Having just taken a look at Windows Phone in the year that was 2011, we now turn our focus toward the future. Windows Phone is an excellent smartphone OS, and we would recommend it to anyone wholeheartedly. Of course, it isn’t perfect. With the end of the year just a few hours away, we thought we’d take a page from Paul Thurrott and list how we think Microsoft and its partners can improve Windows Phone in 2012.
The Hardware: Nokia + Internal Memory
Windows Phone hardware is, for the most part, quite good. The variety of manufacturers and devices give consumers choice (unlike the iPhone), while Microsoft’s stringent hardware and performance requirements ensure that every single device is fast and fluid (unlike Android). We do, however, think it could be improved somewhat.
When it comes to picking a Windows Phone handset, there are really only a few key differentiators: the camera, battery life, screen size, and internal memory. Sure, processor speeds and RAM will vary, and some phones come with exclusive apps. But these four items are the most important things to look for in a Windows Phone. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get a good device no matter what you pick, but customers generally place a higher priority on these features. Other hardware features–like NFC–are just a plus.
But if you asked us which one we’d rate as most important, it would have to be internal memory. In the interest of simplicity, Windows Phones do not have any concept of a user-facing file system or removable storage. This is all fine and good, but it means you’re stuck with whatever internal memory comes with the device. A select few devices, like the original Samsung Focus, support permanent memory expansion via microSD cards, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, most Windows Phones come with either 8GB or 16GB of internal memory. This is fine for everyday usage, but it’s not nearly enough for those interested in making their Windows Phone a full-time media device. Cloud storage and streaming media are great, but a good amount of memory is paramount. Currently, the Japan-exclusive Fujitsu-Toshiba IS12T is the only device on the market with 32GB of internal memory. We’d love to see this change in 2012. Nokia, Samsung, and HTC each have high-end LTE handsets scheduled for the first half of 2012. With the HTC TITAN cornering the market on screen size (a massive 4.7-inches) and battery life (an impressive 12 hours of talk time) and the aforementioned IS12T sporting an above-average 13.2MP camera, we hope one of these new phones bumps up the internal memory.
This honor might well go to Nokia, which is readying its Windows Phones for a US premiere. The manufacturer’s first Windows Phones, the Nokia Lumia 710 and Lumia 800, went on sale in Europe last fall, but they have yet to head stateside. T-Mobile will be the first to get the Lumia 710 on January 11, and Verizon will follow suit in April. The device is great–especially the build quality, thanks to its single-piece injection-molded polycarbonate shell–but we’re more excited about the Nokia “ACE,” which is rumored to be branded the Lumia 900. Nokia has a great track record in design. And with new device releases supposedly on a three-month cadence, we can’t wait to see what the Finnish manufacturer has in store for 2012.
The Marketing: Advertising + Training
Microsoft launched Windows Phone last year with a decent marketing campaign. The “Really?” ads were humorous, but some questioned if they were the correct approach. Since then, however, the marketing has died down somewhat. Windows Phones will frequently pop up on TV shows like Castle and Leverage, and the Redmond software giant held major launch events in New York and London to celebrate the new devices. The company even put on a string of great Windows Phone events for consumers around the United States. Word of mouth has been great, but the traditional advertising has been lacking.
Thankfully, this will probably change with Nokia’s introduction to the US over the next few months. Dubbed “Rolling Thunder,” the campaign set to inundate consumers with Windows Phone advertising. Nokia is already heavily promoting Windows Phone in Europe in what is reportedly a $125 million marketing campaign. The Finnish company seems to be putting this budget to good use. One of our readers, Stephen Rice, had this to say: ”I keep seeing ads over here [in Europe] for the Lumia 800. If Nokia does half the job in the US as they are here, I don’t think there will be any problems. I’ve seen more ads for the Lumia 800 than the iPhone 4S.”
Of course, ad campaigns aren’t everything. Microsoft and its partners also need to work on training salespeople about Windows Phone. We walked into a local AT&T Wireless store two weeks ago and were surprised to learn that the employees didn’t feel confident about selling Windows Phone. They just didn’t know enough about the platform. The devices received prime placement next to the iPhone, but they were still recommended last. Not because they weren’t good, but because the salespeople themselves needed more information about the product. Microsoft ExpertZone is a great resource, but more learning opportunities and incentives are needed. With additional training and advertising, Windows Phone’s sales could improve exponentially.
The Software: More Features + Updates
The Windows Phone user experience is the best on the market, bar none. But we think more could be done. There aren’t really any glaring gaps in features, but we do think a whole host of minor improvements could be made. We have quite a few miscellaneous feature requests. Here are some of the things we’d like to see added or improved:
We’d like to see features like email flags available across the board, not just for Microsoft Exchange and Office365 customers. Hotmail, for example, supports flags on the web, but not on Windows Phone. The recently-added tasks feature is handy, but it doesn’t support recurring tasks. And those on Windows Live with the Hotmail Connector can’t sync their tasks with Outlook.
The social features, too, could be improved. The Me tile displays notifications, but wouldn’t it be great if you could see a notifications icon on the lock screen, as you can with email, messages, and missed calls? Windows Phone’s Facebook integration should also be promoted to first-party status, so that friends’ posts will always show up in the People Hub, regardless of whether or not they’ve disabled third party apps. The ability to like comments and tag people in a post would be handy too. Twitter could also be improved. The current implementation is great, if a little simplistic. Reply all, edit retweet, and conversation view are just a few of the things we’d like to have added.
The Music + Video Hub, powered by Zune, is quite good, but it would be nice if we could manually check for new podcast episodes and stream videos from the Zune Marketplace, as we can from the Zune software client or Zune Video app on Xbox 360. And while they’re at it, it would be great to see the Zune Social make a resurgence. We can see our friends’ music history in the Zune software, on Zune.net, and on our Zune devices. Why not Windows Phone?
The People Hub is fantastic, but the ability to see call duration in the history would be great for business professionals working on time sheets. The ability to independently control Alarm volume from the rest of the OS would be very nice to have, too. And what if Windows Phone could sync passwords with the new password manager in Windows 8? That would be fantastic.
Most of all, we want a better way to back up and restore Windows Phones. App downloads are currently tied to each user’s Windows Live ID, but what happens when you lose or break your device? If this terrible event should occur, all app data, game saves, and messages are lost. Why couldn’t Windows Phone automatically save a copy of each app’s save data on the user’s free SkyDrive account, so they would always be safe? And, while we’re at it, allow us to sync our favorite websites between Windows Phone, SkyDrive, and Windows 8.
We’re sure we could come up with many more features not on this list, and the above might differ from person to person. Thankfully, these features should be relatively easy to implement. And with the “Apollo” update–supposedly entitled Windows Phone 8–scheduled for next fall alongside the release of Windows 8, who knows what awesome things are in our future? It should be noted that Microsoft now provides a way for users to submit and vote on feature requests from a special website or a Windows Phone app.
The Apps: Exclusives + Updates
Last, but certainly not least, are the apps. A lot of fantastic apps were added to Windows Phone in 2011, and the marketplace grew tenfold from 5,000 and 50,000 over the space of a year. Unfortunately, some apps and games are still missing in action. Most notably, Skype and Audible. Both have been announced for Windows Phone, but neither have surfaced as of yet. Also, Microsoft has done a great job bringing major apps to the Windows Phone platform, but some could use a few updates. The official Facebook and Twitter apps are just two examples that have fallen behind their Android and iOS counterparts. The Facebook app has yet to receive the new Timeline, while Twitter hasn’t made the jump to the #letsfly update. Angry Birds, too, is missing many of the levels that were later added to the Android and iOS versions of the game. The situation isn’t bad by any means, but we’d like to see more high-profile apps hit Windows Phone and remain consistent with their counterparts on other platforms.
Overall, Windows Phone has the potential for an excellent 2012. If Microsoft and its partners manage things correctly, sales might very well take off. Windows Phone is already a fantastic platform; it just needs a few minor improvements.
How do you, or faithful readers, believe Windows Phone could improve in 2012? Leave your thoughts in the comments!