Specs vs Apps

Smartphone manufacturers may fall into various camps – those with their proprietary OS or without. But they all seem to be competing on specs, those inside-the-plastic/metal-box paraphernalia that can drive a layman crazy. That is if laymen ever cared to dig deep into this stuff. Manufacturers believe people know all about chips, cores, processors, RAM and ROM, or even the difference between HD, FHD, and QHD (let me not scare you off with WXGA).

Don’t fool yourselves. People buy smartphones not for the chips and number of cores, not even for the calls and texting of the traditional kind. Nowadays people buy smartphones for the look and apps. Well, in Apple’s case people buy smartphones for religious fashion, definitely not the specs. In Windows Phone case, on the other hand, people obviously buy smartphones for pure geekery or out of despair.

It might feel like I’ve downshifted by choosing Windows Phone over Android (Apple devices were never considered due to prohibitive pricing). Not that I was in despair or am a geek. Not that this feeling of downshifting lingers long after the purchase. Still, Windows Phone has a lot of potential unrealized and customers are subjected to the camp of outcasts looked upon as weirdos. Even if you do not care much about how others look at you, you are sure to look at yourself sometimes and think that maybe there was something wrong with you at the moment decision was made. How could you have chosen a system with so many gaps in the apps?

Don’t take me wrong, Windows Phone has thousands of applications and all (or almost all) essential ones plus a few more. It just often seems like the majority of those are either underdeveloped, forlorn, relegated to an orphanage or else developed by amateur enthusiasts who decided to play in this geekery kindergarten.

When I was thinking about this leap from Android to Windows Phone I made a list of my Android apps and tried to see if they had a version in the other system. It turned out that in the realms of instant messaging everything was great, in the tools section (which I know is a broad definition) similar apps could be found, while in the travel/booking folder most applications had no Windows Phone versions at all. One special gap was that of lacking an official WordPress client. That set me thinking longer but you know how it all ended one morning.

Windows Phone comes with a few pre-installed apps, most of which are from Microsoft’s various branches. The latter brings about an interesting but unfortunate aspect of sometimes having two same apps that might differ only in icon colour and minor interface features.

On buying a Windows Phone you are equipped with People (where you store your contacts), Music (which in Russia is a stripped down version of Groove Music), Video (again – a stripped down version of Xbox Video), Outlook Mail and Calendar, OneDrive, Microsoft Office (I haven’t figured out if it is for purely online version or a free one-year subscription), Podcasts (the one you can’t get rid of), MixRadio and a few others, as well as a host of MSN apps like Health & Fitness (to be closed at the end of the month), Finance, Sport, Food (already closed), Travel (also closed).

The second thing I did after the first one (i.e. activation and initial setup) was finding and installing those apps that I’d used on Android and that were available in Windows Phone Store.

Surprisingly, limitations of Windows Phone Store were helpful at limiting my app-mania. I did install and then uninstalled a few photo-editing tools (and then left some too), but I didn’t substitute pre-installed Lumia Camera with an alternative. Well, unless substituting one Lumia Camera with another counts (and then there is also Microsoft Camera also pre-installed). Similarly, I am sticking to OneNote (although a couple of note-taking apps were tested along the way) and native dialer or SMS-messenger. I do prefer Maxthon to Internet Explorer (though I do not cringe when links from apps are opened in IE). But I got rid of the official Twitter client (that is another story worthy of a separate posting).

Anyway, now that I’ve been using Windows Phone for more than a month I do not feel like Robinson Crusoe right after the shipwreck – with no tools and means. Rather I am Robinson Crusoe a year or two into his solitary life on an island and already quite comfortable with what I can use. I actually don’t feel like this life is miserable, it is just somewhat limited here and there but nothing serious.

Coming back to the specs for a bit. My Lumia 640 XL has a much bigger screen than previous Huawei phone yet the same screen resolution. I was a bit concerned about that before buying but mostly from the appearances point of view – I saw that picture quality is not worse but hesitated just because I was under the magic spell of numbers that whispered words like “you are getting a worse resolution”. And yes, screen resolution, screen size, the amount of memory and battery capacity – these are the only figures and specs that really matter.

The new phone might have been a little loser (only figuratively speaking) in terms of screen resolution but it was certainly a step or two ahead in terms of size, memory and battery life. It could be crucial for a phone to have a certain processor or a certain number of cores, or a certain chipset (isn’t it the same as processor?) to run quickly and smoothly, but at the end of the day no chipsets or cores save you from rushing to a socket to feed more power to the hunger block of technical wonder. My new phone lets me comfortably use it the whole day and more. It is just that I am still a bit damaged by my Android experience of late of always running out of power quickly.

Enough with the specs and back to what people buy their smartphone for, the apps. Microsoft is a strange company. They say that Redmond guys have a secret strategy of working hard on all their apps for competing platforms to make millions of Android and even iOS users feel comfortable in Windows which might make it easier for them to probably move to future phones running Windows Mobile.

This might really be the plan but it sucks that Microsoft almost abandons Microsoft phones’ users by paying most attention to apps for other systems. These get all the updates first if not exclusively. It even happens that Microsoft develops an app for Android/iOS while leaving a gap in its own realm. It hurts our feelings! And no fairytales of future Windows 10 Mobile and universal apps can soothe our wounds. There is no Windows 10 Mobile for the general public yet and those few geeks and desperados who actually chose Windows Phone deserve attention at least from Microsoft.

But we would also appreciate attention from other developers too. And the media. Some are really insensitive (or, if we spoke of the media and not technology, not objective) by pushing all those shiny Android and iOS apps. Take, for example, a recent article on the apps to help you pack for the trip. Out of 5 apps, only one was available for Android and none for Windows Phone. Take any other article on any kind of apps and you are sure to find no or almost no versions for our Lumias. Or if you do find some they might be old, rarely updated and limited in functionality.

By the way, one comparison to Android puts Windows Phone above its competitor. If you are on Android and would like to rate an app or write its review on Google Play you have to have a Google+ account. Your Gmail account is not enough. On Windows Phone and with a Microsoft account (all set at the beginning if you don’t already have one) you are free to rate apps and write reviews with no extra logins. I suppose this is not only convenient to users but good for application developers (I could have never written any reviews for Android apps while I have written quite a few for WinPhone ones).

They say app developers don’t see Windows because there are no Windows Phone users, while there are no users because there are no apps. That is true. But does it have to be this way forever? We could surely survive with what we have now provided it is being updated from time to time. But isn’t our world smaller now compared to Robinson Crusoe’s times to leave Windows Phone customers with only basic tools and no variety?

After all, Windows Phone is a decent choice and I am not trying to convince myself here. The irony is that while people buy smartphones for the apps, Microsoft phones, for now, are stronger competitors only on the specs front. The apps section is lagging far behind. And until Microsoft changes this radically on its own turf it cannot count on Windows Phone visible success. Nor would I count on massive migration from even Android, as everything is quite fine there with what people buy smartphones for.

Windows Phone Store screenshot
Windows Phone Store screenshot

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