It had to be said. It had to be said because no one else in the technology industry had the guts to say it. “I think it’s time to stop giving Windows Phone a pass.” Thanks, Joshua Topolsky. He’s right. A few weeks ago I went back to my HTC HD7 for a few days while I was getting acquainted with the Android ROM scene, and to my utter surprise, most of my problems with Windows Phone 7 from when the platform was just released were still there.
Topolsky made the remark in his review of the Nokia Lumia 900, the Finnish company’s big re-entry into the American smartphone market. Of course, it’s not only Nokia’s big re-entry, but almost Microsoft’s big one as well. So, while Topolsky praised the beautiful industrial design of the Lumia 900 and its build quality, the software was lacking.
“Let me just put this bluntly: I think it’s time to stop giving Windows Phone a pass,” Topolsky stated, “I think it’s time to stop talking about how beautifully designed it is, and what a departure it’s been for Microsoft, and how hard the company is working to add features. I am very aware of the hard work and dedication Microsoft has put into this platform, but at the end of the day, Windows Phone is just not as competitive with iOS and Android as it should be right now.”
One of my biggest gripes with the platform when I got my HTC HD7 almost 18 months ago was scrolling in third party applications. It was slow, jittery, skipped frames; it was terrible compared to what I was used to at the time (iOS on a 3GS). The stock applications from Microsoft were mostly fine, but third party applications were horrible.
So, when I turned on my HD7 a few weeks ago after months and months of being turned off, I saw a load of application updates waiting to be installed, assuming these updates would fix the issue. Sadly, I was mistaken – the same problem persists to this very day, almost two years after the platform’s dÃ©but. You can’t blame this on developers – this goes deeper.
Then there’s Internet Explorer – it still sucks, with wonky rendering and speed issues. Windows Phone 7’s variant of My First Multitaskingâ„¢ is even clunkier than what you get on iOS, with applications regularly loading up fresh instead of reloading state. There’s still a serious lack of not just applications, but of quality applications, probably a result of the rather strange design language which underlies the operating system. My personal pet peeve with Windows Phone is how network traffic seems to bring applications – Microsoft’s or third parties’ – down to a grinding stutter.
Of course, iOS and Android have their strengths and weaknesses too (where their strengths usually follow from their weaknesses, and vice versa), but at least these two get the basic stuff right. Quality applications, good performance and responsiveness, good emailing experience, and top-notch browsers. Even after almost two years, Windows Phone still fails at these basic things.
This is a major problem, because other than a fascinating design, Windows Phone in and of itself has little going for it compared to its competition. When you’re small, like Windows Phone, you have to have some sort of stand-out feature or characteristic that sets you apart, to carve out a niche for yourself and attract the right crowd to work from. Windows Phone fails to do so.
Linux on the desktop (worn-out phrase is worn-out) is a perfect example of this. Despite its relative small userbase, it’s become as good and capable as it is because it has one thing no other contender really has – namely that, unlike Windows or Mac OS X, Linux is actually yours. This is Linux’ defining characteristic, and ensures a steady rate of improvement and influx of fresh blood into both the userbase and the developer base.
“I think it’s time to stop giving Windows Phone a pass.” This phrase sums up exactly what’s wrong with Windows Phone 7. I’ve been clear in the past: I love Windows Phone 7. I love its uniqueness, its design, its underlying ideas and paradigms. However, while I’m more than willing to give new platforms a free pass on certain things, the honeymoon has to end. At some point, a platform is no longer new, and has to stand on its own two legs – especially when that platform comes from one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies.
We’ve reached this point, it would seem. The Lumia represents the best of the best of the Windows Phone world, and it simply doesn’t stack up to the competition. The combined financial and human resources of Microsoft and Nokia have been unable to deliver a platform that can measure up to the competition when the training wheels are off.
Topolsky got a lot of flak for it both on The Verge’s comments and on Twitter, but he has it exactly right.