skype (now owned by guess who), start a video chat there with your friend, and then attempt to check a note you wrote in some other note app in the phone. As soon as you press that Home button, you are closing your video chat. Yes, you are terminating it. When you open Skype again, you have to restart the chat. This is a excruciating pain if you want to write down in your notes program something your friend is telling you in the chat, and need to swap back and forth between the two apps.

WP only allows one app at a time to be actually running. The Skype video chat goes to sleeping mode, so it stops the chat and focuses on the note app.

Yes, this sucks.

But it doesn't stop there. The back button just tends to make things really weird, in the sense that no other software's back button works in the same fashion. People would like to feel "at home" with familiar interfaces.




The main problem with the WP back button is that it tries to behave like three different things: a browser's back button, a close button, and a multitask button.
The button even looks like a browser's back button.
If you have, say, 4 apps open, and you repeatedly press back, you will see the apps going backwards in time, in the order you used them. Just like, in a way, your browser does.


And why is this a problem?
Well, because multitasking is actually closer to the tab paradigm than it is to the back paradigm in browsers. And on desktop people use tabs and histories in totally different ways, for different purposes.

You could argue that "it seems so intuitive on the phone, to just click back to the previous thing you had", but the "back paradigm" clearly gets confusing when you are actually swapping back and forth between two apps. Or shall we say... swapping back and back between apps.

To make it worse, you can also do multitasking just with the Windows button, so that you see the home screen every time you want to swap between two apps currently opened. So users can be confused on what is the recommended multitasking style: through the back button or through the Windows button.

And the pain continues because the only way of seeing what is "open" (but unfortunately sleeping) is by holding the back button. What Microsoft designers are telling us is that the back button is responsible for multitasking. Plus, it is also responsible for closing apps. So browser back paradigm + closing functionality + open apps view is all stuffed in a "wannabe intuitive" button. This can get seriously frustrating. 

You have your text message open, half written, and you click back because you want to go back to the other app, but you end up closing your app and going to the home screen. 

Or you want to close your app so you go to the open apps view and you feel terribly disappointed that you can't close apps in that view.

I've asked some friends (familiar with smartphones) to try to close an app given this screen. There's no X button in the corner. You try to swipe an app up and it doesn't close. You swipe it down, it doesn't close. You hold your finger on it, nothing pops up. You just end up quitting. Microsoft could just be telling their customers "hey, just stop worrying, you don't need to close them", but once you get painfully familiar with the 5-open-apps limitation, you will WANT to close some of those, so that the important ones don't end up in limbo.

Or let us say you have the Messaging app on the screen, that you want to keep alive, but for the moment you want to go back to an old open app. Naturally, you try to get the opens app view. If your finger does some mistake of not holding the button for enough time (and fingers will make mistakes), your input will not give the open apps view, and you will end up closing the Messaging app. 

Fear will constantly strike your heart: "what will happen when I press that back button?".


Feature poverty



Among the big players in mobile, WP is probably the most featureless one. 

No bluetooth.
No file system.
During a call, incoming emails buzz loudly in your ear.
No vibration level settings, it always vibrates really loudly.
No tethering.
No custom keyboard apps.


But why? 

Probably the WP designers went deep into trying to recreate mobile user experience. But there's also a good portion of blame to put on optimization attempts and the infamous business people at Redmond.

Windows Phone is innovative. Its "home screen" joins icons and widgets into one thing: a tile. They have put a lot of effort into trying to guess what users really want from a mobile phone. In one way, they have succeeded in making a simple mobile OS. On the other hand, it is also too simplistic and naïve.

The problem is that they have mixed up simple user interface with simple functions. You can provide sophisticated procedures using simple user interfaces, but WP designers might have misunderstood that. Sophisticated and necessary functions on mobile have been cut off from the OS in order to try to make the user interface simple. There are some functions that simply all mobile phones should support. For instance, file/media sharing. A mobile OS should make it obvious on how to share a picture or a ringtone to other mobile devices or other devices. 

A designer does not need to be smart to make simple user interfaces for simple functions. But you require a genius designer to make easy user interfaces for sophisticated procedures.

Besides this, it is also possible that Microsoft designers have tried to dictate the preferences of their users. Like Apple does. The difference is that only Apple succeeds in dictating to users how to love the product besides its downsides. Apple makes products so polished that people often don't care if iOS doesn't support bluetooth file sharing. Still, many people around the globe that love iOS want to get rid of Apple's dictatorship, through a magical thing called Jailbreak. Microsoft has forced Bing search down our throats (you can't customize what that search button does) in a similar fashion that Apple forces things. The huge problem for Microsoft is that their products don't have the fame of being worshiped as luxury products, and WP still does not have big enough Jailbreaking communities and softwares.

Windows Phone is more like an attempt from Microsoft to squeeze in their products into the market rather than creating a good mobile operating system. They actually just want people to use Bing, to use Windows and Zune for transferring your pictures to a computer (it's your problem if you use Linux as your OS or you cannot install Zune at the moment), to use Internet Explorer for browsing (everybody knows how bad IE family is), and to store their files in SkyDrive. In Windows Phone, these products are forced, rather than given as an option.

"Screw you if you want an easy and unbiased way to do the things you normally do in mobile phones" is the sad message from Microsoft about Windows Phone.

This is not an operating system, this is Microsoft's self-promoting system.

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