Like most people, my mobile communications history can be split into two segments: before iphone and after iphone. I purchase a first generation iphone back in 2007, soon after it was released. I’m not typically an early adopter, but that device fit perfectly. At the time, I was traveling for work every week and needed a device that could not only help me stay in touch but also provide internet access and serve up music and videos while sitting for hours on the plane. It certainly made my previous Sony-Ericsson “smart phone” look pretty dumb.
Fast forward to 2013. I am now on my third iphone, a Verizon supported iphone 4. While I am still happy with the phone — a very capable device — I am not feeling any desire to upgrade to the iphone 5. Every day, it’s looking more and more like the rest of the mobile communications companies have finally caught up to Apple — and I’m sure some would even say “surpassed”. Last year, I decided that it’s time to finally start looking around to see if there’s a better fit out there.
Good question. After all, there are many reasons to stay right where I am:
- It’s a decent device and it works: a phone, media player, internet browser, email client… all right in my pocket.
- There’s all the apps: I already have invested a lot of money in apps. The selection is phenominal and some are conveniently shareable with my wife’s iphone (Grocery IQ, anyone?).
- No Learning Curve: I already know how to use it.
And there are more, of course. But there are also some compelling reasons NOT to stay:
- itunes: I do NOT like itunes. I find it clunky. It doesn’t handle large libraries very well. And I find the most recent version quite difficult to navigate.
- Stagnant innovation: I feel like Apple has really stalled in the innovation department. As I stated, I feel no draw towards upgrading to the iphone 5.
- Bored: Perhaps this is related to the previous point, but I just don’t get excited about my iphone anymore.
And there are more, but you get the picture.
Ok, so what’s next then?
Another good question. What am I looking for? This is probably the biggest question that I’ve been wrestling with lately. If iOS-based devices are out, then what remains? Answer: Android and Windows Phone 8. As I considered these two options, I decided quickly what is really important to me:
- Easy: I need a device that is easy to use. One of the things I always appreciated about the iphone is the ability to pick it up and figure it out. I want something that is equally as intuitive. Or better.
- Integrated: I want a device that easily fits into my existing digital landscape. Contacts, documents, email, media formats, applications. These are all things that I want to fit well together.
- Clean: I want a simple, clean interface. And I am not just referring to the device alone; I have the same expectations of the software component.
I did not have to deliberate much. I decided that that the best alternative to my iphone is a Windows Phone 8 device.
Windows Phone 8?! What’s that?!
Very funny. And also very ironic. Microsoft is no stranger to mobile computing. I won’t pretend to know the ENTIRE history, but it predates the PDA craze of the mid 90’s. Remember Palm? I had a Dell Axim which ran a mobile version of Windows back around 2001. While these devices pale in comparison to what we have today, one would think that Microsoft would have been well positioned to quickly release a competing product once Apple announced their iphone. But, ironically, Microsoft became somewhat of an underdog in recent years.
Today, Microsoft offers its Windows Phone 8 (WP8) mobile operating system. There are a number of reasons why I am excited about this platform, but first let me share with you a prediction that I made several years ago. Maybe it was more of a wishlist than a prediction. As Cloud Computing was being introduced several years ago I had a vision. I pictured a world in which my mobile devices (phone and tablet) integrated seamlessly with both my cloud storage as well as my documents sitting on my file server back at home. I imagined at any time, from any device, being able to open up a document on my tablet and having my changes propagate automatically. I dreamt of updating my personal resume sitting on my server by using my smarphone. I streamed movies and music from my server to my phone while sitting at the airport. I wanted an entire integrated landscape to help me manage and take advantage of my digital ecosystem.
Since then, I have been watching Microsoft slowly start to pull all of those pieces together. I am seeing that vision start to take shape:
- Microsoft purchases Skype: To me, this was big. MS has had their fair share of IM/Chat clients — Office Communicator, Windows Live Messenger, MSN Messenger, etc. But acquiring and integrating Skype into Windows and Windows Phone is brilliant.
- MS re-designs Hotmail: I had a Hotmail account about 12 years ago. I replaced it with Yahoo!, and then I replaced Yahoo! with Gmail. With the new redesign of Outlook.com, I am tempted to say that I may have reason to switch from Gmail. I can finally ditch the prying eyes of Google for a decent Microsoft offering. It looks and works great, which doesn’t hurt.
- Shared architecture between WP8 and Windows 8: I am not a software developer, but I have to imagine that a lot of pressure is off when a significant portion of the code which runs my desktop computer also runs my tablet and smartphone. I think this will pay dividends in the long run and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see similar moves from Apple and Google.
- SkyDrive/Live Office: SkyDrive is Microsoft’s answer to Google Docs and Google Drive. This cloud-based storage solution allows you to keep all your documents securely online and shared between devices. You can modify MS Office documents directly using the Live Office tools which put MS Excel, Word, and Powerpoint right in your web browser. I have read reviews suggesting the integration to mobile devices is strong.
- Bing: While I tend to keep my Google search within arms reach, I’ve actually taken a liking to some of Bing‘s search offerings. I won’t go into details, but MS has been heavily investing in Bing and it shows.
- XBOX Integration: I do not ‘game’ very often, but when I do I prefer XBOX. I know that there are plans to tightly integrate XBOX functionality across all platforms, but will have to keep my eye open for details.
Is MS the only one in town with these types of services. No. Absolutely not. I’ve lightly used Google Docs for several years and find it fairly usable. But it’s the integration that has me excited about the prospect of a MS-based landscape.
How about the Hardware?
I want to get a Windows Phone 8 device without feeling like I am taking a step backwards from my iphone 4. To date, I feel that the WP8 offerings have been a bit shy of my expectations. But I am particularly intrigued by Nokia’s new Lumia 928. First off, it’s on Verizon’s network which is a must; I will not be lured back to AT&T. All signs suggest the 928 is a Tier 1 device making it an adequate step up from my iphone 4.
Are you worried at all?
I do have a few concerns:
- Apps: “There’s an app for that” truly sums up the reality of Apple’s App Store. If there is a new app out there, it’s almost certain to be on iOS first. I have already identified several missing from the WP8 apps list: an app from my preferred bank, Sim City, and Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app to name a few. But I’m also surprised to find several more obscure ones that are available: Fly Delta, OpenTable, WordPress, Shazam, LinkedIn and DirecTV.
- Storage: The Lumia 928 and my iphone 4 both have 32gb of storage, so while I’m not REALLY worried about this I wish there were more options available — either additional storage options or a microSD card.
- The Fun Factor: I think that I am enough of a nerd to enjoy the prospect of opening up a brand new gadget and tailoring it to my needs. But will WP8 provide enough of a ‘fun factor’ to keep me interested in the long term?
Let’s wrap this thing up, shall we?
Fine. It is getting a bit long. The Lumia 928 is out this week (May 16th) but I am only eligible for my Verizon upgrade in a month’s time. That is probably a good thing. In the meantime, I’ll continue my comparisons and hopefully read a few actual reviews of the 928 to help confirm my decision.