For three weeks now I’ve been using a Nokia Lumia 920 with Windows Phone 8 in favor of my usual LG Nexus 4 with Android. This is the third and final post in a three part series about the experience. In the first post, I had a look at how Windows Phone is currently doing against other competitors, like iOS and Android, and how Nokia has moved closer and closer to the financial abyss during their partnership with Microsoft. In the second post, I took a closer look at Windows Phone 8 itself and how the core features and stock applications work. In this third post, I’ll take a dive into the Windows Phone Store to see if it’s capable of competing with the selection in Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Why are apps important? As the smartphone world works, it really doesn’t matter how good a smartphone operating system is if the apps available for it suck. This is particularly important for converters, people moving from another smartphone OS. They usually have a set of apps they are accustomed with, and changing people’s habits is hard. Personally, I have a few good third-party apps I use on my Android phone on a regular basis, and I’d prefer to continue to use them on my Windows Phone 8 handset. Either the same app, or a replacement app with the same features that works at least as good as the Android version.
So how is the third-party app situation on Windows Phone these days? Two years ago it was so-so, but since then the number of applications available in the Windows Phone Store has increased considerably. This means that the chance of finding the apps I’m using, or at least a good replacement, should be higher than it was two years ago. I made this handy not-so-scientific reference table to get an overview. I’ve also added a few apps that I don’t use personally, but that are popular among iOS and Android users.
|Name||Category||Windows Phone version||Notes|
|DropBox||Cloud storage||Unofficial by Rudy Huyn|
|Endomondo||Fitness||Yes||No support for Bluetooth heart rate monitors, audio coach can’t be used together with Spotify|
|Social||Unofficial by Microsoft|
|Facebook Messenger||Instant messaging||Yes|
|Firefox||Internet browser||No||Windows Phone doesn’t support third party browsers|
|Google Authenticator||Security||Replacements available|
|JuiceSSH||SSH Client||Replacements available|
|Social reader||No||Have to use the getpocket.com website, which doesn’t work very well on Internet Explorer|
|Pocket Cast||Podcast player||Replacements available|
|Snapchat||Social||Unofficial by Rudy Huyn|
|Spotify||Music streaming||Yes||Lacks features, like last.fm scrobbling|
|YouTube||Video streaming||Unofficial by Microsoft||Doesn’t support playback controls except for play/pause/stop|
As you can see from the above table, moving from iOS or Android to Windows Phone most likely means that you have to make some sacrifices when it comes to third-party apps. Even though many of the apps you know and love on other platforms are available on Windows Phone, some of them are unofficial version, which means that they most likely lag behind the official versions on other platforms in terms of features. Other apps doesn’t exist, but you’ll find usable replacements, while there are rare cases where an app doesn’t exist and there isn’t a replacement available either. An example from the table is Firefox. So why doesn’t app developers create Windows Phone versions of their apps?
It’s all a question of money. Only 3% of the total number of smart phone users have a Windows Phone handset. When a company decides that they want to create an app, the usual pecking order is iOS, then Android and then Windows Phone. If it’s a business application, the developer might even prioritize creating a BlackBerry app before a Windows Phone version. This means that as a Windows Phone user, you will perhaps eventually get a version of the latest, hot app on your phone, but not until both iOS and Android users have been playing with it for months or even years. As a Windows Phone user you are basically a second class citizens in the eyes of the people who decided which operating systems to support. That big brands like Facebook, Snapchat and DropBox haven’t released official Windows Phone versions of their apps says a lot about how they are prioritizing.
It’s been two years since I last tested a mobile phone with Windows Phone. Very little has changed since then, and there’s still absolutely nothing about the Windows Phone OS that makes me want to consider permanently moving from Android. This is probably the case for most users that already have an iPhone or an Android handset: They won’t make the move, and that’s the main problem for Microsoft. They arrived way too late to the party and while they might steal users from BlackBerry, which is hemorrhaging badly, and perhaps the occasional delirious iOS and Android user, they will never – at least while the competitors are in their current shape – be able to move a considerable percentage from iOS and Android to Windows Phone.
Microsoft and Nokia’s only hope at this point is emerging markets: Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and Africa. If they are able to get Windows Phone on cheap, low-end and medium-end smartphones to the masses in these markets, they might be able to pull themselves up of the hole they’ve dug. But there’s a problem with this scenario as well. Apple has already begun to pave their way into this segment with the iPhone 5C. And since Android runs reasonably well on cheap smartphones, there’s already an abundance of low-cost Android handsets available.
How will Microsoft and Nokia approach this problem? For once thing, Nokia already has the Asha series of handsets, a series of smart phones aimed at emerging markets. But these handsets are not running Windows Phone. Nokia also recently announced Nokia X, a new series of medium-end handsets that, ironically enough, run a forked version of Android. On top of Android, Nokia has put an interface that looks like Windows Phone and tied the X series handsets to many Microsoft services, like Skype and Outlook. To me, this looks like an attempt at sneaking Windows Phone in the back door. And it might work. If you sell a crapload of handsets with an interface that looks like Windows Phone, convincing these users to move to Windows Phone later would be much easier than convincing an iOS or Android user.
But for me, and most other users that already have a smartphone from another company, Windows Phone is not an option. The problem is not Nokia’s hardware, which is great. I love the quality of the camera on the Lumia 920. Slip vanilla Android on to Nokia hardware, and I’m sold. But with Windows Phone, I’m not. And if I were Microsoft, I’d be more worried about Firefox OS than iOS and Android.