After 6 months or so with the “Nokia Lumia”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/04/switching-to-the-nokia-lumia-900-for-a-while/, I’m back to the iPhone — the iPhone 5. The Lumia was nice looking hardware, but Nokia and MSFT’s orphaning of the handset annoyed me, and the device was pretty underpowered. The iPhone feels marvelously responsive in contrast. I have to say the IOS software is still pretty boring, still a sea of icons. But it is good to be back to a phone with a rich marketplace of apps.
Ok so I’ve had a chance to use the Lumia on an LTE network for most of a week here in LA.
The obvious good — data services are fast, it is hard to tell you are not on WiFi. This kind of speed is addictive, it is going to suck going back to slower nets in Seattle.
The downside — the battery drains fast. I was also using the phone a lot for nav so I’m not sure how much of my battery drain was due to LTE and how much for nav but the phone couldn’t last a day without recharge.
I also had to reboot the phone twice. Once, MSFT services quit working — bing search, Msft map app. Google worked fine, Nokia maps worked fine, but everything MSFT would just hang. Reboot fixed. (btw, the Nokia Maps app is much better than the MSFT maps app).
Secondly, at a location with so-so LTE service, where the phone kept dropping back to lesser data services and rates, the texting app hung. I could open it but could never type in text and the phone generally was unresponsive. Reboot fixed maybe but it may recur, the phone is feeling a little wonky again right now.
So how am I generally feeling about the device after a month+ of use?
* solid physical hardware, feels good and looks nice
* generally solid OS with some nice design touches
* some real problems with back button behavior. Most times the back button causes you to leave an app. Sometimes it causes you to go back in an app. And if you leave an app and then click on its home screen tile, the app restarts and forgets your place. So you have to learn to hold down the back button and use the task switch interface to get back in your app. This is all a pain in the ass. The back button shouldn’t sometimes quit and other times go back in an app. And reentering an app from the home tile shouldn’t forget where you are. Super annoying.
* solid 3rd party apps when they exist
* pathetic marketplace of apps — marketplace design and marketplace contents both are very poor
Until “my recent post assessing the Lumia”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/04/am-i-still-using-the-lumia/, I have never had a person in the last 5 years mention to me that they are listening to podcasts, nor have I seen a startup pitch mentioning them in the last several years.
Usually if something is in heavy use, I will bump into people talking about. But maybe there are people I don’t know doing this. Personally I don’t listen to talk radio, I listen to music — either my own, or off of spotify. But I’ve had comments on facebook, twitter, and here defending podcasts, so maybe I need to refresh my view of podcasts. Are people listening to a lot of podcasts? Are real humans (ie outside of the tech industry) listening to podcasts?
Whatever their use, I’ll stand by my view that putting podcasts on the first page of the marketplace is dumb — they don’t generate revenue. The whole first page of the marketplace is just a list of containers, this is even dumber. The first page should immediately present me buying offers — the special of the day/week; the hottest apps that I don’t have; the best recommendation for me based on what I already use. And then measure the hell out engagement and dynamically display new offers. Sure you need a “Browse” button in case people want to pore through the whole catalog but that is not the first thing I should see. This is not rocket science, take tips from the Apple App Store or the Steam Store or other leading app marketplaces.
2 weeks in and I can report many good things and some less than good.
* Hardware. The phone looks nice, feels solid, the AMOLED display is beautiful, the camera is fine, this is a quality piece of hardware. I certainly don’t feel bad in anyway about giving up my iPhone hardware. I’ll be in LA in a little while and have an LTE network to use it on, and at that point I may say that the Lumia hardware is definitely better.
* Hardware accessories. The lack of compatibility with existing iPhone earbud/mics, the paucity of other alternatives, this is a problem.
* The OS. Very solid, looks nice, has some real innovation. The ability to pin content to the homescreen and to see integrated photos/updates from my closest family members is nice. The core OS seems fine.
* Bundled apps — mail, calendar, maps, dialer, ie. Very much a mixed bag here. The apps feel like they need another iteration or two. My mail inboxes should be automatically combined. When I compose a new message, use my default mail system, don’t make me pick. IE has some repaint issues on drag/resize. Calendar lacks a week view. Contacts seems buggy/wonky at times — lost a picture for one contact, another contact is just impossible to find. The apps all look ok but they need another round of usability work.
* Marketplace. Too much real estate given to things that no one uses — podcasts, ATT, Nokia. No strong merchandising. MSFT really needs to ramp this up. Why doesn’t the first screen of the marketplace show me the most popular apps I don’t already have, and the best apps for me based on my existing apps? And podcasts? Seriously, am I missing something, is there a huge base of podcast users? Is WP trying to be #1 among the podcast crowd?
* 3rd party essentials — Evernote, Adobe Reader, WordPress, Facebook, Twitter clients, RSS, Amazon, etc. These are all there and they work fine, I can get my job done.
* 3rd party inessentials — games, photo apps, etc. A significant significant weakness area. No Instagram, but apps that are kind of like instagram. Very thin on the hottest games but clones that are like them. No Draw Something but a WP-only clone. Very very weak.
* Cloud. With no native Mac support, I can’t get too excited about Skydrive. No iTunes Match like syncing of music. I’m no big fan of iCloud either to be honest.
* Dev Tools. I’ve “written about this already”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/04/when-you-are-10x-behind-in-mobile-apps-your-tools-probably-ought-to-be-10x-better/, MSFT is not helping themselves at all — too hard to sign up for the program, too much VS crap to wade thru to just focus on phone development. I have created a few toy apps, the tools seem to work fine once you get there. Game development seems more complicated than it should since XBOX and WP development is commingled, this doesn’t feel like a wise commingling to me, but maybe some of the casual game writers love it.
OK so I net out with a decent phone and OS, but a lot of issues in all the surrounding pieces. I’m OK with the phone but it certainly seems like MSFT has to do much more to get to the strong #2 in the market, to be Pepsi to iPhone’s Coke. If you get one of these you won’t be unhappy, but there isn’t enough there to really compel anyone to switch from an iPhone or to get instead of an iPhone. And if the word on the street is true, that I won’t be able to update the Lumia to Windows 8, well, MSFT will kill any goodwill I have towards the phone.
As part of “my Windows Phone trial”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/04/switching-to-the-nokia-lumia-900-for-a-while/, I am going to dig into the developer tools. I’ve written a little throwaway iOS app, and i’ve written one with “Parse”:https://parse.com/ (super easy!). So I’d like to understand the experience of writing a Windows Phone app.
“App Hub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-us/home/getting_started seems to be the starting place. Like a lot of marketing-driven websites, there are a lot of words up here, and indices of more words, and pointers to more words. Not a lot of help for me to actually do something — Parse is a nice constrast, sample Parse code on the landing page and a signup button right on the first page which leads to a very simple signup. You can get developing with Parse in literally a minute; not so with App Hub.
Anyway, I followed the pointers and installed the “winphone sdk”:http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=27570. There are some words up here that talk about getting a Visual Studio Express edition and I am thinking, thank goodness, because VS is kind of a beast. Well I was wrong, I seem to have gotten a pretty significant chunk of VS with templates for all kinds of code projects. It actually took me a while to figure out where the templates were for winphone projects, and I actually found several, and couldn’t figure out which was the right one to start with. (I did have a version of VS installed a year ago and uninstalled it, but perhaps it left some residue behind which made my VS Express look more complicated)
So I figure I should “sign up with apphub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-US/home/membership and get a developer account assuming there will be some guidance on what to do next. Well apparently tho that is a hard thing to do. My credit card transaction keeps getting turned down with no explanation. Munging thru forums and trading email with apphub support has revealed that this is a common issue, there is something very off with the Microsoft billing system. People wait for days to get their account approved. I’ve been told I need to use IE9 to sign up, that I have to visit 5 different subdomains and make sure my account information is 100% consistent across all those, that I may just want to give up and try again with a new account. I’ve tried everything to no avail. Oh and the billing site is incredibly slow.
So I struggle on. I have email in to several people for help. But some broad prescriptive advice for MSFT at this point: When you are 10x behind in mobile apps and mobile app developers, you should probably aspire to have tools and a developer program that are 10x easier to use. Some specific ideas:
* Fix billing. I’d argue to get rid of it all together, let any damn fool in the developer program, MSFT needs developers. The billing system has clearly been poor for years, it needs some energy applied to it.
* Radically simplify VS. If what I am seeing is what all developers see, it is too much. Too many templates, frameworks, language choices, etc.
* Make the developer website more about doing, less about telling. Developers should be developing code in seconds and minutes, not hours. They can go munge thru detailed technical material later, get them up and running in a dev environment with sample code fast.
* Melding the above two ideas, look at something like “Cloud9”:http://c9.io/. Host a dev environment right on the site, require no download or install, let people start coding in seconds. Cloud storage of code so they can pick up their coding anywhere, a cloud-based testing environment (I’m sure some of our portfolio companies like “Skytap”:www.skytap.com would be happy to help). Make it dramatically easier to get a dev and test environment set up.
* Talk with the “Parse”:http://parse.com guys, they have figured out how to make it super easy to develop mobile apps, solving a lot of the backend issues that many developers don’t need to deal with.
This is just the beginning. I am sure MSFT has plenty of smart folks who have ideas. It is not a time to hold back, I’d look hard at bold steps to really change the playing field.
UPDATE: Some nice folks at MSFT helped me get this solved, but in a nonscalable way. Appreciate the help but doesn’t solve the problem for the mass market.
* PDFs. Adobe Reader downloads by default the first time you need it, and it seems to be solid, renders well, no obvious problems. I haven’t tried it on huge docs yet but happy so far. Check this one off.
* PDF annotations. There are many apps to view and annotate PDFs on iOS. I am not seeing an obvious choice on WP. I do have the Kindle app and so I guess I could pop them into that as I believe it supports annotations, but that seems convoluted. Is there another choice?
* Signing docs. This is totally lacking as near as I can tell. I can use the web interface of Docusign or Echosign but that is clumsy for an inbound email. Is there a solution?
* Evernote — the evernote app is great, so I have all my text notes. Check this one off too.
* and Boxfiles for Dropbox seems to work well, can fully navigate all my Dropbox content, edit notes. And I can view PPTX, DOCX, etc files. Check.
* As I’ve previously mentioned, I lack a good Markdown editor targetting Dropbox, there are a dozen of these on iOS. Any choices? Does the built-in boxfiles editor support Markdown? I mean of course yes is supports editing Markdown content since that is just regular text with some conventions, but will it render the content into HTML?
* Office Mobile is also on the phone and I can do some things with it — I can create new word docs and edit them, create new xl docs and edit them. I seem to not be able to create new PPTs but can view and edit existing. I can save docs to Skydrive, to the phone. And also to Office365 tho I don’t have an active account for that.
So part way there, some holes to fill. Probably really important to fill these for tablets since I would expect people to do even more document work on tablets.
Ok so I am 48 hours into my Windows Phone trial with the Nokia Lumia 900 and so far the experience is pretty good. I think most people would be pretty happy with the phone and experience.
There are some things done very well:
* Placing snippets of content on the home screen, not just apps. A specific note out of evernote, a mail folder, a contact — this is so right. I can get my kids, my spouse right on my home screen and have quick access to calling them, texting them, seeing fb updates, etc. I can get the Evernote for a current project right on the one screen. The phone experience becomes much more personal, this is way better than an unending grid of app icons.
* Cyclic panes within an app. I can just keep swiping to the right or left and see all options, they are not lists with fixed beginnings and ends. This is highly useful.
* Most of the apps I need are there. Evernote, Spotify, WordPress, ESPN, I’m really not feeling bad about the depth of the app catalog. Plenty of nice games. I do need a Markdown/Dropbox editor.
* The AMOLED display is beautiful.
Some things I am undecided on:
* I am always fumbling around trying to figure out which end is up. No obvious physical guide like the iPhone home button. Maybe I will get used to using the camera lens as a guide.
* Tango video calling but no Skype? And you can’t even find Skype in the marketplace but have to know the URL? I don’t mind having Tango preinstalled but c’mon, I need reasonable access to Skype.
* The UI for apps has less decoration (icons, menus, bars, buttons) but way more whitespace and big fonts than iOS. Looks a little nicer than iOS but no denser, I’m not sure it is any more productive.
And some things are Wrong:
* I am one of the 7 people that have Zune subscriptions, no OTA sync of my music subscriptions, I have to plug into my PC? Lame. Of course no one else on the planet will see this because they will all be using Spotify which seems to work fine.
* Linking inboxes or contacts. I had to got thru and link my inboxes so that I could see all my mail in one place (thanks Henry) and I had to link my contacts with facebook contacts so that I could see facebook and contact details in one place. This was a PITA and should be automagic. (iOS links mail automagically but not contacts and doesn’t even have the Facebook integration)
* Browser. When resizing and dragging content, lots of repaint issues. Lots. There needs to be some substantial work done on this.
* Search buttons. Permanent button always goes to bing. App specific button with the same graphic goes to app search. Does anything search my whole phone — ie search across email and contacts and music and apps?
* The app marketplace needs some serious merchandising work. First I have an App Highlights app which seems to showcase good apps but has no search function. So not very helpful. Then I have the Marketplace which gives up premier placement to Nokia and AT&T which they both squander. And first page placement given to podcasts, seriously??? There is no clear editorial guidance on great apps. This thing is kind of a mess.
* And the biggest problem — my existing Shure mic/headset doesn’t work, apparently you have to buy headsets specific to this phone? Seriously Nokia? This is so f$&ked up. You are light years behind in the market and so you decide not to work with all the existing 3rd party headphones? Thanks guys. Really making switching from iOS easy.
Ok I don’t want to finish on a downer. Again most people will find this to be a pretty good experience — the hardware feels solid, the software is easy on the eye, there are plenty of apps covering most needs.