What Windows Phone Needs

Tumblr user nugnug provides an excellent list of the core “what’s missing” in Windows Phone right now and that will continue being absent after the 7.8 update:

  • rotation lock – I surf the net when I’m lying down. Everyone does. This is such an important feature and yet, where the hell is it?
  • screen capture – I can’t take screenshots on my phone! What is this!? How can I blackmail people and post the stupid things they say on Facebook?
  • customized sounds for messaging, etc. – We can customize our ringtones, so why not the rest?
  • notification center – This ain’t happening. I already know this cause they didn’t have time to make it. Lame.
  • separate volume controls for phone sounds and media – I want to listen to music at a really low volume but that means I won’t be able to hear my phone ring. A dilemma that can be easily rectified.
  • the forward button and “find on page” function in IE – there’s a java fix someone else kindly made, but there shouldn’t be a need. It’s a basic function that should be included in all internet browsers.
  • Wifi turns off when in sleep mode – the biggest reason why my whatsapp messages arrive hours later is because my phone, which relies on only Wifi when I’m at home, turns off Wifi when it goes to sleep. Ugh.
  • multi selection – let me delete multiple photos on my phone at a time. PLZZ.
  • editing the dictionary – there are some words I made up, I would like to delete please.
  • improvements in the calendar – by far the most used section of my phone, it holds all my schedules and Facebook events and works seamlessly. So why not build on it? Include a weekly view, allow me to change colours on some of my personal entries.
  • automatic sleep mode – not too fussy, but this would be really cool. If I set a time e.g. from 11pm to 8am, my phone will sleep between those hours and I won’t get any notifications between those times.
  • closing apps from the multitasking view – not too important

I have to admit that some of the items aren’t top of mind for me: I don’t really care about the sleep mode, don’t see the point of closing apps from the multitasking view, and am not interested in bluetooth sharing. That said, every other suggestion is much, much needed.

I would also add to the list that scrolling in the 7.8 update needs to change; in the older version 1 Windows Phones scrolling would accelerate the more your scrolled up or down, whereas the current generation of 7.5 phones feature a static scrolling rate. This speed simply feels slower than earlier – and less capable – hardware and software iterations of Windows Phone.


A Populist Critique of “Ladyphones”

Casey Johnston, over at Ars Technica, has a two-pager complaining about how tech companies design and market so-called “Ladyphones.” It’s a quick read that picks up on earlier critiques about how certain colours, and reduced technical capabilities, are associated with derogatory gender perceptions.

That said, there are at least two elements of her piece that fall short to my mind: her analysis of the BlackBerry Pearl and of the LG Windows Phone.

Johnston argues that the BlackBerry Pearl was a device marketed for women, and emphasizes the device’s high costs and pink colouration in the UK as an example of trying to extract more money from a female demographic than would be extracted from a male demographic. She also cites the Pearl’s bizarre keyboard format and limited technical specifications to further reinforce her thesis that manufactures sell second-rate products to the female market.

As someone who owned an original Pearl 8100 I don’t know how fair her critique of RIM’s product is. Pearls were RIM’s attempt to get into the consumer market generally, with the position that a full-sized keyboard was intimidating and offsetting to male and female consumers alike. Moreover, the sizes of RIM’s other smartphones at the time – designed pre-iPhone, let’s not forget! – were offsetting to most regular, non-business, consumers.

The Pearl tried to find a balance between size, consumer market expectations, and traditional BlackBerry functionality. It was also comparatively cheaper than most other smartphones at the time (and, I would note, cheaper than the popular Motorola RAZER phones), though RIM and its carrier partners haven’t necessarily reduced the costs of the phone appropriately in all regional markets. Original colours lacked pink entirely: you could buy them in black or red. New colouring – and targeting – towards particular market segments is arguably more the result of an expanded smartphone market than anything else.

I would note than Johnston is far more generous towards RIM’s marketing and branding departments than, well, any other journalist that I’ve previously read. Her assumption that RIM was so forward thinking as to brand a consumer device ‘Pearl’ to target women is massively overestimating RIM’s (traditionally very, very, very, very poor) marketing and branding departments. Finally, the technical specs of RIM’s devices are criticized from all corners, regardless of the colour or class of device (i.e. Pearl, Curve, Torch, Bold, etc), and regardless of whether the device is targeted at professional, prosumer, or consumer markets.

The other issue with the article is her analysis of the LG Windows Phone. What she’s dead right on: LG ‘partnered’ with Jill Sander to inflate the device’s cost and try to make it appeal to a certain market segment. Yep, that’s attempting to sell a device to consumers interested in or intrigued by Sander’s line of products. Where Johnston is wrong, however, is in her effort to equate low-speced Windows Phones with high cost phones.

Unlike Android and iPhone, Microsoft’s mobile phones almost universally have poor technical specifications compared to the competition. That said, Microsoft has tweaked their devices such that the specifications really don’t matter: you get excellent performance in spite of the device using older tech. As such, I don’t really think that the technical critique rings terribly true – women aren’t expected to purchase crappy Windows phones any differently then men are – though I certainly agree around the ‘branding’ of the LG device to unnecessarily inflate costs and attract a dominantly female market.

Anyways: go read the piece and develop your own opinion. Despite my two bones to pick with her evidence I think that the thesis holds and is well supported. She’s created a piece that’s short and critical, if not as deep or as powerful a critique as I’d have liked. Hopefully we see more tech sites – and mainstream news sources! – similarly take companies to task for their attempts to sell second-rate, unnecessarily gendered, products to women.

Stupid Problem with BlackBerry Data

I use my mobile phones a lot and most batteries just barely last me through a day on a single charge. With my iPhone and Windows Phone, when the batteries are almost exhausted, various functions (including radios) are disabled to make the last bit of juice last as long as possible. My BlackBerry does the same thing.

I’m fine with this.

What’s I’m not fine with is the following: once I charge the BlackBerry and the radios are re-activated, I have to pull the battery and fully reboot the device to get access to the various services that course through the BIS. If I don’t pull the battery, I get a warning that my plan doesn’t cover data services and thus I cannot access the phone’s various Internet-related functions. On the face of things, it seems that after charging the device, RIM’s software fails to indicate to their network infrastructure that I have a data plan and thus can access the BIS.

Needless to say, this is absurd.

I cannot believe that I’m the only person running into this and regardless of whether the problem is with my particular carrier, or the device, it isn’t something that I should ever experience. These are the kinds of problems that should be sorted out well before a device is put in the consumer’s hands.

A Comment on GPS and Smartphones

There are a great number of concerns around GPS chips being integrated into smartphones; surveillance, third-party tracking, and profiling (to say nothing of bad results!) are all issues that technologists ‘in the know’ warn of. I don’t want to talk about any of these issues.

No, I want to say this: of the smartphones that I’ve used in the past 6 months (iPhone 3GS, Samsung Focus, BlackBerry Bold 9900, BlackBerry Torch 9800) the BlackBerry devices have the most reliable, accurate, and speedy GPS functionality. The Focus was unreliable, at best, and while the 3GS’s UI was the best it was slower and less accurate than what I enjoy with the aforementioned BlackBerry devices.

For many people the GPS is a nicety, icing on the cake. For me, I rely on my GPS and maps integration to get from points A to B. The integration between Google Maps and the iPhone was excellent, if not the fastest. Integration on the Windows Phone was poor, largely because they missed my market: I’m a conscientious traveller and so prefer public transit. Windows Phones are absolutely unable to parse transit information in any of the major or minor cities I’ve visited over the past several months. If they can’t even do a non-US world city then the integration is not ready for prime time.

While the Google Maps/GPS integration on BlackBerry has an archaic UI – it really, really, looks like it was developed several years ago (because it was) – it’s fast and reliable. UI beauty is of critical importance for getting novices to use new technologies, but UI alone is insufficient to sell consumers on the value of a device over the long term. On this basis the Windows Phone OS failed outright and iOS trailed the ‘older’, ‘archaic’ and ‘aging’ BlackBerry OS 7.1 device I’m using right now.


Should Microsoft Mandate a Windows Phone Hardware Mute Switch?


 The audio controls stick to the lock-screen when the phone is locked, in the same screen location but always present to allow even quicker control and obviate the need to tap the volume rocker in order to play, pause or skip on the lock-screen. Interestingly, the “vibrate” or “ring + vibrate” button, which I call the mute switch, does not remain on the lock-screen, and requires that the user press the volume rocker to display it when the phone is locked. This means that to mute a Windows Phone, the user must take the phone out of their pocket, tap the power button, tap the volume rocker, and finally tap the mute switch. With the current iPhone design, the user need only reach into their pocket and flip the hardware switch to prevent all unexpected noises.

The answer to David’s question is clear and unequivocal: YES! While having an excess of rarely needed/used hardware buttons and toggles can diminish the quality of a device, a deficiency of such buttons/toggles can do the same thing. It sounds small, but the ability to rapidly and easily mute a device is a key professional feature of a device.


Why Mobile Carriers are a Threat to Us All

Paul Thurrott reports that Microsoft is no longer guaranteeing that mobile updates will be delivered to end-users and will no longer give guidance about when/if those updates will come.

I suspect that Microsoft’s actions are the result of carriers not caring one lick about security and actively opposing performance updates to “old” phones. Carriers aren’t themselves affected by security deficiencies that they are largely responsible for prolonging, and if new cool features are automatically provided in a smartphone update then the customer is less likely to rush out and buy a new phone with the same features. Carriers need to be held accountable: if they know there are security updates and refuse to let them go out to customers, then customers’ contracts should be broken with those same carriers. If customers experience actual harms, then the carriers should be legally – and financially – liable.

Microsoft, and the other mobile OS vendors, need to realize that the most important customer base is the people buying phones, not the device manufacturers or carriers. The latter two groups are important, yes, but if Microsoft can’t convince end-customers to pick up their phones and be happy about the choice a few months later then Microsoft is going to turn into an Android-like OS manufacturer. We already have one too many of those.


3 things I really want to see from my windows phone ASAP


  1. Screen Capture capability
  2. An Call of Duty Elite App
  3. A tumblr App

I’d happy trade #2 for a functional version of Google Maps that:

  • was a native app;
  • worked with the GPS;
  • provided transit directions.

The Bing Maps functionality might be decent if you drive. It’s shit if you take transit.

As a bonus: be great to (easily) disable all the Microsoft Skydrive garbage.