I have always been an outspoken BlackBerry fan. If it is not evident by my extreme BlackBerry usage, then it is by the crick in my neck. And if that isn’t enough, I will wear my BlackBerry cufflinks to drive the point home. My journey began with RIM in 2002 with the BlackBerry 957. It was a data-only device and it is a dinosaur, compared to today’s devices. Today I can be found attached to my BlackBerry Bold 2 9700, sporting the latest BlackBerry OS 6.
With that said, I will be the first person to try out the latest devices in the market, especially since I am responsible for the mobile team within our technology organization. In addition to all of the BlackBerry devices I have owned (including the recently released Torch, for which I am not a fan), I have had the iPhone, several Android devices (HTC EVO 4G, Motorola Droid, and Samsung Galaxy S – Captivate), and the new Windows Phone 7 phone, specifically the Samsung Focus. I am a pretty opinionated person and I haven’t hidden my thoughts about these devices. However, this most recent experience has urged me to do a little writing on the subject, specifically about Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OS, since it is at the top of mind.
First, I find it important to articulate what matters to me in a smartphone.
Battery Life – I require my device to carry me through a full day without requiring a charge. I don’t have time to tether my phone or tie it up to a wall socket for a charge. I want to go through the entire day without even thinking about running out of a battery.
Email Client – It’s not just about reading, writing, and responding to messages. There is so much more to an email client. I need to manage my Out of Office message, conduct advanced email searches, and quickly delete or “mark as read” messages in bulk fashion.
Shortcut Keys – I need to efficiently navigate my device. I know what I need; I want to perform an action as quickly as possible. For example, I desire the ability to forward or reply to an email with one press of a button, even without opening the message. Additionally, I want to open up an application via convenience, dedicated hardware, or shortcut keys in rapid fashion. I have shortcuts for everything I do on the device, including looking for emails in my inbox that are marked as “drafts” or opening up my browser. The amount of shortcuts I use would blow your mind.
Browser - I desire “tabbed” browsing with quick access to page information (e.g., current page address), link information (without following the link), and bookmarks. I also require the ability to conduct searches, using the search provider of my choice, and without navigating to their webpage first.
Text Input & Manipulation – At times, I will type full blown essays on my BlackBerry. I need a way to navigate through text quickly, copy and paste, and type at a fast pace without checking each and every word after typing. I also need spell check. (Oh, and by the way, I am typing this all on my BlackBerry, right now.)
Calendar - I need to have my calendar synced, with the ability to email those on the invite (you know, when I’m running late), with one key press. I also need to send invites and add people to existing appointments.
Address Book – Addition to being synced with the server address book, I need to perform remote address lookups for those not in my immediate contact list. I also need the ability to wire my address book with other apps on the device, such as Facebook and Twitter, to join picture information and other attributes.
Auto Text – It is amazing how much I lean on my auto text feature. It helps me crank out quick and proper messages in no time. For example, if I want to type out the word BlackBerry, I just type “bb” and my phone automatically converts to “BlackBerry,” proper case and all. Additionally, if I type “mynum,” my full cell phone number is automatically inserted. I have so many of these custom auto-text features configured – many of which contain special characters – it’s hard to think about a smartphone life without them.
Apps - I do not need 100 apps and I’m not a smartphone gamer. What I need are apps that will help me be more efficient and productive. For example, I want an app that allows me to update Facebook and Twitter at the same time, with minimal clicks. Also, I need the staple apps such as Google Maps, Voice, and Pandora.
Podcasts - I have been into podcasts lately and the ability to listen on-the-go via my phone is great. What is key is the ability to download to my phone (automatically) for offline listening at a later time.
Multitasking – I almost take this one for granted since this has been a staple of RIM’s for many years. I desire the ability to listen to the WSJ Morning Tech Briefing podcast while replying to an email or reviewing my schedule for the day. Sounds trivial, but don’t tell that to many of the OS developers out there.
Other - Almost no need to say, but I need a camera, GPS, Wi-Fi, and at least 3G speed. A keyboard is something I prefer, but Swype is pretty slick and could be a viable option; I enjoyed using with my Samsung Galaxy S.
So, that brings me to Windows Phone 7 (WP7). I had high hopes for the latest OS out of Redmond since their big “Reset.” I have had the luxury of using the Samsung Focus for the last week and I quickly stacked it up against my aforementioned desires. Let me state that I believe Microsoft is on the right track with this OS, but they suffer from some of the same fate as their competitors and it is also obvious that they pushed out this product rather quickly. What has been productionized works great. However, it is clear that several features were put onto the back burner for the first release due to time-to-market constraints. The good news is that there is already two rumored releases scheduled for early 2011.
Below I break my thoughts into two categories: The Basics & My Wish List.
For as much as the boys in the Pacific Northwest got right, they got as much wrong. There or some simple things I would expect out of any smartphone that just don’t exist within the WP7 OS. Some are probably simple oversights and some are major mistakes on the behalf of Microsoft.
Wi-Fi Configuration – One of the first things I did when I brought my phone home was attempt to connect to my home Wi-Fi network. In addition to wireless encryption, I also hide (i.e., don’t broadcast) my SSID. I was shocked to discover that you can’t manually connect to a wireless network via WP7. I had to broadcast my signal in order to get connected. Not a good start. Moreover, when I connect to a hotspot, I would like the option to automatically load my browser to authenticate. WP7 does not notify me that further authentication is required.
Global Address Lookup (GAL) - My company currently uses Exchange 2003 to power our corporate email. Upon sending one of my first emails, I ran into a very disturbing issue. There is a WP7 bug that prevented me from looking up account information remotely. Meaning, if I don’t have an email address memorized or in my local contacts, I can’t address an email. Considering they are touting product integration, I find it disappointing that Microsoft would make such a mistake. I need remote lookup on my Windows Phone 7!
Multitasking – As I mentioned previously, I require the ability to jump around often. I will often find myself checking email while I wait for a web page to load in the background, all with Pandora playing and my podcasts downloading for offline use. The power of this cannot be underestimated. Fortunately, Microsoft sees this need and it is rumored that they will address this need in January. I hope they get this right.
Email - I believe iPhone and Android fail greatly in this area. I had confidence that Microsoft could knock this one out of the park, due to their Exchange knowledge and products. However, the current rendition of the WP7 email client misses the mark. There is no Out of Office configuration capabilities, the rules I configure in Outlook (to move email around) don’t translate to the Windows Phone 7 OS, and it is missing advanced search capabilities. Overall, it is a basic email app.
Copy and Paste – Need I say more? Microsoft should have learned a lot from Apple’s faulure to deliver this capability with original OS versions. (However, when Apple did deliver it, in addition to “multitasking,” you would think it was a new concept.)
Mute Button – I often find myself participating in conference calls when I’m on the road. To minimize the background noise, and respect those on the other line, I keep myself on mute when I’m not speaking. I am in need of a physical convenience button that is easy to find and can be used to quickly mute and unmute myself during a call. Considering how often I use mute/unmute, I don’t enjoy pulling the WP7 device away from my face to perform this task.
Battery Life – As with other Super AMOLED and high res smartphones, the battery life falls short of my needs. I have no choice but to charge my phone at some point during the day. My schedule doesn’t lend itself well to this inconvenience.
My Wish List
Microsoft definitely got a handful of things right with this OS. Some of them require a bit more tweaking, however. Here is my wish list for the future:
People Integration – Microsoft nailed the “People Hub” feature, where you can “See What’s New” or “pin” people to the home screen. I’m impressed with the design and execution of this feature. Unfortunately, one can’t configure their Twitter account. I have read that it is due to a policy issue, but I am confident Microsoft can work something out. In addition to configuring Twitter, I would like a feature to update Twitter and Facebook at the same time, choosing the desired service(s) at post time. While we are at it, I would like to see LinkedIn incorporated into the People Hub, as well.
Customizing Live Titles – I love the “Live Tiles” idea. I would like to customize the tiles a bit more, choosing size, color, and even update options. For example, I pinned my wife’s profile to the home page and it will show her name and picture in a scrolling fashion. It will also flip through her latest Facebook status from time-to-time. I would like the ability to see that status more frequently, instead of waiting for it to scroll through.
Email Enhancements – I would really like to see a combined inbox so I don’t have to jump from application to application to connect to people. A text message is no different than a work message, which is no different than a personal email, for me. They all are conveying a message, just with unique content and under a different context. Also, I would like to see integration for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn messages for this combined inbox.
Podcasts - This is probably something that can be solved with an app, but I would like to see the ability to download podcasts for offline use. The options in the Marketplace today require me to download once I start playing (i.e., I’m dependent on a network connection to listen on demand). Additionally, the media player for WP7 could use some UI improvement, as it lacks some controls such as easy timeline scrolling.
Cloud Documents – I’m glad to hear the rumors that Microsoft will be introducing SkyDrive integration with their next release. I would also like to see Live Mesh features, such as the ability to browse another connected computer and pull up a remote document.
Overall, I believe Microsoft has a potential hit on their hands. Although I’m not a big gamer, I believe their Xbox Live integration will give them a unique edge in the market. I also know it is a matter of time until they enhance the product to a point where it evolves from a good OS to a great one.
I am a firm believer in the free market and I’m ecstatic about the options in the mobile space. RIM is fighting for their lives (I believe that they will come out well), Apple and Google are rolling (Apple finally caught up to RIM, matching their 27% smartphone market share), and Microsoft is the new (old) comer to the game. Of course there is still Symbian and webOS, but my money won’t be in their corners.
This is a very exciting time and I look forward to watching this battle play out. Who knows, someone may enter the market and change the rules of the game, as we saw with Apple several years back (who would have thought they would make a phone?).
Until then, Microsoft, the ball is in your court. Let’s see what you have with this next release and feel free to look me up if you want a beta tester.