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Windows Phone might not be the platform Microsoft (and others) hoped for, but it can still teach iOS and Android a thing or two.
Do you use a Windows Phone? Perhaps you tried the platform but went back to Android or iOS (or even BlackBerry). While it might not sell in the same volumes as the iPhone or Android handsets, Windows Phone still has its place in the smartphone market, if only to push the market leaders to improve their operating systems and make better handsets.
Here are five ways iOS and Android can improve in the coming years.
Faster Results With Fewer Taps
We’ll start with the time it takes to perform particular tasks. Windows Phone launched with a few surprises, one being the speed with which a photo could be snapped and uploaded to Facebook. Microsoft didn’t need to display any “sequence shortened” captions on their adverts for the platform.
For instance, a photo can be uploaded to Facebook in just three steps, and fewer if you use Facebook as your default photo upload location.
Since then, iOS and Android have caught up, but the speed of the Windows Phone 8.1 UI continues to impress. For instance, finding the app you want is a case of swiping left, tapping the first letter you see to display the index, then tapping the first letter of the app you want.
Finding an app on your iPhone or Android device means opening the app drawer, and scrolling. Then scrolling some more, perhaps for a while.
Windows Phone is littered with these neat shortcuts to save time, meaning that you can do more, quicker.
Smartphones Need A High Quality Camera
The Nokia Lumia series of phones (particularly 9xx and 10xx) devices feature superior Carl Zeiss lenses and image processing making them the best Windows Phone camera devices and in some ways superior to the iPhone’s camera.
Meanwhile, Android devices from Motorola, Samsung and even Sony have struggled with cameras. When the Nokia Lumias can be used to create stunning films like these, it’s clear that this aspect of the Windows Phone platform is particularly attractive (and the main reason I still own my Nokia).
This comparison of the HTC One M7, Nokia Lumia 920 and iPhone 5 illustrates the differences and similarities. Clearly, Google needs to address this weakness across the Android family, perhaps by insisting on a specification for better quality cameras.
Easier Access To Beta Releases & Previews
Although Apple has made it easier for iPhone and iPad users to try the beta version of iOS 8, it has taken some time to get this far (eight releases!) and still requires a $99 per year fee.
For Windows Phone developers and those interested in preview releases (such as the Developer Preview of Windows Phone 8.1) this sort of access is available free.
Limiting a beta release to those who have paid for developer status seems shortsighted, and likely to result in problems that would have been overcome by making it more widely available. This is the tactic Microsoft has used, and it has helped with bug fixing and building up interest in Windows Phone 8.1 and Cortana.
Enjoying beta versions of Android releases isn’t usually possible, although if you’re interested you can probably find a custom ROM developer who could do with some bug spotting.
Want To Avoid Jailbreak? Work With The Hackers
Jailbreaking the iPhone and iPad has been a popular pastime for users who wish to gain more control over its settings and add apps that require an enhanced level of permissions.
On Windows Phone, no such problem exists. This isn’t because Windows Phone has a smaller market, either; unlocking phones to make customizations and install custom ROMs pretty much began on Windows Mobile (before the community largely centred around XDA-developers.com migrated to Android around 2007).
Microsoft has been very clever in engaging with the hacker community, starting with the token-based unlock system for Windows Phone 7 and latterly with making it easy to run self-developed apps using a developer account.
So far Microsoft’s support for this community has acted as a form of evangelism, and is a tactic Apple could certainly benefit from, if only to save them the bother of patching the various Jailbreak vulnerabilities every few months.
Give Your Personal Digital Assistant “Character”
One of the big successes of Windows Phone 8.1 has been the introduction of Cortana, a virtual digital assistant in the mould of Siri on iOS. Where Cortana differs, however, is in the charm and warmth of the voice artist, Jen Taylor, who also voices the fictional Cortana in the Halo series. As well as being incredibly useful, you’ll find that Cortana is also pretty funny.
Siri is arguably part of the way to having something approaching character (obviously difficult for an inanimate object) and Apple clearly realise that there is some importance in developing this side of their tool to promote wider use.
Google, however, is light years behind with Google Now, which is otherwise a very useful voice search system. Forcing the user to read results can be problematic, however, especially while driving, which is a shame as Android has several good car mode apps.
Let’s All Learn From Windows Phone
As we wind down our coverage of Windows Phone at MakeUseOf, it is important to recognise that the platform remains popular in certain territories. For instance, it’s impossible to switch on a TV in the UK without seeing a Nokia Lumia being used by an actor, and this product placement has resulted in some strong sales.
But failing to meet the expectations of experienced market analysts despite the backing of a multi-billion dollar corporation is a staggering failure.
If the world is to learn anything from Windows Phone, it is probably that it Microsoft squandered a significant share of the market that it had with Windows Mobile and failed to regain it with improved hardware and a superior OS.
Where do you stand on Windows Phone? Are you surprised by its performance in the marketplace? Tell us in the comments.