Early this year, I decided to take a risk.
As a geek, I like to reward those in the industry that try to be bold. That try to be different. That try to leave the beaten path. That look at the norm in the market, and decide to ignore it. Despite all its flaws, Microsoft did just that with its Metro user interface, incarnations of which are used on both Windows Phone and Windows 8.
I was a Windows Phone user since day one. I bought an HTC HD7 somewhere around release day, and imported it into The Netherlands, a year before the platform became available in The Netherlands. I wanted to reward Microsoft's mobile team for trying to be different, for being original, for not copying iOS and Android and instead coming up with something fresh and unique. Despite all the limitations and early adopter issues, I loved it.
As such, it was a no-brainer for me to jump on the Windows Phone 8 train late last year. I bought an HTC 8X, and loved it again. The first worries did start to appear on the radar though - while WP8 now ran on the NT kernel instead of the CE kernel, there was little to no progress on the user-facing side. I gave Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, though, since I appreciated the complexities of moving from CE to NT, and recognised it as a future-proofing step.
Now, a year since I bought the HTC 8X, I have given up on the Windows Phone platform. Progress has been non-existent, and you don't have to take my word for that - even Microsoft's biggest Windows Phone partner, Nokia, agrees with me. Windows Phone 8 still has considerable issues with multitasking, applications not saving state, compatibility with Google services, low-quality applications that are clearly side-projects in between Android and iOS work, and so on.
In fact, other than performance improvements which partially stem from faster hardware, the differences between my HTC HD7 on release day and my HTC 8X now are minute. If you compare this to the platform to beat, it becomes clear just how slow development has been for Windows Phone. When Windows Phone 7 was originally released, Android was at version 2.2 Froyo. Let that sink in for a while.
So, as I said - I took a risk earlier this year. Still firmly in love with Windows Phone, I decided to buy a Surface RT. From the very beginning, I knew this was a huge gamble - Windows on a (for Windows) new architecture, with an entirely new userland running alongside the old-fashioned classic desktop. This had disaster written all over it, but with my own little company doing quite well, I have a little more spare cash lying around for geek indulgement.
The moment I started using the Surface RT, I knew Microsoft still had a long way to go. But, you know, Windows 8 was relatively new, and the application store still needed to fill up. The applications we did have were of abysmal quality, but we were told this wasn't because of any issues in Windows RT, WinRT, or the Metro stack - applications would surely improve quickly and the issues would iron themselves out.
During those first few months, using the Surface RT was an exercise in keyboard-snapping frustration. The lag. The slowness. The random bugs. The crashes. The memory leaks. The application hangs. The random disconnects between the Touch Cover and the device. Skype regularly hard-crashing the entire device. The input lag, where you start typing and it takes 15 seconds for the device to catch up. The total and utter lack of application updates.
It was so horrible that I simply put it away. Several months, I only used it for Skype, and that was it. It just was not a usable device.
But! There was a glimmer of hope rising on the horizon. A new version of Windows which would take us poor Surface RT owners by the hand and guide us to the promised land of smooth performance, great applications, no more crashes, no more hangs, no more unresponsiveness. It would be glorious, like a glitter-covered unicorn riding a rainbow made it out of tequila shots and Hello Kitty images, guided by the sound of Australian laughter.
So, when Windows 8.1 was finally released, I blew the dust off my Surface RT, anxiously awaiting the glitter-covered unicorn etc. etc. My first big surprise was that even after weeks of being turned off, there were no application updates (and I turned automatic updating off). I decided to ignore this, and proceeded to install Windows RT 8.1. My unicorn was on its way.
A week later, and she still isn't here.
Windows RT 8.1 did not revive my Surface RT. It's still the same useless piece of crap that it was when it ran Windows RT 8. Other than Microsoft's own applications, there have been no application updates. 'Window' resizing is still slow with black screens and application logos (if the application even supports it, which most do not). Typing still has input lag. The keyboard still often will not pop up when you tap an input field, forcing you to tap it multiple times. It's still unresponsive. It's still laggy. Applications still crash and hang. The embedded browser view is still awful to the point of uselessness. The list just goes on and on.
About 30 minutes ago, after using it intensively for a week, giving it yet another set of chances, I have decided to give up on my Surface RT, and by extension, Windows 8 and Metro. The Surface RT is simply a very bad product, barely worthy of the 'alpha' label, and while throwing more computing power at Windows RT might alleviate some of the performance issues, it will do little to address the endless list of other problems.
So, when I read Microsoft's PR boss Frank Shaw's blog post about Apple making iWork free, I cringed.
So, when I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don't see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch up.
I think they, like others, are waking up to the fact that we've built a better solution for people everywhere, who are getting things done from anywhere, and who don't have hard lines between their personal and professional lives. People who want a single, simple, affordable device with the power and flexibility to enhance and support their whole day.
This man has his head so far up his own ass he has absolutely no idea just how terrible the products he is spinning are compared to the competition. And, unlike him, I have no horse in this race. I gave my Surface RT, Windows 8, and Metro a fair chance - several of them, in fact - but the cold and harsh truth is that my cheap-ass, first-generation 8GB Nexus 7 running Android 4.3, bought in June 2012, is infinitely more useful, has far better applications, and has crazy better performance than the Surface RT.
The Surface proposition is intriguing. Sadly, the quality of the software is not. It's been 3.5 years since the release of the original iPad, and everything Microsoft has to show for itself is broken, crappy software that is entirely unpleasant to use.
Frankie, I'd take another look at iWork on the iPad.