Mobile OS: Why Windows Phone 8? Part 1

Choosing a mobile OS in many ways is a more important decision today than choosing your desktop OS. Most people are attached to their phones and the affluent typically carry around more than one. I remember a time when kids were criticized for wearing headphones too often (be it Sony Walkmans or much later iPods). Nowadays, it's perfectly normal to stick your face in an Android, iOS or Windows Phone screen while commuting, waiting in a queue or just idling time away. Mobile devices have altered the way people manage their excess time and perhaps their social skills too - a mobile OS's ability to handle messages, Skype, Facebook and Twitter have arguably become more important to most people than learning face-to-face etiquete.

The mobile OS and the desktop OS

If you're working, you really don't have much of a hand in selecting your OS - if your company still runs Windows XP no amount of outcries will convince your accounting department to spring for Macbook Pros for everyone. If you're a student or unemployed, your choice of desktop OS has more to do with gaming and hobbies (coding, photo-editing, etc.) than anything else. As a Linux user who also runs Windows and MacOSX, I recently realized that the whole Linux-MacOSX-Windows issue is no longer a big deal - most people would prefer to debate on Android, iOS and (to a lesser extent) Windows Phone instead. Even MacOSX, once worshiped as the OS to have around, has taken a backseat to its younger and sexier iOS counterpart.

I like the dynamic of all platforms and feel that the best way to choose an OS, mobile or desktop, is to remove all non-essential information sources (e.g. biased reviews and close-minded opinions) and learn what you want to do with a device or machine first and how you want to get things done. As a working class Joe with a severely limited disposable income, I don't make purchases lightly and freely admit I've bought a few clunkers in my time - but I did my homework and made do with what I had whether it was running a whitebox with a USB modem back in 2000 to getting a Nokia E63 just before the touchscreen smartphone boom. So after countless articles on Linux and working with Android for two years, why did I get a Windows Phone when even my retired mom questioned my decision?

#1 Access to the ecosystem

When I received an iPod a few years back, I had my first taste of the Apple ecosystem but didn't get a chance to make full use of iOS until I received an iPad 2 for my birthday. Apple has had years to refine every aspect of the user experience. Everything to the stores, services, hardware and apps is functional and addicting. It was a relief when iPad 2 was included in the iOS 7 upgrade but even if it wasn't, the iPad 2 and fourth-generation iPod I own give me access to Apple's amazing number of productive apps for education and productivity. Why then would I need an iPhone?

Android? I've had my taste of that too. I work with Android on a semi-daily basis and even in Shanghai, where Google services are limited, Android has plenty of advantages. Despite my utter admiration for Apple's iOS ecosystem, I must admit to a certain love for Android's robust flexibility and almost free-for-all user experience. When I'm finally free from China's Great Firewall and working elsewhere, I can't wait to leverage Android's integration with Google's controversial yet immensely productive services (the Google Keep app, for example, is unavailable in the Middle Kingdom).

So why Windows Phone? Despite being a dedicated Linux user (thus I'm not into Microsoft bashing and have no issues with Windows. Having a Windows Phone gives me access to another world I can explore and learn from. It's just a different buffet and you learn quite a bit too. The Microsoft ecosystem is often overshadowed by Apple's grandiose platform because it doesn't get as much positive publicity. It's not the first web service or app in everyone's mind, but SkyDrive and are very good and having Excel on my phone to do my accounting is great. It's not perfect but OneNote syncs to my Office 2010 OneNote on my Lenovo and the OneNote app on my iPad, Android Memo Pad HD7 and iPod. Nokia's initiative has certainly helped expand Microsoft's more enterprise-focused ecosystem too. Nokia MixRadio is also compelling, as is Here Maps. I would also mention XBOX if I was a gamer.

New users to Windows Phone 8 will find "restrictions" and "limitations" - comments that were once leveraged against iOS. For one thing, users will not have access to Windows Phone apps folders via Windows 7/8/8.1 or even through the Microsoft desktop app. I quickly understood that Microsoft wants you to use SkyDrive to manage your phone's third-party apps, which is somewhat similar to the role of iTunes before developers worked around Apple's restrictions (Linux users for instance have direct access to app folders in an iOS device and there's also Samba or FTP). 

Windows Phone 8 is definitely a different experience from what Android and iOS users are used to, but newcomers have to understand that Microsoft really did come in late in the game and will definitely work on their platform's eccentricities (or the Microsoft user community will do it for them as developers did with Android and iOS). This doesn't make the Windows Phone ecosystem any less functional.

Continued in Mobile OS: Why Windows Phone 8? Part 2


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