Alvin Soon's Blog

Alvin Soon male Associate Features Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.

The Case of the (Not-So) Missing WP7 Apps

After being called out (and rightly so) for not giving Windows Phone 7 apps a fair try, I went back and lived another week with the OS, this time with apps recommended by our HardwareZone WP7 community. Have my opinions changed?

The Good

I still love how integrated Windows Phone 7 is. It lets me message my friends with integrated threads, even if they switch clients from SMS to Windows Live to Facebook Chat. I love how the Live Tiles update with new and relevant information. I love how Groups lets you group contacts into a Live Tile - I caught a last minute email from my dad only because I saw my family Live Tile update. I still love how coherent and elegant the entire operating system looks - especially considering that it came from Microsoft, a company not known for having beautiful design.

I discovered that there's two healthy to-do apps for GTD (Getting Things Done, a productivity workflow developed by David Allen) aficionados like myself: CleverToDo and GoGetter. I originally liked GoGetter's tiled home page, which reflects Windows Phone 7's Start page, but I couldn't get over the silly penguin logo (which they've since changed). I went with CleverToDo, which had a great updating Live Tile with a list of today's tasks.

CleverToDo is good enough that I could live with it as my trusted system if I ever switched to WP7, but it'd be a stretch to compare it with Omnifocus which I use on iOS. But then CleverToDo is US$4.99 while Omnifocus is US$19.99, so it'd be an unfair comparison as well.

The Bad

In general, I found that the few Windows Phone 7 apps I tried lacked the fit and finish typically found in iOS apps. Whatsapp for WP7 was buggier, it crashed a few times on me during my day to day use. Facebook for WP7 wasn't as rich as Facebook for iOS, although I have to say much of that was due to the massive upgrade the iOS Facebook app recently received (link points to the iPad upgrade, but many of the same upgrades found themselves into the iPhone app). Stacks for WP7 was a good replacement but not as great as the original Instapaper for iOS. Podcasts was also a good replacement podcast player for the Music app on iOS, but why did they have to make the icon and timeline so small?

But the real challenge for Windows Phone 7, I think, is how the OS' UI hasn't been designed to scale. If you take a look at the WP7 Start screen and a typical iOS home screen, you can see seven apps at a glance on WP7, 8 if you replace the a long rectangular tile with two smaller square apps. On iOS, you can see 20 apps at a glance, counting the launchbar apps, not counting expandable folders.

You can argue that Windows Phone 7's Live Tiles are better at notifications, and I agree that they are. But it's harder to get to large numbers of apps on WP7, and it's one reason why I think iOS works great as an app machine with phone, while WP7 is great as a phone with apps. Even the entire list of apps, which appear when you swipe to the right on WP7, only shows a total of 10 apps at a glance, and it's a long scroll down if you have a lot of apps installed (please Microsoft, can we have a scroll bar with WP7.6?).

The challenge with a minimalist design is that a fair amount of curation has to be done, since you're trying to do more with less. Live Tiles on the Start page are amazing for the amount of information they can convey in a small space, but if you try to add too many Tiles the Start page gets really long, really fast. A long, single column list looks pleasing and uncluttered, until you fill it up with one too many apps. This problem with scaling is something that Microsoft will have to tackle, and I look forward to how they solve it (or even if they think it's a problem).

Lessons Learned as a (Short) Windows Phone 7 User

It's more than uneven to compare Windows Phone 7's ecosystem, which has over 35,000 apps, with Apple's App Store, which has more than half a million. But it is what it is, and it's likely something a user will consider when shopping for a new phone.

For my part, I still find the selection of apps wanting but satisfactory after going a second round. For me, WP7's native abilities outshine anything that I can do with apps on the platform, and are strong enough reasons to consider the OS. It really is, as Microsoft's marketing tagline goes, a more social phone, with better notifications.

This experience has also nailed home just how personal not just a phone, but how apps are to people. Even on the same platform, one person's deeply loved app is another's wasted download. We love our apps not just for what they do, but also how they fit into our particular lifestyle. I can't live with Instapaper on iOS, but there are many iOS users who don't feel the same. So whomever wants to transit to another OS platform will have to look for the relevant apps they need to replace, and they won't have the same focus I did when I started using WP7.

Windows Phone 7 holds a lot of promise, but like the sad end of webOS shows, potential isn't enough to guarantee survival in the tough mobile markets. But now that Nokia is finally in the game with WP7 handsets shipping, with the Lumia 800 one of the best-looking mobile phones of the year, perhaps we'll see a stronger push for Windows Phone 7 in 2012.

All Reponses

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Just reontracted from M1, for 16GB Black. The seal is opened because of the need for new phone inspection. As such, I will reduce the price to $830 nett. No bargain please. Fast deal. I can provide you a photocopy of the receipt, with my personal details removed. Thanks.


So, is the only bad thing you highlight in "The Bad" section the display of homepage? That's not a very fair comparison, as the Home Page of WP7 with live tile offers much richer information on the apps that is important to you, while iOS only displays grid of apps with some number. Swiping to the left in WP7, user can see the list of apps and is able to filter by first alphabet. With all the folders etc, it can be difficult for user to find apps in iOS, so it can be bad thing too.

It's up to the preference of which UI user prefers, but WP7 home is definitely not "The Bad"..


I'll say,a pretty interface and a pretty much room for improvement.
Best feature is none other than the SMS-facebook-messenger integration. I'm willing to give it a go because of Windows phone's attractive interface look (Man are visual animals). Great potential to develop further and i hope it really does.

Microsoft better not let their wholehearted fans wait too long for the next update.


@Twisticles,

Man, this is a great discussion we're having.

I think that the live tiles are good at notifications, but not so good at conveying info. For example, the Me tile is great for telling me that someone mentioned me in a tweet, but it doesn't say exactly what that tweet is. I still have to click through to read it in full.

(Now, I can imagine if there's a WP7 has a notifications center like iOS, where you can see the entire tweet simply by pulling down on the screen, and combine it with live tiles, that could be an awesome user experience.)

I didn't know that if you exceeded 45 apps the letter menu would show up (I never exceeded that number you see). But don't you think that below that number the scroll bar is broken? I tried to manipulate it directly to take me down the screen faster, but the way the scroll bar works is that it only serves as an indicator, not a controller, of progress. Whenever I tapped the scroll bar the phone ended up registering me as tapping the app nearest.

I also think that WP7 could do something with the screen to the left of the Start screen. A search screen perhaps like iOS? :p

Anyway, these are small refinements that I'm sure WP7 will improve as time goes by. I would love to see it succeed, I think it has a compelling unique selling proposition. But the problem really isn't the OS, it's whether or not it can gain market traction enough to gain developer support the equal of, at least, Android.

This review of the Lumia 800 kind of echoes how I feel:

http://thenextweb.com/microsoft/2011/11/13/nokia-lumia-800-the-first-device-that-would-make-me-give-up-the-iphone/


@Alvin,

That's a nicely balanced article :)

Aboslutely agree that apps quality and quantity has some maturing to do, but the trajectory is greater than android and apple after a year in the market place.

Amount of available icons at a glance...I really don't feel that an app launcher of 20 apps is any comparison to the rich content of 8 live tiles. I think that is the point - with WP you won't actually have to launch any apps, because the information is simply there in front of you or a short (very fast, smooth and responsive) scroll down your live tiles.
And the apps list when you swipe right...don't you feel the scrolling is much faster than iPhone? Lets say you have 60 apps...thats three screens to get through on an iPhone, whereas its still a single, very fast scroll list in WP. On top of that, if you exceed 45 apps, you will get them sorted alphabetically - touch any letter and the alphabet pops up to take you directly to that section, much the same way you would search for a contact on WP. Very fast indeed :D

I am also not convinced about the richness of iPhone facebook experience. I love that my facebook messages get delivered to me in real-time and are integrated with my text messages from that contact, and I can message them directly from that stream. I love that in Pictures hub, all my facebook albums are simply there, without having to open facebook and navigate to the pictures section. Same with my contacts - I can see all their news and pictures in my contact card, without ever having to go near Facebook app. I honestly don't see what the iPhone facebook app offers that the WP app doesn't - the panoramic swipe in WP takes you to all the major screens in a split second. I honestly couldnt devise a simpler or quicker way of navigating on a handheld device!


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