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3 Weeks With Windows Phone 7.5, Part III.

I’ve now completed my three week Windows Phone 7.5 Mango test. This is the third part of a three part entry: First part, second part.

In this last entry I’ll to look at the third party applications available for the operating system. Even though the pre-installed applications are important, third party applications are what make or break a smart phone platform. If you’re not able to properly fertilize a flourishing community of developers that spew out thousands of high quality flashlight and fart applications, you might as well call it the night and pack up.

My touchscreen smart phone adventure started back in 2007 when I got a first generation iPhone. While using it I grew accustomed to various apps and ways to do stuff. Thankfully, the transition to Android two years later was problem free because the same applications (or equivalents) I used on the iPhone were also available for Android. The morale of the story? If Microsoft wants seasoned smart phone users to make the move from their current platform to Windows Phone, the third party applications available have to be at least as good as the ones people are used to.

To see how well Windows Phone 7.5 compares to another mobile platform in terms of third party applications, I’ve collected a few of the applications I use most frequently on my Android phone to see if it’s possible to get the same great experience on Windows Phone 7.5.

  • Spotify
    I’ve already rambled on about the Spotify client for Windows Phone. It’s great, and without doubt a lot better than the Android version. It has playlist folder support, which is missing in the Android version. What it doesn’t have, however, is a last.fm integration, which is a shame. Cross-platform consistency would be nice.
  • Trafikanten (live public transportation data)
    A must-have for everyone traveling by public transportation in the greater Oslo area. Three alternatives are available, Trine i farta, Trafikken and Kollektivt. I’m using the third option, and Kollektivt is in my opinion a better Trafikanten API integration than the Android one, which haven’t been updated in ages.
  • Path
    The social network is going head on with Facebook, but a Windows Phone 7 client is not available yet.
  • Google Talk
    Windows Phone isn’t a high priority platform for Google, for obvious reasons. This comes apparent through the total lack of applications on Marketplace published by Google. Thankfully, since Google Talk uses the open XMPP protocol, people are free to create Google Talk clients. There are two dedicated clients available, and I chose Gchat because it’s free. Too bad Gchat is a bit too buggy for day-to-day use. I never know if I’m online or not and I’ve missed a few messages because the application has crashed.
  • Twitter
    The official Twitter client does the job and is designed using the Metro design guidelines. I don’t tweet much, but I read a lot of tweets and for that it works OK. It would be great to be able to zoom in on images, though.
  • XDA
    I spend a few minutes every day browsing the XDA Developers forum. Fast XDA does the job on Windows Phone.
  • Google Authenticator
    I’m using Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication on my WordPress install. This means that I’m basically dependent on a Windows Phone implementation to be able to log in to my site. An official Google implementation is missing in this case as well, but there are several alternatives available that does the job and mimic the original UI. But why not use Metro?
  • Google+
    No dice. The closest you’ll get is a wrapper for the mobile site.
  • Kitchen timer
    Ever since the kitchen timer on our oven broke, I’ve been using a simple timer app on my Android phone. There are a lot of similar applications available for the Windows Phone and I went with Casual Timer. It worked well until I at one point turned off the screen on the phone. For some reason the timer didn’t engage when the countdown was finished and whatever was in the oven got a rather peculiar color. I’m not sure if the failure to alert me that the time was up was caused by a horrible programming error or by the way the operating system handles applications when the phone is idle. But it still managed to grind my gears a little.
  • Opera
    No Opera love on Windows Phone 7.5. Actually, there are no 3rd party browser love at all to be found, at least nothing that use another browser engine than the Trident engine used by Internet Explorer. According to the internet, the reason for this are the rules of Microsoft’s Marketplace.
  • Reddit
    Ah, the world’s largest circlejerk, and everyone’s invited. Thanks to the site’s popularity and the API, there are tons and tons of Reddit clients available and you’re sure to find one that suits you.
  • QR code readers
    There are so many QR code readers to download that you can probably use all the available space on your phone just for QR code readers.
  • Kindle
    I couldn’t find the Kindle application when I searched using the phone, but it was showing if I searched the Marketplace on my computer. I’m guessing the reason is some sort of geographical limitations set by Amazon, but I can’t imagine why they want to do that.
  • 1881
    Great Android app that does an automatic white pages search and tells me who calls me when the number is not in my address book. I didn’t find a similar application for the Windows Phone.
  • AntiTelefonterror
    Ah, telemarketers. Why don’t they all just bend over and die? AntiTelefonterror is an Android app that automatically bounce them on to voice mail whenever they call me. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a similar app for the Windows Phone.
  • ConnectBot
    I’m using ConnectBot on Android as an SSH client to log in on vbox-host when I’m out and about. The SSH Client is a similar app on Windows Phone, but you can’t switch between applications when logged in because Windows Phone 7.5 doesn’t support sockets running in the background. Incoming call, you say? No more SSH connection for you! Pretty damn annoying.
  • YouTube
    Reddit occasionally takes me to YouTube where I watch videos of cats. Youtube [sic] Pro worked great for this purpose.

From my not-very-scientific research we see that the third party application selection for Windows Phone 7.5 isn’t quite there yet, at least not compared to Android. But that’s not a very big surprise, really: Android has been around since 2008, while Windows Phone was released in 2010. This gives Android a two year head start. Also, coming from an Android phone I’m used to Google’s services and will naturally feel that I’m missing something when I can’t find the same services on my Windows Phone. Google will not prioritize the Windows Phone platform – at least not with its current market share – and Microsoft will, naturally, prefer that you use their services. The search hardware button is a good example of this: It opens the Bing search engine for you, and it can’t be configured to use Google, or any other search engine for that matter, instead. And let’s face the unfortunate truth: Microsoft’s services are inferior compared to their Google counterparts.

But both the quality and number of third party applications might increase when if the Windows Phone market share increases. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon. According to Gartner, the market share was just 1.9% in the fourth quarter of 2011. 1.7 million smart phones using a Microsoft mobile OS were sold world wide in the second quarter of 2011, and this includes both Windows Phone and Windows Mobile phones. For comparison Apple sold 17 million iPhones in Q4 2011 alone.

Peter Wissinger, Director of Mobile Communications Business Microsoft Nordics, told Ny Teknik (in Swedish) earlier this month that Microsoft’s ambition was to be the number one in the world in 2015. Ambitions are great, but at this rate it’s never going to happen.

Personally, I see no good reasons why someone should make the move from Android or iOS to Windows Phone and I’m not sure if there are that many people who actually do. The ones I know who have made the move are mostly eager .NET developers who have finally found a mobile platform they can play around with. But there aren’t enough .NET developers in the world to make Windows Phone the number one smart phone operating system. Unless Apple and Google’s dance in patent court exhausts one or both of them, Windows Phone will remain an insignificant player in the smart phone ecosystem.

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  1. Of course if Microsoft do implement a common kernel, or subset thereof, across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 the number of apps available will explode and quickly become the number one marketplace.

    This also solves the problem of native code, cf WinRT, which would allow Opera et al to release for Windows Phone 8.

    And I’m afraid I don’t agree with you that Bing is inferior to Google’s services. Both web search and maps I find better than Google’s: search as it is gamed significantly less so I can find the information I want/need faster rather than aggregate sites (still a problem after Google’s latest updates) and maps is significantly better interface, data and routing (e.g. walking mode is much more intelligent)

    For QR Reader…just use the built in Bing visual search (hardware search button then click the eye icon at the bottom)

  2. Thanks for the tip, Cato.

    Paul, I haven’t done much research on Windows Phone 8, and what you are saying about Opera is great news. The integrated QR scanning sounds practical, too bad I never noticed the eye icon.

  3. Cato, could you please explain the simple location change you perform that enables you to download apps from the US marketplace? Simply going to my phone settings, changing my region to US has no effect for me. I thoght it was a rather cumbersome process, involving changing your location on your live id, then resetting your phone + more.

  4. You are right. After giving away a MyTouch4G (Tmo, USA) and getting a Lumia 710 (Tmo, USA), I too am wondering why did I do that???? Actually, just curiosity and I always loved Nokia handsets, had quite a few, they are the best. BUT, wp7.5 is truly the ‘not quite ready for prime time’ OS. I am missing, most of all, Swype, Google Voice, Google+, talk to text keyboard. The wp7 analogs are more of a pain in the neck than they’re worth. The other wp apps are ok, got my emails, pdf scanner, skydrive, dropbox, evernote, the usual stuff I need for business. But, I’ll probably go back to android if wp8 doesn’t get more android-like. I wish Nokia would just build a few android phones. Set up a little android shop out in teh back and call it something else. They’d sure sell one to me. btw, worst thing about wp7 voice to text – you cannot append. When you want to add something else, you have to start from scratch.

    • The real kicker is that you won’t be able to upgrade your Lumia 710 to Windows Phone 8 when it’s released later this year. You’ll have to get a new phone for Windows Phone 8. I, too, have owned quite a few Nokia handsets over the years, and it’s a shame to see them tumbling downhill like this. I agree with you that Nokia has to stop storing all their smartphone eggs in one basket and build a few Android handsets as well. But perhaps Microsoft won’t let them, I don’t know.

  5. Hello
    I am developing an app in WP7. But my issue is that when I give my gtalk username, password and domain It is not connecting.
    I gave XMPP port as 5223 as well as 5222.
    All the time it shows failed to connect to server.

    Please give me any solution to connect gtalk on windows phone.

    Thanks
    Nishant