Having used Symbian, Windows Mobile, Meego and iOS in the past, and settled on Android for the past 18 months, I have been quite excited to check out Windows Phone’s current offer in terms of ecosystem, OS, and devices. Thus, for the past couple of months, I have been using a Nokia Lumia 800 (running WP 7.5) as my secondary device, along with my primary HTC Desire Z (running ICS). After a series of ups and downs, I have found a lovely cocoon with both platforms, although the back and forth between them is highlighting all the exclusive features in each that I wish existed on the other.
Here, I will tackle the Android features that I really hope make it to Windows Phone whereas on our sister site Android.Appstorm, you will find the Windows Phone features that I would like to have on Android. These points will be based on the out of the box options of each, neglecting what could possibly be done with rooting, unlocking, custom ROMs, homebrews, et al.
Central Notifications Hub
One of my biggest pet peeves with Windows Phone in its current state, is the toast and notification system, or more accurately the lack thereof. Windows Phone has a habit of displaying a toast notification for a few seconds, on top of the screen, then removing it. Poof! Gone. There is no way for you to easily go back to that notification, and unless you click on that toast instantly and interrupt whatever you were doing, or unless you have pinned a Live Tile for the app that triggered it (and even in that case, the tile only updates every 30 minutes), there is no way for you to even know what that toast was about. Moreover, clicking on a toast launches the application from scratch, even if it’s one of your background apps. This behavior has baffled me from day 1.
Windows Phone should learn from Android’s notifications management: a central hub that displays all new events, reminders and notifications, and lets you easily remove the ones you don’t care about, as well as quickly jump to the ones that you’re interested in. And if an app has been running in the background, simply spring it to life from its current state instead of restarting it.
Sharing Between Applications
Windows Phone adopts an iOS-like approach when it comes to applications: each one is sandboxed and left alone, unable to communicate with anything else besides Email or the Pictures Gallery. If you ever see a tweet with a job offer and wish to share it with your friend on Whatsapp, or if you check an interesting web page and want to save it on Pocket, you’re out of luck. You’ll either have to use email, or manually copy and paste the data. This behavior forces you into an application-centered approach that doesn’t bode well for multitasking and being productive on-the-go.
By comparison, Android adopts a more holistic approach to the mobile experience, letting applications “Share” data between each other. Tweeting a Whatsapp status? Buffering an interesting link? Pocket’ing a long article? Everything is one click away, and a magnificent boon to have on mobile, circumventing the limits of reduced screen estate that force you to focus on one task/app at a time.
Picking Alternatives To Default Apps
I have to admit, I am not a big fan of the Internet Explorer brand name. I know the experience is quite good on Windows Phone, but I am personally hooked into the Opera Mini universe on mobile devices, which syncs all my data across several platforms. But that’s not all. The default dialer on Windows Phone doesn’t support smart dialing, the Pictures hub doesn’t allow you to organize photos by album on the spot, Messaging is quite limited, and Music requires your data to be stored locally. There are alternative third party apps that provide this functionality, but unfortunately, you are not allowed to set them as the default. Links in any app will always open with Internet Explorer, even if you have 5 other browsers installed, RapDialer isn’t allowed to check your missed calls or call log so you will still need the default dialer, and we can go on and on.
This contrasts with one of the winning features of Android, which is its ability to change the default browser, gallery, music player, dialer, messaging app, video player, and even launcher and keyboard. You can mold the Android experience to fit your specific needs, and you will never have to deal with the dreadful default apps again if you wish so.
Better Multitasking And Background Process
Before 2007, it was common knowledge that a smartphone should be a device capable of multitasking, like Symbian or Windows Mobile or Blackberry. Blame it on the iPhone and iOS for making it acceptable to not have multitasking capabilities, or have them in a messed-up limited way.
With Mango, Windows Phone gained the ability to pause and resume apps, not even real multitask, and not all developers have updated their apps to conform to that small change. Also, if an app is in the background, clicking on its icon from the list, on its live tile or on a toast notification from it will restart it, instead of picking it from where it was paused. This whole experience of having to wait a few seconds for things to spring to life can add up to an intolerable amount and give the impression that Windows Phone is slower to react than other platforms. Add the fact that only 8 apps can have services running in the background, and even at that they have to be pinned as live tiles, they sometimes stop working for no reason, and they are forced to limit their poll time to 30 minutes to check for new notifications. The limitations start piling up and you end up with a platform where third-party messaging apps are destined to fail from the beginning, and automators like Android’s Tasker simply do not exist.
Search Button Functionality Inside Apps
When I looked into Windows Phone’s design, I immediately noticed the Search button, which is part of the three essential hardware keys, and felt quite happy as this is one function I absolutely love in Android: whatever app I’m inside, clicking Search will allow me to look inside this specific app, without having to find the search functionality inside its options or menus. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find out that the Search button doesn’t work that way on Windows Phone. It only allows you to search Bing, identify songs, tags and barcodes, or issue some voice commands. It doesn’t even look inside your device for contacts, calendar items, or plug into apps like the Search app on Android does.
Data & Battery monitoring
Being able to check your exact battery state instead of a tiny meter with a few levels, and pinpoint which apps are draining your power can be quite useful. The same can be said for data usage, and tracking your monthly plan in countries with no unlimited data, as well as identifying apps that are using more than they should.
Android has been able to monitor battery usage out of box for a long time, and although it only recently gained the ability to monitor data usage, the option has been possible with third-party apps for quite some time as well. By comparison, Windows Phone uses a small meter for battery levels, with the percentage and estimate hidden inside the Settings, and no option at all to check for the culprit apps. As for data usage, there’s absolutely no way for you to know how much you’ve used.
More Language Support, Taking A Screenshot, File Management
Being an Arabic-speaking native, I have struggled with devices not displaying arabic letters, fonts, and left-to-right alignment properly inside SMS, web pages, and apps, or on the keyboard. This is also the case with many other languages that use non-latin characters.
Windows Phone has given me a lot of grief in that department, as some apps display Arabic perfectly while others fail miserably. And it’s true that Android only recently started supporting more languages, but with Ice Cream Sandwich, I haven’t had any issues at all with either Arabic, French or English.
Another problem I face with Windows Phone is its current inability to take a screenshot. I had to go through tons of loops to unlock my Lumia 800 and install a screenshot app, whereas on Ice Cream Sandwich, it’s just two-buttons away, making it easier to flaunt homescreens, share new apps, or show off some game scores.
Basically, this omission in WP makes it harder for current users to talk about the platform, which should have been a priority for the Microsoft WP team, given that they’re a new dog in the mobile race and they need any help they can get.
And my third small wish for Windows Phone is a file management system, that works with Zune (formerly) or Windows Phone Connector. I want to be able to transfer files via USB or Bluetooth and open them in any app that allows me to do so. We might be going this way with Skydrive, but that will rely too much on the cloud, which should prove problematic for bigger files.
Android.AppStorm, our sister site, is running a similar piece highlighting the Windows Phone 8 features they’d like to see on Android. Check it out here!