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Some Initial Windows 10 Mobile Impressions

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up Microsoft's latest flagship phone, the Lumia 950. I've been a fan of Redmond's mobile platform since the Windows Phone 7 days and after a couple weeks of constant use, I have a few impressions and thoughts to share.

In no particular order:

1. In the Lumia 950 and 950 XL reviews, some ink was spent talking about how the build quality was lacking. I've been protecting all of my devices in wallet cases, so while the newest devices are not nearly as compelling as the Lumia 920 (my last Windows Phone flagship), I haven't had any issues with the hardware.

2. Microsoft's done a solid job on delivering a device with bundled apps that "just work". Overall, the e-mail client, calendar, and browser are on par with their equivalents in the Android and iPhone worlds. The only complaint I have with the bundled apps is that it's difficult to keep track of how many tabs you've opened in the Edge browser.

2. Third party developers have dropped the ball on keeping their offerings updated and compelling. Note that I'm guilty of this as well – Fresh Comics is basically the exact same app it's been since the Windows Phone 7 days. The one app that's lagged the most and has surprised me has been Facebook. I was under the impression that Microsoft and Facebook had an alliance of some sort, but you wouldn't know it from Facebook's app. It's much too slow to load content and the app itself seems unfinished. Some posts open up within the app, other posts get booted out to the mobile browser. Overall, there is a significant gulf between the first-party and third-party apps that's a result of Windows' small mobile marketshare.

3. The name of the platform is confusing and I'm always tripping over it. I want to call the platform Windows Phone 10, but the official name is "Windows 10 Mobile" now. Please be patient with me in the weeks ahead if you catch me referring to it as "Windows Mobile 10" or some permutation of that name.

4. I still enjoy the design language of the platform. In my development life for the past few years, I've almost exclusively been focused on Android and iOS development. Android's made great strides in their design language with Material Design, while Jony Ive's made a bit of a mess of Apple's traditional strong design language after Scott Forstall's skeuomorphism was voted off the island in favor of Jony Ive's low-contrast layered translucent interfaces. While using WP10, I'm glad that Microsoft kept the strong print-oriented design while scaling it back a bit to make it easier to create mobile user interfaces instead of digital magazine spreads. I'm looking forward to seeing how the next iteration of my own apps can be expressed in the Modern Design framework.

5. Support for wearables is atrocious. Unsurprisingly, my Apple Watch and Android Wear devices are useless with my Windows device. However, I was quite surprised to find out that the Pebble CEO has issues with Microsoft that interfere with his company's ability to support their devices on Redmond's platform. The only wearable that's worked at all has been my Fitbit Charge HR, and that doesn't work that well given that the mobile app seems to be an afterthought, with slow and unreliable automatic syncing. (See #2.)

6. In light of #5 above, I'm excited to try out the Microsoft Band for its cross-platform compatibility (iOS, Android, WP10) and the large number of sensors it includes. If the Band lives up to its marketing and technical document, it will be a very compelling device for passive data collection.

7. As a Mac user, I was a bit disturbed that the native Mac app for doing things like syncing music to the device was missing for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. After some searching, I discovered that I could sync my music collection to the device by first copying the music to OneDrive from my computer and then downloading it to the phone for off-line access. This was a very non-obvious and time-consuming process to follow.

8. In my next iteration of app work, I'll be targeting the Universal Windows Platform for app development. I hope the platform lives up to the hype and this becomes an effective way for me to my apps available to Windows desktop users as well.

9. Bravo to Microsoft for including a decent podcast app with the device. I've been relying on iOS's app (even when using my Android phone full time), and bundling that app lets me go back to carrying around a single device when I'm not testing.

10. Battery life seems pretty solid in regular use. I'll be interested to see how true that remains once I start doing background sensor data collection.

11. The dual-SIM feature on the device is nifty, but I would like a way to hide the separate phone and messaging apps for the SIM slot I'm not using. Similarly, labeling the different SIM apps with numbers is a bit confusing if you're using numbers as a cue to determine how many missed calls you have.

12. The small market share of the device and abandonment by other app makers make me speculate that WP10 may be in a similar place that the Mac occupied 10 to 15 years ago. With Fresh Comics, Windows Phone users seem to be the most engaged audience, despite my neglect of that app. Given the low, but passionate user base, I wonder if that platform's not ripe for small developers to sell quality apps to users grateful that you're supporting their platform. When I get around to porting Santa's Map and The Pnakotic Atlas, I should get my answer to that question.

Overall, I'm quite happy with the device and it meets my needs very well. It doesn't have the breadth of applications found on Android or iOS, but it tends to do what I need very well. If I were not a mobile software developer and used a single phone like most normal human beings, odds are extremely good that I'd be using this device.

This is the weblog for Audacious Software, a Chicago company specializing in native cross-platform mobile development and ubiquitous passive data collection.

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