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 Tuesday, 26 April 2016

thHU21A440There’s a lot of speculation at the moment, mostly I think from the tech press, that there’s no future for Windows 10 Mobile (aka Windows Phone). To the point that Terry Myerson apparently released a statement to clarify that Microsoft is committed to mobile for many years.

Over the past couple years I’ve been increasingly critical of Microsoft’s mobile strategy as well – it is hard not to be when the platform has such low market share, there’s been a lack of flagship devices released, and there’s still a major issue with apps (that don’t exist or that are quite poor compared to iPhone/Android versions).

So at the beginning of this year I “threw in the towel” and switched to the iPhone. This was after talking to a lot of people in person and via twitter about whether to go iPhone or Android. The overwhelming advice was that if you live in the US you should go iPhone, so I did exactly that.

After a couple weeks with the iPhone I wrote a comparison between Windows 10 Mobile and the iPhone – from my perspective. I’m selfish – I’m looking for a good answer for me, so my blog post was about me and my personal experience. After a couple more months I realized that this is a real tradeoff, because Windows 10 Mobile the operating system is more consistent and polished than iOS, but the apps on the iPhone are almost universally superior.

At that point I thought I’d try Android. This was right after Microsoft Build 2016, where it seemed like there was a lot of love for Android, and where I encountered a whole lot of my peers who were incredulous that I had an iPhone instead of an Android (where they were last fall when I was soliciting input I have no idea – I begin to suspect that people only advocate for their platform when you have “the other platform” in your pocket). Basically, some of the iOS frustrations and inconsistencies were bugging me enough I wanted to look elsewhere.

I didn’t even last a couple weeks on Android though. I bought a OnePlus 2 – a high-end device with very generic Android. It turns out that generic Android pretty much sucks – much like generic Linux. You need to spend (in my experience) hours and hours and hours researching and trying different launchers, lock screen apps, email apps, calendar apps, contact apps, etc. Just to get basic functionality that works out of the box in the iPhone and Windows 10. O.M.G. I don’t understand how people can waste that much time just getting the basics to work on their phones!?!

Now I’m back to Windows 10 with a Lumia 950xl. And I’m happy.

I keep hearing how Windows “lacks polish”. Clearly this statement is being made by people who have not actually used Windows 10, iOS, and Android back to back like I just did. In some ways iOS might have more polish, but it is far, far less consistent than Windows, so I give the OS polish nod to Windows 10. Android isn’t even in the running – it has no polish or consistency – though maybe with another many hours of research and testing I could have found a launcher that I liked? That’s not how I want to spend my life.

I also keep hearing about the Windows “app gap”. That is obviously a real problem. It is absolutely the case that the iPhone has a lot more apps, and almost all the apps are superior. It is also the case that the Android apps are plentiful, but they generally look like crap compared to their iOS counterparts. But I’ll give it to Android that, though its apps are inconsistent and often cartoonish, they are full featured, unlike Windows apps.

One other note on apps: Android is clearly designed to work well if you are a Google user (mail/calendar/contacts) and it is pretty half-baked for people not on Google. I can’t say I support the EU going after Google any more than I did when they went after Microsoft so long ago – I think that’s just dumb – but at the same time, I understand their consistent view here, because Google is using Android to drive usage and lock-in around their cloud service offerings, not unlike what Microsoft did 20 years ago with Windows.

Finally, I keep hearing how Windows phone hardware is inferior. I even heard that from someone at Microsoft. I’m skeptical. It is true that the iPhone 6s is a really nice device, and I love the fingerprint unlock feature. Android device quality varies a lot, but the OnePlus 2 is pretty nice (if a bit heavy) and has a fingerprint reader (if you can find a lock screen app that supports it). The Lumia 950 is nicer and lighter than the Android devices I’ve seen and used (including the Samsung ones). But I’ll grant that it isn’t as nice as the iPhone. At the end of the day though, I think all three platforms have hardware that are basically in the same ballpark: reasonably stylish, light, fast, with decent battery life, and great cameras. If it was just down to hardware my ranking would be iPhone 6s, Lumia 950, Samsung Android, other Android – in that order.

At this point though I’ll remind you that I’m selfish here – I’m after a solution for me.

That means it comes down to iPhone vs Windows 10 Mobile – the Android OS is too unpolished, clumsy, and inefficient; and its apps are too ugly, inconsistent, and cartoonish. It is clearly the cheapest platform, and you get what you pay for. I’m willing to pay to get a more productive experience.

And at the end of the day there are only 3 apps that don’t exist or don’t work on Windows that I actually need: Swarm, Waze, and the Parrott Bebop app for my drone.

My bank does have an app on iPhone/Android, but it sucks and so not having it isn’t really a loss. To solve my bank app issue I need to switch to a better bank, not a different phone.

I weighed the value of those 3 apps against Windows 10’s more polished and consistent OS experience; and I considered that Siri is like Cortana’s dullard older sister (yes, Siri is really an idiot compared to Cortana, and Cortana on the iPhone is crippled compared to Windows or Android).

Ultimately I’ve decided that I’d rather go with the best OS on a regular basis. In my case I’m fortunate enough that I can carry a second phone (sans SIM) so I can still fly my drone – it just needs the app and wifi after all. That also gets me Waze and Swarm, because they also work over wifi, and my Lumia works great as a wifi hotspot when I’m out and about.

At the end of the day, until Foursquare, Google, and Parrot (and my bank) get their heads out of their @$$’s I am working around them via a two phone solution.

But most importantly, I’m happy using Windows 10 and Cortana for my 99% use case of email/calendar/phone/text/messaging/Office/etc.

And fwiw, I think the continued rapid adoption of Windows 10 itself (on my Surface and Desktop for example) will drive more and more companies to create UWP apps – perhaps not initially for the phone, but at least for the 300 million (and climbing) people running Windows 10. The thing is, once your app runs in UWP, getting to the phone is a pretty small step – and one companies would be foolish not to do for such little effort.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 15:46:05 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer
 Monday, 14 July 2014

From around 1995 until 2010 there was really only one operating system for client computing: Windows.

Prior to 1995 there were a lot of options, though most not recognizable to users today: 3270 terminals, VT terminals, OS/2, Windows, DOS, CPM, and a bunch of others. Now most of these weren’t “client computing”, they were relatively dumb terminal technologies that provided access to a server (back then called a mainframe or minicomputer). Very much like today’s web browser (sans JavaScript).

Today we’ve returned to a chaotic landscape of client computing: browsers, Windows, iOS, OS X, Android, Linux (for the daring), and of course it isn’t like the pre-1995 technologies went away, they are just mostly emulated in Windows. What is interesting though, is that most of today’s client computing technologies do actually enable smart client software development. This includes the browser which can be used as a smart client technology via JavaScript development, even though the majority of browser “apps” are actually just colorful versions of 1990-era terminal-based computing where the processing is all on a server/mainframe/minicomputer/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

What is interesting about this return to client-side chaos is that it has reopened the door for third party developer tools as a niche market.

In the early 1990’s there were quite a number of companies selling developer tools for other company’s platforms. Borland with C++, Delphi and TurboPascal, Gupta with SqlWindows, Powerbuilder, and a lot more.

When Windows became the dominant client computing platform most of these dev tools fell by the wayside (not that they went away, they just stopped being mainstream). This was because they couldn’t compete with Microsoft’s dev tools, which were always in sync with the platform in a way that was probably too expensive for third parties to match.

I think it is notable that our return to client computing chaos (or pluralism?) today has already led to numerous third party dev tool vendors that sell dev tools for other company’s platforms. Xamarin, PhoneGap, Telerik’s tools, and a lot more.

What is different to me is that in the early 1990’s I thought it was pretty obvious that Windows would become a dominant platform, and I tended to argue against using third party dev tools because I thought they’d have a rough go of it. As cool as Delphi was, I always recommended VB.

Today I’m not so sure. I don’t see any of today’s platforms becoming dominant in the foreseeable future. It is hard to imagine Windows returning to its monopoly status, but I can’t imagine iOS or Android or OS X displacing Windows as the primary corporate desktop computing environment either.

As a result we business developers need some way to build software independently of any particular platform or OS vendor, because we must assume all our business software will need to run on multiple platforms and OSes.

So today I find myself in the inverse of my early 1990’s stance, in that I’m reasonably convinced that building smart client software (at least for business) means using third party dev tools from vendors that aren’t tied to any one platform.

Of course I’ve spent the last 14 years in the .NET world, so naturally I gravitate toward a combination of Xamarin and Microsoft .NET as a way to use my C# and .NET knowledge across all platforms. I get to develop in Visual Studio on Windows where I’m most comfortable, and my resulting software runs on Android and iOS as well as on Windows Desktop, Phone, and WinRT.

As far into the future as I can see there’s no obvious platform/OS “winner”, so as a developer the question isn’t which platform to target, it is which third party dev tool reaches all platforms with a solid strategy that will stand out and thrive over the next many years.

Monday, 14 July 2014 13:00:31 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer
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