The future will be different for Windows Phone

The future will be different for Windows Phone

Over the last couple of weeks I have taken a look at the future of Windows Phone by looking hard at its pros and cons.

The discussion has been great and full of passion. There is no denying that Windows Phone users love their platform and feel like rebels by sticking to the OS despite the lack of flagship hardware and missing apps for many.

Today a new discussion has surfaced on Twitter talking about the design shift we are seeing in current builds of Windows 10 Mobile that are being tested by Windows Insiders.

The reason behind this renewed discussion is a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) that began Friday night.

Reddit user Jragon posted this AMA in r/windowsphone under the title I designed the new version of Office for Windows Phone and it has already collected over 360 comments/replies.  The discussion is insightful because it is not just about Office for Windows Phone but about the design of the new interface in Windows 10 Mobile.

In this AMA Jragon, who states he left the company a year ago, admits there are some things they no longer know about the continued development or shouldn’t reveal.  However, by reading through this series of questions and answers you quickly get the sense that the changes we are seeing in Windows 10 Mobile are deliberate and based on usage stats and industry proven usability.

Like it or not this new design is here to stay and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

As I have read the Twitter discussion on this and the AMA a few thoughts have entered my head and I want to share those with you here for the sake of further discussion.

- Windows Phone and the Metro/Modern design was unique and allowed the platform to differentiate itself.  I think Live Tiles were an even bigger feature that helped the platform stand out from iOS and Android because of the quick glance it allowed without opening apps up.  In my opinion Live Tiles are not going anywhere despite the changes we are seeing in the UI.  It is possible to change the navigation and layout of apps without impacting the Start Screen and Live Tiles as they are common already between phone and desktop.

- There is a thought floating around in this discussion that a phone UI has to accommodate usage in one hand. Look around you next time you are out and about and watch how people use their phones on any platform. A vast majority of them are using two hands. I would venture to say a lot of one handed usage occurs at times we really should not be using our phones anyway.

- Over the last 12 months or so we have watched Microsoft push out new cross platform apps for their services and products to iOS and Android.  Windows Phone fans have lamented the lack of updates for the same apps on Windows Phone over that same time frame feeling like the company was ignoring their own platform.

Let me venture the proposition that Microsoft has been very deliberate in their pursuit of perfecting apps and services on iOS and Android. By using using iOS/Android app design cues, including the apparently dreaded hamburger menu, they are actually going to be ahead of the game when Windows 10 Mobile is ready for market.  We just saw these new shifts in app design with the latest Windows 10 Mobile build (10051) in the new Outlook Mail and Calendar apps for instance. Their resemblance to their Android and iOS counterparts is not accidental.

- Many have said that the Windows Phone Metro/Modern design was its selling point because it was different than iOS and Android.  Well, based on market share for Windows Phone, that did not pan out well as a selling point did it? 

I would venture to say that learning curve is part of the problem because Windows Phone was so different than iOS and Android. As a Windows Phone user when I get asked to look at an Android or iOS device my brain immediately looks for the UI elements I am used to seeing on a Windows Phone.  Frustrating to say the least. The differences between Windows Phone and iOS/Android are very, very different yet, the differences between iOS and Android are not that far apart. The shock of trying Windows Phone and giving up on the UI because it was so different could be lessened significantly if it matched iOS and Android.

- So one selling point that could be highlighted is hardware. Hardware is independent of UI on any platform. If the user experience is similar across the board then hardware can be the differentiator. The Lumia line of hardware, despite its lack of a current flagship device, is top of the line.  It also spans the entire range from low to high end that fits into anyone’s budget – another great selling point.

- App gap. I have always disliked this term and believe the app gap is personal and based on someone’s usage of services. Are there apps on iOS and Android that Windows Phone users could find useful – yes.  Could it be easier for companies and services to support Windows Phone users if the design layout was more cohesive and similar to iOS and Android – yes.

Microsoft’s universal app effort, which will make it easier for devs to target all Windows 10 platforms by using a common code base , will make it easier for those developers to publish an app for users. You might be able to ignore the distant third place phone platform but can you ignore the potential 1.5 billion PC users too?

If the UI of Windows Phone apps is similar to that of iOS and Android it stands to reason that the process of porting an app over to Windows Phone would be significantly easier and not require an entire re-design process. That would save time and money which is quite important to companies in this line of business.

Bottom line is changes are coming and the writing is on the wall in the form of what we are seeing in the latest Windows 10 builds from Microsoft.  You can also look at the new universal apps that are being previewed on the Windows 10 desktop and phone and see the same thing.

The next question is are you coming along for the ride?

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