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Is Windows Phone worth the switch?

The last few weeks have been an interesting set for me. I’ve been asked by many, if Windows Phone 7 (ugh…I will NOT be adding that 7 again) is worth the switch from their current platform. Even being the Microsoft whore I am, surprising like my answers always vary. I’ll list all the scenarios I’ve come across and try to explain them as best I can. Hopefully this will help a few people.

Before I get started, it is important that I mention almost everyone who has inquired about a possible switch to WP7 were either at the end of their contract or quickly approaching it. Given the wide range of choices in the smartphone market these days, I fully understand why people seek some direction. After all, you’re looking at a 2 year commitment, so why not get a grasp on it all!

First up, a switch from Android to WP7. Even with the raw power and community backing surrounding the platform, Android strikes me as ugly! I’d be so bold as to label Android a present day windows mobile with an app store. Some bad and some good; With Android you’ll find almost limitless customizing, tweaking and ROMs you could ever hope for, just like windows mobile. You’ll find tons of forums and people all dedicating their time to improving the product, just like windows mobile. You’ll find various hardware form factors across multiple carriers, just like windows mobile. But then, you’ll also find huge fragmentation issues in hardware to software deployments, just like windows mobile. Wild user interface inconsistences across the platform, just like windows mobile. But unlike windows mobile; there are a great set of Dev tools (even though I wish java and everything surrounding it would just go away!) which transitions into great apps. There is a huge app store and growing. And there is a powerful meaning when the word Droid is mentioned.

So where does that leave us? Like I said, it’s still ugly, Sometimes it works really well (hello mr.EVO) and sometimes it doesn’t work so well (hi there mr. Xperia X10 with android 1.6….how are those angry birds treating you?) But it works. How does it stack up against WP7? The hardware itself is almost identical. So much so it’s sickening. Considering the EVO, well then how about that HD7? Feeling as if you need that beautiful display on the Galaxy S, how about the Focus. No wonder people feel the first batch of WP7 phones were all boring, they’re based on hardware that has been on the market for months. Even though I do not like this, I fully understand why the OEMs did this, and I suppose it’s not a total negative when making comparisons. Let’s call this a tie.

The development tools backing both platforms are as powerful as you would expect them to be. Although I hear often the WP7 Dev tools are a breath of fresh air to anything else offered on the market. But powerful Dev support means great apps, stronger app stores and increased productivity of the platform. The current state of each app store heavily favors Android. Android has some wild number of apps versus WP7’s 3500. But there is something of interest to be noted here. Quality Vs. Quantity is a factor to some extent here. Even though Android’s app store has WP7 beat in both categories, you’ll find a lot of silliness going on in Android’s market. Things like “ringtone packs.” How and why are these things are considered apps? On the flip side, even with the low 3,500 apps (excellent for a month old platform,) the quality of apps found in WP7’s marketplace is fairly high. I am willing to bet the Quality to quantity ratio is more favorable for WP7. In the end, Android still comes out on top with the stronger app store. Plus 1 for android.

Android currently possess the “have it your way” thrown in the mobile industry. There is no arguing this, if you’re the type of person who likes to tweak until your heart’s content, android is where you belong! As of right now, WP7 has shown a glimmer of hope, but is nowhere close to what android offers right now. Plus 1 for android.

One of the heavy hitters for WP7 is its beautiful and extremely functional User Interface. Android, not so much. I love what Google did; they took a little from apple and drove it even further with widgets. They added multiple screens and gave the user the ability to have multiple setups on each slate. Brilliant. But still blah! There is something about android’s UI I just never appreciated. Then HTC came along, they did what they do so well. Now Android looks a little better. Sony Ericson, Samsung, Motorola etc. all failed! Not because they didn’t look good, or they weren’t functional, they just couldn’t do what HTC did. Live tiles and panoramic UI looks and works the same across the board on the WP7 platform. No need pin yourself in a corner to HTC hardware simply because they’re UI is the most user friendly. Plus 1 for WP7.

Core functionality of the OS should be another important point of measure. Android really flexes its muscle in this category. With true multitasking and the genius notification window, Android shows its maturity as an OS. Microsoft has promised to enable task switching and multitasking in the future, but we have not seen this as yet, so android comes out ahead. Also worth mentioning, android’s multitasking is one of its biggest downfalls. Horrid battery life and huge memory management issues all plague the platform. It remains to be seen if Microsoft’s approach to multitasking could one up Google’s efforts. Then they are the little things that do or do not matter, depending on who you are. Android’s browser supports Flash and WP7 does not. WP7 includes Zune as a media outlet, android…well we don’t know what the hell that does. Android has a huge set of voice over IP and video chat solutions and WP7 does not. WP7’s keyboard is amazing to use and Android’s keyboard is a joke at best. On and on the list goes. Most of Android’s wins in this category is due to its maturity, but none the less, they are wins. I am confident all of Android’s strong points will be implemented into WP7 and even bested with time. Because of this, I am not willing to rate this as a win or loss for either. Here you will have to define what is important to you.

Now, what about a switch from an iPhone to WP7. From my perspective, the switch from an iPhone to WP7 requires a lot less thought. What is it that makes the iPhone stand out so much, that you’ll be hard press to give it up for another platform? Well, is it hardware? Not so much, as beautiful as the iPhones of present and past have been, there is still only one to be offered for that generation. On the WP7 front, you have a wide range of hardware to choose from. Plus one for WP7.

Could it be the development community? That’s a strong point for apple. They’ve been at the iOS game for a while, and actually invented the model of app store and keeping developers happy. I would argue no one else knows how to do this as well as they do. This doesn’t mean Microsoft has no clue; in fact, I’ve had talks with a few developers who actually love the development infrastructure behind WP7. You can’t spark the interest in developers like apple can, simply because developers know they will make money on an iOS platform. Plus one for iPhone.

Could it be the apps? Here’s an interesting one. I’ve been trying to think of a killer app that is only available on the iOS platform which would keep their users grounded. Sadly, the only thing I came up with of any significance was angry birds; and after a strong debut on the Android platform, it is only a matter of time before you see it on WP7. What’s even more interesting is every iPhone user out there has this one little .99 app that does exactly what they need it to do. The rest of the world really couldn’t care less about this weird little app, but because of the wide span popularity of the platform, you, your loser friends and a loser developer has constructed a dream app. Chances are you will not have this on WP7. As much as we would all like to ignore your sheep counting app, the reality remains, this is what the user wants and iOS is where they can find it. But maybe it’s not even a matter of that one little weird app, maybe it’s the ability to find a million and one such apps. This is the stuff iOS is made of. It is almost impossible to duplicate this, much less match it. Ask android, they’ll tell you how steep that hill is! In retrospect however, this is still a much welcomed side effect of maturity. Because Apple was the first in the app store world (first to do it right any way,) they enjoy the luxury of a tremendous lead and unrivaled maturity. Maybe one day that loser developer will find himself a WP7 phone and develop that sheep counting app, but it will take time! For right now, Plus one for iPhone.

What about the UI? Here is where you’ll see WP7 up front and center handing out blows. iPhone’s UI is one that is all too familiar to all. It’s simple, elegant and it works. Many have struggled to match that and many have failed. By many I mean all but one (I am looking at you Web OS.) Until now, Microsoft didn’t set out to simply copy or improve upon what apple built, they wanted to create something new completely. They have achieved this feat in every way possible. So much so, that the Apple experience everyone is struggling to understand, now looks like something from yesteryear! Good job MS! Plus one for WP7.

The core functionality of the OS? How does that measure up? Well, first off, apple has finally enabled their multitasking abilities. Paired with the push notifications for application, this works really well. Although WP7 does not have the task switching or multitasking enabled as of yet, the platform is fully capable of doing so. As of right now, some WP7 apps even do push notifications. I always found it interested that both companies arrived at the push notification and task switching methods; I suppose Google didn’t check their Gmail account when that memo was sent out (cheap shot.) Apple comes out on top with the multitasking scenario, but not much far and not for long. Some of the simple things like Universal search and a unified inbox are also some instances where apple ends up ahead of WP7. Both are planned for WP7, so apple’s maturity gap will be short lived. If you’re talking about ease of use and UI simplicity, WP7 wins hands down. The simple notion of a back button found in all WP7 phones should have its own commercial as a feature, it’s that sweet! Contacts, mail, text, browser are all handled better on the WP7 platform. And yet again, there are little things here and there people may feel separate the platforms. For instance, the trolls may fly the “WP7 cannot set custom ringtones” flag, which is true. What they’ll never tell you is neither can they! Paying $3.99 for a ringtone of a song I already own is not my idea of setting a custom ringtone, and furthermore, WP7 has 15 tones to choose from for your text messages. You have no such luxury on the iPhone, so when you and your iFriends all huddle up in a room, you will have no idea who just got the text because you all have the same tone. Interesting isn’t it. But as with android, the core functionality differs, but provides no clear victor.

As I mentioned before, most people shopping around are either tired of their current iPhone, which means they have an older generation. So the absence of multitasking really means nothing to them, neither does a unified mailbox. These are features that all made their debut in iOS4. Stacked up against something like an iPhone 3G or 3GS WP7 has no problems showing its attractiveness.

So all points taken into consideration, what are we left with? Well, android is a mess and is only getting worse. WP7 will have no problem appealing to people tired of hunting down a decent kill task app to improve their battery life by two minutes. iOS is cute, but what it does best (which is just work,) has now been bested. Microsoft still has a lot of work to do, but they have managed to hit the floor running at 85%, and that is damn impressive! WP7 will achieve all of the functionality and surpass the competition with less than half the maturity factor. I hope that you just allow it sometime to grow like you did all the other platforms. WP7 is worthy of your cell phone commitment from all aspects!