Freedom! Apple cut my Windows Phone chains
When I first pondered leaving Windows Phone behind, I imagined it would be for an Android flagship. It made sense. Android is, after all, much more permissive, has way more apps, and is available in a larger variety of smartphone flavors. And Google is committed to improving the operating system, launching at least one major update a year. Also, I use a Google Nexus 7 as my every day tablet; an Android smartphone would be a perfect fit. But things change.
Apple finally came up with bigger iPhones last year, and the prospect of ditching Windows Phone for a new iPhone suddenly became irresistible. It didn't hurt that iOS 8 dropped some of the annoying restrictions of its predecessors. Ultimately, I ended up with an iPhone 6 Plus. And, after two years of Windows Phones, using Apple's phablet as my daily driver can only be described as liberating.
It's an odd thing to say. Some might say it's a step backwards. Windows Phone 8.1, for instance, lets you change some default apps, provides access to apps to the internal storage (file managers actually work as expected, as a result), lets you place tiles where you want on the startscreen, while iOS doesn't.
But, at the same time, those are features I can live without. They're nice to have, but not must-haves if it means sacrificing other things, things that really matter. And in this regard, iOS 8 and iPhone 6 Plus reign supreme. Here is what I mean.
For instance, a usable web browser, powerful email client, convenience, and camera I can rely on rank high on my list. Apps and features like these can make a huge difference in usability, and iOS 8 and iPhone 6 Plus deliver, and them some. At first, it was hard to grasp that I was missing out on a lot of great things while using Windows Phone.
The Real Power of iOS
The real power of iOS comes from the apps. The actual numbers are pointless to compare, because, let's face it, few of us have more than 50 apps that we use frequently. So having one million or just a couple hundred thousand to choose from is not something that really matters in practice.
What matters, however, is how many good ones are out there. And in this regard App Store wipes the floor with Windows Phone Store. And I'm being kind here. I know that Microsoft is claiming that the "app-gap" is a thing of the past, but it's not. It's really not, unless you only care about a few apps, and have no expectations of quality. Even Microsoft's apps are better on iOS. Here are a few examples.
There are lots of email clients to choose from on iOS. It's no secret. There's an official app from every major service provider out there. And one of the best is Outlook. Formerly known as Accompli, it was recently purchased and rebranded by Microsoft -- go figure. It's not yet on Windows Phone, and neither is the fantastic calendar app Sunrise, which Microsoft also recently acquired. (Yeah, you saw this coming.)
Outlook is designed to allow you to quickly sort through your inbox using gestures. Swipe right or left and I can, say, automatically archive emails or snooze them so they show up at a later date. The latter feature makes dealing with important emails so much easier than most other clients. It's magical.
Outlook supports anything from Microsoft Exchange to Yahoo, so it can work as my one and only email client if I want it to. It also integrates with popular cloud storage services, allowing me to attach, save and view files I have on, say, my OneDrive without leaving the app.
There's also a built-in calendar in Outlook, which helps with choosing a time to view snoozed emails. It also makes it easy to set up a new calendar event, after reading an email, also without leaving Outlook. Outlook also provides quick access to all my contacts, among other neat features.
On Windows Phone the selection of powerful email clients is pitiful, and the few good ones that are out there are not cross-platform clients (unless we're talking about Windows 8.x). I could get by with the build-in email client in Windows Phone 8.x, but after using Outlook (or Mailbox, which is also great) I could never go back. Hopefully, Windows 10 will change this, but it's not a certainty.
I should note that the built-in Mail app from iOS 8 is better than what comes standard with Windows Phone. And that's because it can notify me of emails that arrive straight in my Outlook.com folders (with Windows Phone 8.1 you can only get notifications for Inbox emails, which is also, sadly, an issue with Outlook as well as other clients). The result? I don't miss important updates, and I get to keep everything compartmentalized.
Apple's platform is also great when it comes to browsers. It's another strong suit, one of too many to count. With Google Chrome, which is what I prefer, I get to have all my bookmarks and account info with me wherever I go on whatever I choose or need to use. I also get to see all the tabs that I have open on my Mac showing up on my iPhone 6 Plus, which comes in handy when I want to read something on my phone after leaving the desk.
There's also Safari, which works better on iOS but isn't as powerful as Chrome on the desktop side. It's not available on Android, which is a deal-breaker, but is available on Windows. Opera, however, can better compare with Chrome. And Mozilla will soon also join the pack, as it will finally launch Firefox on iOS.
With Windows Phone the only (good) option is Internet Explorer. It's not as good as Chrome nor do I really want to use it (not that I can use it on OS X and Android). Even Microsoft is moving on.
And if I decide to try something else, there are at least five other great alternatives on App Store to choose from. Having the option to pick another app -- that's just as good, if not better -- is not something that's often possible with Windows Phone. This is the real app gap, folks, and it's as wide as you can imagine.
Let's talk about social apps. As you might expect, every social network that matters has a good client available for iOS. With Windows Phone the selection is severely limited, both in terms of availability and features.
Some clients (like Instagram), while available, haven't been updated with all the features baked into their iOS counterparts, while others have yet to make an appearance (Google+, for instance). Using an iPhone means I don't have to worry about such things, as support is always a priority. It's refreshing.
If I want to check BetaNews' Facebook page, I just open the Pages app and I'm already there. If I want to schedule some posts for it, there's Buffer to help out with that. (Those of you who like our page may have noticed an influx of stories lately; I've been sharing stories with ease using only Buffer.) Needless to say, neither is on Windows Phone, and I don't think that will change soon.
Now, I know that most people are fine with just Facebook. And that's understandable, but for someone who's on multiple social networks and needs to do more than just view the Facebook timeline an iPhone is clearly a better choice than Windows Phone.
In some -- few -- areas, Windows Phone Store does provide a decent selection of third-party clients. Some of them are perfectly fine, but I'd rather be using an official app whenever possible. Why should I continue to be in a position where the best that I can get comes from third-party developers? What do I gain by doing that? It's masochism.
With iOS I also have access to the best third-party keyboards around. Windows Phone's keyboard isn't bad, but it lacks certain features. SwiftKey -- my iOS keyboard of choice -- recognizes multiple languages on the fly, which means I don't have to tap a button to change between them, and supports swipe input with all of them.
Again, I know that most people are fine with more basic keyboards, but I have a more specific set of needs which only SwiftKey meets right now. Those two features make a huge difference when chatting on the go and writing in multiple languages. SwiftKey isn't without its flaws, but it's getting better quickly.
What also makes a difference is the camera speed. The app opens immediately after tapping on the icon, it takes a photo in an instant, and the shot-to-shot time is virtually zero. My iPhone 6 Plus also has no problems with burst shots; it can take 999 in a row (I know, I've tested it). And when I want to experiment, I can just open VSCO Cam to get the results I am looking for.
These may seem like minor things, but when I want to take a photo I don't want to wait a long time for the app to load and then wait some more to take the shot; that's the case with all Windows Phones I have gotten my hands on. I know that the Lumia Denim firmware update helps in this regard, but it's too little, too late, at least for me (the image quality, however, has never been an issue with Lumia flagships, at least, from my point of view).
At this point, I should also mention that iOS 8 is better when it comes to inter-app communication. When I want to share content between apps, I find that there are more options for sharing available on iOS 8 than Windows Phone. And that's not just because there are more apps on my iPhone 6 Plus than on my Lumia 920. Developers prioritize iOS and this is one of the areas where it's starting to show, despite Apple only introducing this functionality in iOS 8; that said, there's still progress to be made in this regard.
When I finally decided to leave Windows Phone behind, Apple had two new flagships on the market. I originally went with iPhone 6, but little over a month after I was using an iPhone 6 Plus. I dropped the former, and was allowed to opt for the latter through insurance. (Good call, as it turned out.)
Th biggest new iPhone is great. It really is. Battery life is superb, the display is awesome, the camera is top-notch, and the design is really attractive. If I could have a do-over, I'd get an iPhone 6 Plus from the get-go, in Space Grey. Mine's the Gold version, which I think doesn't look as good. But I digress.
With iPhone 6 Plus it's also very easy -- and convenient -- to keep things private, thanks to Touch ID. It may not be the most secure way of authenticating myself, but it's good enough to keep people from prying and, best of all, it works seamlessly. There's no reason not to use it, if you don't want to deal with PINs or passwords.
For those of you who aren't familiar with how it works, the home button is actually a sensor, so as soon as I touch it my fingerprint's recognized and my phone is unlocked. It works consistently well, which is why I think such a feature is a must-have on a flagship.
Looking at the Windows Phone landscape at the time, there wasn't a single flagship that was attractive. I know that most people who buy Windows Phones buy low-end devices, but there's still a market for people like me who prefer high-end smartphones.
The best options were Nokia Lumia 930, Lumia 1520 and HTC's One M8 for Windows, none of which was, in my opinion, worth buying, due to their age. Lumia 930 launched in April, Lumia 1520 was a year old, and One M8 for Windows, while announced more recently, was based on the One M8 running Android, which was even older than Lumia 930. Going into a two-year contract with a flagship that's at least a year old is silly.
The options haven't changed since, and I don't expect any new Windows flagship smartphones until Windows 10 officially launches later this year -- likely just before Apple comes up with new iPhones.
Keeping an Open Mind
Even though I have abandoned Windows Phone, I do not rule out buying a Windows-based smartphone in the future. Lots of things would have to change for me to do this, but I am keeping an open mind. After all, technology evolves rapidly and Microsoft has shown that it can adapt, if it wants to. Windows 10 looks like a major step forward in most areas, although I do wonder how much Universal Apps will influence the quality of apps and the number of quality apps available in Store -- right now, it's a deal-breaker for me, but I hope this will change. Competition is great for us, consumers.
After using an iPhone 6 Plus for a few months, I realized that I wouldn't want to go back to a regular-sized smartphone -- it's phablets all the way from here on out. I hope that Windows phone vendors will come up with appropriate responses soon. I certainly wouldn't consider going back to the tiled operating system realm for anything other than a truly great phablet.