Dont be a clone, be different.

It’s been roughly a week or so now since I got my Windows Phone 8 iPhone clone – I mean, Nokia Lumia 920 (it was a joke, relax). The phone itself is quite large, and that for me isn’t an issue except I find my thumbs don’t get as much surface coverage on either side of the phone. The battery life on the phone is nice but the overall user experience within the phone drives me mad. The camera for instance was annoying because when it came to take a photo I had forgotten I had the setting on close up, so when I took my shot of choice it came out blurry.  It took a while for me to remember that the setting was changed as there was no visual indication that the said phone was in a particular setting – as if having an icon on display all the time was a failure Nokia wouldn’t tolerate (you failed me Nokia) There are a lot of other settings that also drive me crazy and I could list the postives & negatives all day (Still trying to sort through my emotions on whether this phone will last or go).  However, the one and most crucial thing of all that I dislike about the experience is the App Store clones. What I mean to say is, despite the various ups & downs that come with having the actual phone – which I can live with – the one piece to this equation is just how immature and terrible the applications that you have on offer are within the Microsoft store. It's like all the other kids (iPhone/Android) are riding dirtbikes but your parents give you  a new bmx bike (Windows Phone 8) with a fake muffler attached. I’m struggling even as I type this to come up with some examples of great apps, the ones you cannot live without. The only application that I find actually useful and fairly well designed was Skype. I found Twitter apps to be half-done, broken, prone to “an error has occurred” status messages or the worse offender of all – the official Facebook app (which feels like it was written by a first year programming intern). These are really two applications that a smartphone today must own in terms of unique experience, as these i'd argue are probably the most frequently used outside email (would it kill the design team to use "bold" font to indicate unread emails btw?? and text messaging + threads... really.. threads? what is this a texting forum?). There is much I’d tolerate about owning this phone but looking at my iPhone apps that are sitting idle and then staring at my Windows Phone I can’t but help develop buyer’s remorse at the moment. I miss my instagram, twitter, flipboard, facebook (yes even iPhone Facebook app), games,  XBMC remote, ANZ Bank and the list goes on and on. There are really only two applications within the Windows Phone 8 market place that stand out for me – Qantas and ZARA.  The Qantas app is still a bit flat but it looks different enough to give it a pass whilst the ZARA app (Fashion) looks quality elegant / tastefully done – even though I have zero use for it but can appreciate its design. My underlying point is this. I want to keep using this phone, I want to get off the iPhone crack and try new things but if you keep rinse & repeating the same stupid template driven applications whilst touting “I’m being authentically digital” then you in turn are killing yourselves more than my experience. If this phone has a chance of success it’s going to come down to development teams engaging a designer and throwing out the Windows Phone 8 “Design Guidelines” by Microsoft. Microsoft have not a consistent coherent clue as to what good design is and have consistently shown they themselves can’t even lock onto the concept of what good design is. They rely heavily on design agencies, contractors and partners to do the majority of the actual design for solutions they “make”. There are currently 90+ designers on the Windows Phone 8 “team” and I ask a simple question – What the f**K are you all doing? You’re not helping the community & marketplace that’s for sure. So please hire a designer today.

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  • Rob P.

    Totally agree. Recently switched to android from windows. While I really prefer the Windows UI, now that I see what a broad selection of quality apps are on android, I really can’t go back.its not just # of s, it’s the low quality bar on win phone apps… I keep hoping the apps will get better and I can go back in a year or so…

  • bryanrmorris

    I’ve been using an HTC WP7 for almost two years and am looking forward to upgrading to WP8 when my contract is up and Sprint gets its head out of its ass. You should take a look at CNN’s new WP app, they really did it right. I’m a software developer, by the way.

  • AS147

    Ok so many/most WP apps are lightweight crap in your opinion and there are lots of apps you would like to have that are missing. In terms of missing apps I have no doubt and MS has stated as much that they will come.

    In terms of lightweight apps I wonder whether this is specific to WP or whether this applies to a huge derth of the apps in the stores of the other popular eco systems?

    I have used all three platforms and have to say that whilst some are well written they are generally the exception rather than the rule. This is pure economics. Considering most apps won’t make the money invested many people are either enthusiasts which results in many apps not being updated/maintained (a huge pain in he rear for me) or designing to a budget which in this micro transactional age stands little chance of being enough to produce quality.

    If we didn’t start down the mindless 99c per app path and actually paid a decent amount for what would be even richer and better written apps, there would be less junk clogging up the system and we would measure output based on quality and not the mindless number of apps race to the top.

    I realise that you have an issue about metro and for arguments sake (because I disagree with you) lets put that to one side.

    So considering WP is less mature than the rest is it really that much different?

  • Yes. I can deal with metro and when its done (ie ZAR / Qantas) it actually looks nice. You can get behind the “Why” it was selected in the first place. What I am seeing though is lots of “function” and not “form” in app development. That is to say its very developer centric at the moment & it clearly shows.

    I also dont subscribe to “Well all the other platforms are doing it..” mentality either. The other platforms suck as well, they are just more popular at it so that in turn creates a huge opportunity for differentiation and innovation. I think in general right now we’re all suffering form an App mediocrity blitz but the iPhone/Androids aslo hide it better.

    I think given the simplicity of the Win8/Wp8 SDK’s ..there’s abs no freaking reason why designer/developer collabs can’t do better at it.

    eg – took me around 40mins to design & code.. with random clouds and shit… bleh to the “look i did File->New->Template->Ship” Quality bands for Windows Store.

  • AS147

    We are in agreement that mediocrity is rampant across platforms and popularity of platforms is no excuse. In fact popularity should drive maturity but this focus on cookie cut code dumping is detrimental to good design.

    I am not a developer but always wondered how challenging it would be to become a mobile app developer so thanks for the video and I will look at that when I get back to base.

  • MSFT paid a lot of “key” application developers here in Norway to make a WP7 application. None of them has been kept up to date. The Spotify, Twitter and Facebook applications are, as you say, like having a phone with a shit sms functionality. If a phone previously had poor sms capabilities, or a crap email system, it would get a poor rating. WP7&8 devices are ranked mainly on hardware and design.

    I still think that the whole notion of Metro is a huge mistake. There is no or little navigation hierarchy. If you open up an application sub-function from a tile pinned to the homescreen, and you get into that specific page, there is usually no way to get to the home screen of the app. For example, if I start the “national mail” app by pressing a tile that is a parcel that I’m tracking, I enter the page of the app with information about the parcel. However, if I wish to search for an adress for a postal office, which this app is capable of, I have to return to the start screen and start the “main” part of the application. There are tons of theese stupid examples in windows phone applications, basic basic errors that are made.

    I actually think there is “not enough chrome” to Metro. No way of separating things without using empty space, no way to tell apart what is pressable text and not, and … the worst of all … the circular graphics. Using circular buttons on low-res screens is not a good option. The icons are hard to read, and you often have to lift the menu to see 4 lines of pixels where the text reveals what it’s for. The iPhone “wastes” this space, but for a good reason.

    Also the settings menu is a good example. On iphone it’s possible to switch of or off the airplanemode from the 1st settings menu by swiping a switch back or forth. Due to the panoramic design of windows phone this isn’t possible, so you have to enter the setting by pressing airplane mode, and you are presented only with one option, to turn on or off with the same switch you did not have to press anything to reach on the iphone.

    There are ton’s of similar failures on WP, both in terms of hierarchy, navigation, graphics, logics and you name it. Some of theese errors have transferred to W8, but here it’s going to be rescued.

    The best UI of Windows Phone 7 is the dialer. It’s clear what is pressable, and when you press a number, it’s not confirmed by the number tilting 0,5 degrees into the screen, but by the backgroundcolour changing altogether. It’s a well thought out UI.

    My bet : Windows Phone will be ditched altogether, and W9 will be on phones aswell.

  • gyurisc

    I totally agree with you that the apps are uniform looking – someone called them cookie cutter apps, which is spot in. I would love to hear your opinion how a windows phone developer can differentiate an app?

  • Finally something that is good to read on the Internet, Cheers!

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  • kevan

    For me, the Metro design is a big problem: it’s uninspiring. Yes, I get the fact that it’s meant to be clean and crisp and simple but actually it’s boring. The 2-dimensional look lacks depth and texture and those things are very engaging to users. Not only that but the large amount of black gives a soulless feel to the phone. I get that Microsoft wanted to differentiate themselves from iPhone and Android and they succeeded in that but not in a positive way.