Updated: 5/1: I Love Windows Phone 8.1, but I Can’t Use It

A few weeks ago I did a quick review of my first two weeks with the Lumia 1520.   In the weeks since a lot has happened with Windows Phone including the release of Windows Phone 8.1 to developers.  So what has changed? How does Windows 8.1 change Windows Phone? The big new features that came with Windows Phone 8.1 are the Action Center, which is Microsoft’s answer to Android and iOS’s notification center, and the voice assistant named Cortana.  Both new features are really well done.  Action Center gives you that central place for all of your notifications, and at the same time gives you quick access to certain settings.   Cortana has taken parts of both Siri and Google Now, and has created a really nice voice assistant.  At this point I would say it is the best iteration of this feature that we have seen from any company.  It allows you as the user to setup the information you want Cortana to follow, whether a certain news topic or your favorite sports team.  Like Google Now, Cortana will use places like your home and work to let you know when to leave for events and how far you are from those places.  It also makes tasks like setting your alarm just a quick sentence away.


Action Center in action!

For in depth reviews of what is new with Windows Phone 8.1, go over to Paul Thurrott’s Supersite For Windows at www.winsupersite.com where he is going over each feature .

Overall I am really impressed with what Microsoft has done with Windows Phone.  They have created a top class mobile operating system that is ready for the big time, but now more than ever they need the help of apps and app developers which brings me to my next point.  As much as I love my Lumia 1520 running Windows Phone 8.1, I can’t carry it with me as my main device. I went all in with the 1520, I was going to make this relationship work.  In the end I just found myself missing out on many things that I needed on a daily basis.  I will start just on the productivity front.  There are certain apps and services I need.  Many of them are not available on Windows Phone, and even those that do exist are in a half baked manner.  I will use Box for example.  There is an app for Box, but it is missing many of the core features.  Document collaboration is one of the major features of the service, and it does not exist.   Then there are the social apps we all use on a daily basis.  There are apps for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc on the platform.  However, in each and every case the Windows Phone version is light years behind their counterparts on Android and iOS.  I am even using the Twitter Beta that was built specifically for 8.1, and I feel like I am using a Twitter app from 2009.  Entertainment and sports apps? One of the apps I use most is Watch ESPN which is not available, and again even when an app is available like the NBC Live Extra app it does not work.  Last night while recording the latest edition of the “Surface Geeks” Podcast I wanted to have the NHL playoffs on my phone.  I took  out the 1520, and all I got were errors and crashes.  So I turned on the Moto X, and within seconds my Live Extra app had the game streaming without any issues.   That is why when I leave the house the only phone I take with me is Moto X running Android.  I can find ways to deal with the less than par social apps and entertainment apps, however the productivity apps I can’t do that with.  This is the real reason I carry my phone at all times, and not something most people are willing to give up. We always hear about the “app gap” and Microsoft truthfully tells us that the gap has closed.  However, the quality of apps being put on the platform are just not good enough.  I am not a developer so I don’t know if the issue is the apps themselves, or something in the OS that it makes it hard to develop for.  Either way, as an end-user this needs to change.  At this point I am very happy that Microsoft is making their services available everywhere.  I will continue to enjoy all of them on other devices. I look forward to revisiting this again in a few months to see what has changed.

Updated: May 1, 2015

Thank you for the comments below, and I love the passion so many have for Windows Phone and technology as a whole.  That said, there are common themes throughout the comments that I just can’t agree with.  That theme is to only use and support apps that support Windows Phone, that I should only use Microsoft services so my Windows Phone works better for me, and there are third party apps for many things.

Let me start with the first two since they are very similar.  I tell clients, friends, and even myself to use the best service or software for a given task.  I am not about to switch services that work for me in order to carry a phone.  While I enjoy the UI of Windows Phone, and many things it offers the main goal of my phone is as a tool to get work done.  I am not about to start telling those I work with that they need to drop their Box service or Dropbox so I can keep carrying a phone.  I really like keeping my world in many different platforms.  At this point Windows Phone is the worst for that scenario.  Both iOS and Android have apps from all the major vendors, including Microsoft.  I have a full section of Microsoft Apps on my MotoX, and they all work flawlessly.  On that same phone I can use all the functionality of Box while enjoying the Asana service.

On the last comment I saw that I can use third party apps.  For some fun stuff like Four Square and Instagram, i don’t mind using a third party app.  That said, there is no way I am going to use a third party Dropbox app that has access to my data or client data.  Whatever you think about online services, Dropbox and others have very clear terms of service you can read on their websites.  Who is making third party apps, and what happens to that data is never as clear.  While I am sure things would be fine most of the time, that is a risk I am not willing to take.

Again, I reiterate my love for the Lumia 1520 hardware and the 8.1 upgrade.  That said, the problems I lay out here is the reason Windows Phone is struggling.  Whatever momentum they did have late last year seems has stagnated according to the latest usage reports.

  • JimmyFal

    “I am not a developer so I don’t know if the issue is the apps themselves, or something in the OS that it makes it hard to develop for. ”

    But you are a well know Podcaster and slightly lesser known Blogger. These are exactly the subjects we as users and listeners want to see highlighted both on the Podcast and in the Blog. There has to be a reasons and good reasons.

    • Darren

      I am going to try and get a developer on the podcast to discuss this!

      • JimmyFal

        I’d like to know if Xamarin has the capability to create these hard core apps, AND publish to all 3 platforms at nearly the same time. This would obviously be a huge deal, but no one has been overly clear on this point. Thanks.

  • AnthonyF

    Nice write up, I agree with your summary that we need more quality apps on Windows Phone before it can compete head-on with Android or iPhone.
    However I do feel that some of the points raised need some defense.

    For example the Box App. If you were going ‘all in’ on Windows Phone, wouldn’t OneDrive and Office have made more sense?
    I, too, use multiple handsets (as a technical consultant I need to be familiar with all the mobile platforms) but when I’m using Android Devices I use Google services. I expect them to be superior to 3rd party ones. Likewise when I use Windows Phone I try to stick to Microsoft services as they are likely to be the best experience on that platform.

    As for some of the other Apps you mention, Windows Phone 8.1 is a Preview and as such many apps have not yet been updated to work on the new OS.
    I suspect that’s the reason for the crashing you are seeing, I too am experiencing issues with some apps. But as an early adopter I realize this is the price we pay to use beta products.

    Granted Twitter is pretty poor app, but ‘Tweet It!’ is a nice alternative. I miss Google Hangouts on Windows Phone, but Skype works just fine.
    I’m not saying everything is ‘rosey’ on windows phone (far from it), but I do believe that most ‘normal’ users would find it perfectly acceptable and not as ‘lacking’ as many of us in the Tech industry would have them believe.

    My job requires that I support many clients who run everything from Blackberry through Linux to OS X and Office 365.
    IMHO only the combination of Windows & Windows Phone provides me the productivity I need to support them all (without fail) on a daily basis.

    Thanks again, keep up the great work.

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  • sil

    You are mostly mentioning apps from big companies such as Box, Twitter, NHL and unfortunately they probably won’t care as long as Windows Phone hasn’t a bigger market share, which it won’t because of the lack of quality apps.
    The question is, would you be willing to pay for say a (very good) twitter client from a 3rd party?

    • Darren

      I have paid for 3rd party twitter clients in the past, and have no problem doing so in the future. I paid for and enjoy Tweetium on Windows 8 (hope it comes to phone soon), and use a 3rd party on Android as well. Apps like Box however I would not use a 3rd party as it contains information that you don’t want in the hands of the wrong person.

  • Ken Stark

    I feel your pain Darren but Windows Phone still has too many advantages over Android/iOS, especially with 8.1, to go to one of those devices. I think its time people who love Windows & Windows Phone stop waiting for developers to support it then stop using their products on other platforms and letting them know about it. There are a handful of apps I still REALLY want on Windows Phone (Pocket, Medscape, Vudu) but instead of throwing in the towel and using what I believe to be an inferior OS for my needs, I use alternative services or work arounds then I regularly contact the companies I need apps for to let them know I need them. If all the people who were “waiting” for apps to come around for Windows Phones would just buy them and then let 3rd party services know they need the apps we wouldn’t have this app problem. Watch ESPN is on Windows 8 now so will only be a matter of time before its on Windows Phone (I use a Slingbox on Windows Phone and it works great) and universal apps are going to fix this app gap. Also complaining about app stability on a preview OS just seems unwarranted unless its directed at the developer. As far a app features go its the same story, contact the developers/companies and let them know if they want your business you need the new features. Just my thoughts.