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I Hate Linux

Saturday, March 25, 2017

One less Windows Phone user

I've had a long & tortured history with phones. Long being on Verizon my options were limited, one day I marched into an AT&T store, ready to buy an iPhone provided I could port my South Dakota number. At the time they couldn't. I tried a few different Windows Mobile devices during this time, which did the job for what I needed it for at Microsoft, but it wasn't great. I even bought an Android device, which I returned less than 24 hours after I'd purchased it due to some major issues.

By the time the iPhone came to Verizon, I was eagerly awaiting a Windows Phone to finally show up, which it did on May 26th, 2011, where I was 13th in line at the Verizon store in the Microsoft Commons, many hours before the store was to open. Since then I've gone through many Windows Phones as a local and enthusiastic user (1x HTC Trophy, 2x HTC 8X, 2x Lumia Icon, 4x Lumia 735, 1x Lumia 950 XL.

Yesterday, 9 years to the day after I started at Microsoft (though I am there no longer), I did something I didn't think I'd do. I switched to an Android device, the Google Pixel XL.

As much as I loved Windows Phone, it simply doesn't get the love it needs, both from Microsoft and from 3rd parties.

There was always an 'app gap' with regards to trying to convince companies to bring their apps/services to Windows Phone given its low market share something many attributed to the lack of apps.

The issue was not just app related, but technical. Windows Phone has long had issues with getting sufficient love within Microsoft. Over the years I was a passionate user & developer, both of which often lead to discoveries of issues, many of which were fixed, some not. I even found/yelled about a couple of recall class bugs in the product (thankfully just prior to going to the escrow period).

For me, most of what I needed to do I could do from my phone. Phone/SMS, email/calendar, web, podcasts… and with a couple of apps like Facebook & Twitter rounded out most the rest. For those things I couldn't do, I'd either write my own app or two, or simply go without.

As an aside, one of these weeks/months I'll reveal the answer to my previous prediction about this and other subjects, but that for another time

Given my rather, unique perspective, I thought it would be good to write a few words about my experience thus far in making such a switch.

Out of box experience

I'd often heard it reported that one of the reasons many gave up on Windows Phone was that they simply couldn't figure out how it worked. Having come from devices with very regular design metaphors I'd come to expect, it was rather difficult switching to something else.

Example: While Windows Phone & Android both have back buttons on the bottom left side of the screen, on Windows Phone one holds the back button to show the currently open apps. On Android, you press the right most button, which is a square.

Similarly, I've long been used to using the bottom part of the screen (which provides easier touching in my experience) for accessing settings of a particular app, this is just the opposite in Android, where even the address bar in the web browser is at the top.

Winner: Draw

Multiple email/calendar sources

Like many, I've got a Microsoft Account which is mostly used for signing into Microsoft properties. My email is hosted by Office 365. My YouTubing & Blogging is done with a Gmail address, and my wife (now) has an iPhone so she stores all of her calendar info to iCloud.

On my Lumia 950 XL, I could access all and have a semi coherent picture of all of my email accounts & shared calendars.

On my Pixel XL, the default mail client struggled to make sense of my Office 365, though after multiple tires it eventually worked. Unfortunately, it seems without purchasing an app (or writing my own), I won't be able to access my wife's calendar.

Winner: Microsoft

Support

During my struggle to figure out how to setup my O365 email, I noticed in settings there was an option to receive 24/7 phone based support.

Wow!

While they weren't able to solve my issue as the 18th time was the charm, the fact they not only have support reps on hand was surprising. The fact that they had the ability reach out and request screen sharing was shocking.

Winner: Google

Charging

I hate cables. Just because I've got oddles attached to my TV/DVR/game consoles/network switch/router/desktop PC/etc, or cables on both sides of the couch for Surface Pro 3's, a Macbook, or an iPhone doesn't mean I like them.

Ever since the release of the HTC 8X in November 2012, I've been rocking the wireless charging train. On my desk at work, next to my bed, next to my couch, and next to my home office are wireless chargers that allow me to plop down my compatible device and charge it while not in use. Heck, I even have one of these speakers in my home office.

The only time I would rely on a physical cable, was when I was in the car (given I had to plug my phone in for audio out, another cable wasn't so bad) or when I was doing on device debugging.

I am a sad panda that only the Samsung devices support it, though given their fire issues and very less than stock Android builds, I'm not willing to carry such a device.

Winner: Microsoft

App selection

Recently I pointed out to a friend who pays me on a monthly basis that there is a way to pay via PayPal which doesn't incur fees. He asked why I don't use Venmo or Google Wallet. The answer was simple, the first doesn't exist on my platform of choice, and the second wasn't quite relevant as YouTube is the only area I really sign into Google services for.

Looking around in the app store, seeing all of the major companies (take just fast food I noticed today) who felt compelled to build... something is remarkable.

Given the number of payment & messaging apps out there today, it is quite clear how PayPal & Skype somehow missed the boat.

Winner: Google

App security

Depending on the circles you are in, you may hear Android referred to Windows 3.1, 95, 98 or even 2000. Operating systems which were pretty good for their time, but horribly insecure in certain circumstances. 

Ultimately, the user is in control and is responsible for the security of their device. Not just what apps run on it, but what permissions they are granted. The ease at which apps are able to ask for permission for access to this or that resource (Does my podcast app really need access to my photos & contacts?) is frankly, frightening.

Assuming no user action allows a seemingly innocent app to do malicious things, the degree of protection offered by the underlying platform is important. iOS has been excellent at this, as has Windows Phone. Android, alright. The whole reason I opted for the Pixel was that as a first party phone from Google, it was the most likely to receive regular security updates. There still needs to be sufficient safeguards against such malicious apps running rogue to prevent badness, something Android historically has lacked.

Winner: Microsoft

Bio-metric sign in

I do not like/trust bio-metric sign in options. They are easy to fool, and they are even easier to be used against you. Nothing stops law enforcement or a small child from forcing a device owner to touch their finger to a bio-metric sensor against their will and allowing their adversary into their device. I've personally seen one of these happen, and the hacker squealed in glee upon achieving their goal.

During the brief time I was using the Iris scanner on my 950 XL, I found it not only to be slow (not unlike a Kinect attached to a Windows 10 PC), but it actually hurt my eyes. Anytime I'd use it, day or night, bright or dark in the area, I would feel a… haze over my eyes for several minutes afterwards. 

Winner: Google

Over the last day my wife has often asked me if I was happy with my new phone, I was less than enthusiastic, much to her disappointment. While we all like something like a phone to be interchangeable with any other, the reality is there is a high degree of buy in associated with each particular ecosystem which makes moving rather difficult. Windows Phone is dead, RIP, and as much as I wish I could stay on it, the reasons to stay are decreasing day by day. In time I expect I'll grow to understand & appreciate my new phone, until then, at times I feel like a mule with a spinning wheel, "No one knows how he got it, and danged if he knows how to use it!"

Only time will tell how I get on with my new phone, if I stick with this ecosystem or jump ship to another, but for now, it is an interesting learning experience being one of the last to make this particular jump.