How would you change Windows Phone software?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: January 4, 2012

Just the other day, I wrote on one of the outlying issues with Windows Phone: hardware. More specifically, specifications. In truth, the hardware is quite nice on most Windows Phones. The main Windows Phone OEMs are also major Android manufacturers, and devices on both sides of the fence are on par with one another in terms of materials, build quality and size range. Specifications, on the other hand, are literally years apart.

Like I explained before, though, better specifications aren't necessary for better performance. Performance on Windows Phones, across the board, is just fine, despite the seemingly underpowered processors and small amount of RAM. But when it comes to appeal and misguided opinions (presumptions, really) based on clock speeds and the number of cores a phone's processor might have, specs are everything. Nine times out of 10, a customer who knows nothing about phones, mobile platforms, their respective performance or mobile processors will choose a phone with bigger, better, more future-proofed specifications. That means, 9 times out of 10, Windows Phone loses the battle.

Sure, specs could use some improving, solely for more appeal. But I don't mind the software too much, and performance is already exceptional. Nonetheless, I cannot force myself to use Windows Phone. Even if a "champion device" or a Windows Superphone were to grace shelves, I could not buy into Windows Phone in its current state. Buy why, exactly?

  • The current interface is painstakingly boring
  • Notifications are terrible
  • Next to no customization

I've stated before that I think Windows Phone is boring. That's no secret, and to be honest, I think that's what Microsoft was shooting for considering their initial marketing campaign stated that Windows Phone was going to save us from our phones. When you consider their market share (currently only 5.2 percent in the US), though, it's clear that not many people want to be saved from their phones. They want something fresh, exciting and fun to use. In its current state, Windows Phone is fresh, but it's neither fun or exciting to use.

I honestly like the change of pace Microsoft introduced with Windows Phone – I love the fact that it's not closely related to anything else out there. I love the largely typographic interface and simplicity of everything. And I really love the software keyboard.

When I first get a new phone, I enjoy taking some time to setup my phone and truly make it mine. But unlike my Android devices or even my iPhone, I do not spend hours setting up my home screen. There's not much to setup at all on Windows Phone. There are only two main views on Windows Phone: an alphabetical list of all apps on the phone and your basic tile view. In the tile view, the only things you can currently change is the color of the tiles (or system-wide highlight color) and their order. Apart from that, you can only change the lock screen wallpaper and toggle the background color between black and white.

Like I said, I like the direction Microsoft is headed. And in it's defense, Windows Phone is still in its infancy. (Android wasn't much to look at in its early days either.) But I see the Metro UI as a huge waste of space and kind of ... tacky. All I ask for is more customization options, like being able to change the color of each individual tile, changing the background to any color of choice, being able to resize tiles (from extra small to the current large tile size), etc.

I hate to make this comparison (I'm sure it will start a flame war of some kind), but a great example of a more useful and more pleasing tiled interface to look at is the newest version of Android Market. There is a lot of helpful information on each tile, a plethora of colors and pictures and the entire display is used, instead of the space-wasting, two-column tile interface of Metro UI.

All things considered, I can get over a boring interface if need be. But possibly the biggest area Windows Phone is missing the mark is notifications. My phone is my lifeline, and I need my notifications to be there in the event I overlook or miss something. On iOS, there is Notification Center and there are little, annoying (in a good way) bubbles popping up all over the interface. On Android, I have a pull-down notification shade where everything unread is kept, and little reminders for those notifications are kept in the status bar at all times. And on Windows Phone? As new notifications come in, they alert you just fine. But if you don't act on the notifications immediately, they're reduced to numbers on the respective tile and they blend with everything else on the interface. In other words, if I miss something on the first go around, the chances of me ever realizing it are slim. Existing, unread notifications need to be improved. There needs to be some central location I can go to and deal with all of my unattended notifications.

Windows Phone is off to a great start, and I'm actually rooting for Microsoft on this one. But if I'm ever going to consider using their platform as a primary (or even secondary) mobile OS, they're going to need to make some radical and unlikely changes in their upcoming updates.

I know a lot of you Windows Phone fans out there will disagree with me on a lot of this. If you want to contest me and defend your favorite platform, volunteer for the Ultimate Fanboy War. In the meantime, tell me how you would change Windows Phone. Would you add more customizations to the interface? Or do you find it perfect, as is?